This is a golden age of punting. The numbers make the case. Though punting stats are largely unfair to punters, according to the best simple measure of quality — net punting average — the last three seasons of punting have been blisteringly good. In 2003, a generation ago, two punters averaged at least 40 net yards per punt. In 2017, 22 players topped 40 yards. 2003’s net yards leader Mitch Berger would have finished in the bottom half of the league in 2016, and several atmospheric layers below Hekker, who averaged 46 net yards per punt that year in perhaps the greatest season a punter has ever had.
A punter’s job is no longer simply to kick the ball high and far while fans hold their collective breath that this time isn’t the time when the ball flies sideways into the stands. No, punters are now neutralizing and terrorizing the most electric return men in the NFL with kicks that spin and move and bounce and flip in all sorts of unpredictable, terror-inducing ways. In 2017, a New York Times headline suggested, in all earnestness, that Hekker might even be the league MVP.
“To the outside world it can seem like a useless position, like, ‘Aww man you don’t really need a punter,’” Hekker says. “But those who know, know. And the hidden yardage, if you can start someone inside the 10-yard line as opposed to getting a touchback and letting them start at the 20, just the percentages of them scoring on that drive change drastically.”
Chances of making the final roster (10/10)
I enjoy doing the special teams previews because they’re great reminders of how important special teams proficiency is and how damn good our specialists are.
Keep bangin, Hekk.