2022 NFL Draft: The Rams chose the right year to need to draft a punter

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Plenty of Options

The Johnny Hekker era appears to be over. With his release, the depth chart for the Rams currently has the starting punter listed as... a blank space. If the Rams don't add a new P in free agency, the good news is this is an abnormally deep class of punter prospects. While there might not be a punter at the top of the class as good as players such as Shane Lechler (5th round 2000), Bryan Anger (3rd round 2012) or Michael Dickson (5th round 2018), the class makes up for it with depth.

Perusing some of Lance Zierlein's draft profiles on punters in this year's draft, I found at least 5 players he's given draft grades of at least 5.58 (really there were 6 punters, but I don't think one of them is in the draft, more on that below.) I don't know if there are even more, because they haven't uploaded all of the 2022 prospects into the database yet. Having so many punters graded this high is not typical. This is how many punters met this threshold in recent drafts:

2021: 3

2020: 3

2019: 2

2018: 3

2017: 1

2016: 2

2015: 1

2014: 1

The consensus top punter this year is Matt Araiza, who I already profiled in a fanpost. I think most of the draft boards have him ranked too high. He is a boom or bust type prospect, someone who could turn out to be an elite NFL punter or who could be a total bust and bomb out of the NFL entirely. I see Araiza as being a draftable prospect, but since punter is one of the least important positions on an NFL roster, if I'm going to draft one early, I want that player to be a "slam dunk" good NFL punter, not a risky pick.

If we compared Araiza to a placekicker, I'd use Chris Boswell for an analogy. Boswell had a very powerful leg in college, but had issues with accuracy. He was an UDFA in 2014. He spent his rookie season on a PS, then failed to make the roster of his 2nd NFL team at the start of his 2nd season. He eventually established himself with the Steelers, his 3rd NFL team and has developed into one of the top kickers in the NFL.

Sent Out of Town

In 2018 there were 4 punters drafted, the most in a single draft since 1999. Three of them went in the 5th round, headlined by the great Texas punter from Australia, Michael Dickson. The Australian invasion of punters is still going strong, as multiple punters in this class are also Aussies. In addition to Dickson, JK Scott was drafted in the 5th by the Packers and Johnny Townsend was drafted in the 5th by the Raiders.

His final season in college, Townsend had the best punting average in FBS at 47.9 yards. He also set the record for career best punting average in FBS, a mark that was broken this year by one of the punters in the 2022 draft (we'll get to him eventually). Townsend made his NFL regular season debut against... the Los Angeles Rams. He had a 43.2 punting average as a rookie, ranking 31st in the NFL, nearly dead last. He was 29th in net average.

The following year, Townsend faced competition in training camp from an UDFA. That rookie only had a 5.40 draft grade from LZ and his profile said he had below average leg strength and lacked touch to bury opponents near the end zone. In college, he only had a 42.4 yard average his final season. Based on LZ's evaluation and grade, you'd think the UDFA would only be a camp leg and had little chance of beating out a former 5th round draft pick.

Instead, the rookie was impressive, displaying a stronger leg and better ball control compared to Townsend. The rookie sealed the deal with a strong performance in a preseason game against... the Los Angeles Rams. Townsend was waived after that game. Thereafter, Townsend bounced around on half a dozen NFL teams, mainly as a practice squad player.

Who was that rookie, the guy who supposedly wasn't NFL material? It was AJ Cole, who had the best punting average in the NFL in 2021. He finished 5th in net average (one slot behind Hekker).

Things only went slightly better for JK Scott up in Green Bay. As a rookie, Scott was 27th in the NFL in net punting average and 22nd in gross average. His 3rd pro season in 2020, he was 28th in net average. At the end of the preseason of his 4th year, Scott was waived after the Packers acquired a different punter in a trade with... the Los Angeles Rams. Scott signed with the Jaguars late last season after their starting punter suffered a season ending injury. If the Rams want to try retreads, maybe they could look at punters such as Townsend and Scott.

Out of the three 5th round punters drafted in 2018, the only one still playing with his original team is Dickson for the Seahawks. AJ Cole has turned out to be a more valuable punter than either Townsend and Scott, and also has measured up compared with 2 middle round picks from his own draft class in 2019 (Wishnowky in the 4th and Jake Bailey in the 5th). Wishnowsky was about average in both gross and net punting last season.

The Rundown

Since there are so many players to cover, I'm only going to give a brief summary for each prospect. For comparison. LZ gave Araiza a 6.09 grade and on various boards he's ranked between the late 3rd round to the 5th round.

1. Jordan Stout (Penn State) 5.99 grade, consensus UDFA. 6'3'' tall, 209 pounds. Ran 4.65 sec in the 40. LZ says he has the makings of a steady, long term NFL punter. Quality power, outstanding touch. Limits returns with hang time. Rarely punts ball into the end zone. Consistent quick operation with both 2 and 3 step approach. Very low touchback rate. Only an average directional punter. Watching him, there's nothing overly impressive about his leg strength, but he has good technique, enough passing ability to execute a fake, probably has limited upside to become one of the top pro punters, but has a high floor and could be a reliable punter. He was also the K for PSU, but doesn't quite have enough leg to be a regular pro kicker. 46.1 yard average in 2021. 35 inside 20 and 3 touchbacks. 30 out of 67 punts were fair caught. Zero blocks in 99 career punts. Only averaged 41.5 yards in 2020. 7th in nation in kickoff touchback percentage in 2020. Turns 24 years old in August.

