Will "Moneyball" ever work in the NFL? Can punters be graded on numbers alone, or do you have to really dig in and scout each player?
If the NFL is to ever adopt a "Moneyball"-like scouting method, kickers and punters will be the most likely to be scouted from a purely numerical formula.
We've set out to find the best punters in the NFL—based on distance, accuracy and the ability to pin an offense deep inside its own 20-yard line.
To find out who's best, we've determined what makes up a great punter and how well each 2011 starter represents those traits. The quest comes as part of the B/R NFL 1,000. The new series offers an in-depth look at every position in the NFL, breaking down players' skills in a way never before seen on the Internet.
B/R 1,000 rankings don't assess who had the best year or even who has the most potential. Rather, players—in this case, punters—are judged on their current skills and mechanics, based on film study of the 2011 NFL preseason and regular season only.
After hours spent scouting every starter and every potential starter, the top 32 punters have been scored in five criteria (more on the criteria here). In the slides that follow, we'll explain each player's strengths and weaknesses as the final ranking is revealed.
Special thanks to ProFootballFocus.com for providing punting statistics.
32. Nick Harris, Jacksonville Jaguars
Harris' ability to pin the ball inside the 20-yard line isn't on par with the other punters in the NFL. On a per-punt average he's ranking in the bottom five.
His accuracy is better when placing the ball inside the 10 off shorter punts inside the 50-yard line.
Lacks the leg strength to drive the ball, but like a golfer with a good short game, he makes up for it in other areas.
Average hang time of 5.2 seconds places him at No. 20 overall in the NFL.
His short game is good, and when kicking inside his own 50 he is able to control the ball. On long punts he's not as fluid and struggles with placement.
Harris was pressed into action when Matt Turk was cut after five games. Harris has talent, and his hang time is solid, but his leg compares poorly with other punters.
31. Kevin Huber, Cincinnati Bengals
Of his 91 punts, just 30 landed inside the 20-yard line in 2011. Huber's accuracy is slightly below average.
Huber struggles to drop the ball inside the 10-yard line on short punts.
An average of 43.6 yards per punt ranked him 27th in the NFL in 2011.
Hang time of five seconds is No. 29 in the league.
Knocked 12 kicks out of bounds—one of only nine players to have double-digit kicks sail out of play.
The Cincinnati Bengals could easily upgrade at punter, as Huber's accuracy and power both grade out below average.
30. Ben Graham, Detroit Lions
Graham had 10 of 28 kicks drop inside the 20—a very impressive average.
Hit on the NFL average with kicks inside the 10, showing good control on punts short and long.
With an average of 44 yards per kick, Graham fell in the middle of the pack. His power isn't a huge advantage, nor is it a huge disadvantage.
A hang time of 4.8 seconds is not good. Anything under five seconds is pretty poor.
Showed good accuracy when dropping kicks inside the 20 but also kicked out of bounds on almost as many kicks as he dropped inside the red zone. Consistency is the key.
Graham played in just seven games, but did enough to earn the starting job for 2012. He's a solid punter who could improve his hang time and accuracy.
29. Jason Baker, Carolina Panthers
Baker hit on 22 of 66 kicks inside the 20—good for a 33 percent drop rate.
Where he really struggled was dropping the ball inside the 10. He has good accuracy inside the 20, but narrowing it down to that coffin corner isn't his strength.
Baker's 2011 average of 42.4 yards per kick won't get it done in the NFL. He needs to find a way to improve here.
What he lacks in power he makes up for in hang time. His 5.3 seconds give his gunners plenty of time to get downfield and make a play on the ball. This resulted in 15 fair catches during 2011.
Could be better here, as he shows good control at times. He only kicked one ball out of bounds during 2011, but his drop rate inside the 10 and 20 could be better.
Baker is a below-average punter who is a steady leg in the Carolina special teams game. He'll never lead the league in longest punts, or best drop rate, but he's solid and comes at a value.
28. Brett Hartmann, Houston Texans
With only 16 punts dropped inside the 20, Hartmann comes in well below the NFL average. His control and accuracy could be better.
Some