2. Jake Camarda (Georgia) 5.85 grade, 5th round to UDFA rankings. 6'1'' tall, 193 pounds. Set all time record for the best 40 yard dash time by a specialist at the Combine at 4.56 seconds. LZ says he has NFL touch-to-toe speed of operation and NFL leg strength. Adds kickoff ability. Inconsistent hitting ball. Hasn't learned to control ball to deaden it inside 20. Accurate directional control. Below average hang time. Can expedite punts with 2 step technique. Career average 45.8 yards. 46.7 yard average in 2021. Mediocre 25.5% touchback stat compared to Hekker's much better 11.3% rate in his NFL career.

Not 3? Michael Turk (Oklahoma) 5.60 grade. As best I can tell, he decided to stay in college and is returning to OU. He actually was in the 2020 draft and wasn't selected, then the NCAA somehow allowed him to return to college and gave him 2 more years of eligibility. He had a 46 yard average for Arizona State, then after transferring to OU had a whopping 51.2 average last year. LZ says he has tremendous power, lacks ball control, outkicks his coverage, adequate hangtime, inconsistent directional control, below average on pooch kicks. In other words, he has similarities with Araiza, but in my opinion Turk is the better prospect. Plus, by staying in school he can work on his weaknesses one more year. If you draft Araiza and try to put him on PS to work on his game, you could lose him to another team and end up wasting that draft pick. One reason teams might be reluctant to get too crazy pursuing the 2022 punters is if Turk is available next year maybe they could draft him. On the other hand, Turk will be 25 years old by the time of next year's draft. Even if he's not in this draft, keep his name in mind, because it could influence draft strategy.

4. Blake Hayes (Illinois) 5.59 grade. UDFA rankings. From Melbourne, Australia. 6'4'' tall, 226 pounds. LZ says elite coffin corner punter, outstanding control. Lacks hang time and power, operational time too slow, had 3 punts blocked. He's left footed. Had 45.1 average last season, career best. Turns 24 in August. I don't have as much a problem as LZ with his timing, but he doesn't have a strong leg or strikes the ball consistently. He is good at downing the ball inside the 20.

5. Trenton Gill (NCST) 5.58 grade. UDFA rankings. LZ says he has an average leg and mediocre control. 6'4 3/8'' tall, 220 pounds. 45.1 yard average in 2021, 41.5 yard net average. Two year understudy to AJ Cole at NCST and became the new punter after Cole left for the NFL. Career average 46.3 yards. 23 years old, biology major. I like this guy better than LZ does. He's smart and technical, shows some directional control and ball control, hang time, his footwork has improved during his career in college, good size. I think he has upside as a pro.

6. Ryan Stonehouse (Colorado State) Not graded. UDFA rankings. This is the guy who broke Townsend's record for the best career punting average in FBS history at 47.8 yards. His dad and 2 uncles were also Division 1 school punters. 5'11'' tall, 185 pounds, turns 23 years old in May. Had a whopping 50.9 yard average in 2021 (42.3 yard net), but was only 2nd team all conference, because he's in the same conference as Matt Araiza. Had bombs punting on the road at sea level, so his stats aren't just a mirage created by elevation. Has a unique style, holds the ball underhanded, like a restaurant waiter holding a plate. Nice hang time. His footwork is better than Araiza, but like Araiza he needs to improve and change it to adapt to NFL style punting. He'll take extra steps and it hinders the elapsed time to get the punt away. His footwork is better now than it was early in his career. Shows skill with directional punting and some ball control. I think Stonehouse is arguably just as good if not a better prospect than Araiza, but similar to Araiza there is a boom or bust factor compared with the other prospects. Still, if other teams are willing to target Araiza in the 3rd or 4th round and Stonehouse is likely to be available as an UDFA, I think it can make the draft calculus interesting. Is it really worth drafting a punter that early?

7. Ryan Wright (Tulane) Not graded, UDFA rankings. 6'3'' tall, 245 pounds. Has a history of shanks, including a 30 yarder. Slumped in 2019, but improved both in 2020 (45.2 yard ave) and 2021 (47.5 yard ave, a career best). Can expedite operation with 2 step technique to get ball out quickly.

8. Josh Watts (Colorado) Not graded, UDFA ranking. From Tasmania, Australia. 6'4'' tall, 210 pounds. 26 years old. 47.8 yard ave in 2021. Mediocre fair catch and downing inside 20 stats.

9. Ben Griffiths (USC) Not graded, UDFA. From Melbourne, Australia. Turns 31 years old in September. 6'7'' tall, 240 pounds. Former professional Aussie rules football player. 45.4 yard ave over last 2 seasons.


I'd prefer to try to find a punter with NFL experience rather than roll with a rookie this season. It is also important to try to find someone who can be a reliable holder for FGs, otherwise we could see Matt Gay "regress" in 2022. If the Rams do choose to look in the draft for their new punter, there are a number of viable names to consider. I don't think Rams fans have to be fixated on Matt Araiza, thinking that he is the only fish in the sea. Some of the other punters don't have nearly as much leg power as Araiza, but they are much more advanced that he is at things such as directional control and getting the ball to die inside of the 10 yard line in the coffin corner. That might be all the Rams need, because do the Rams really intend on doing a bunch of punting from deep inside their own territory in 2022? A team with a good offense is probably more likely to be punting closer to midfield. I don't know how many punters will be drafted in 2022, maybe none of them will get selected, but even as UDFAs there should be several who could provide legitimate camp competition for NFL jobs.

Do any of the punters listed above appeal to you? Who would be your top 3 names?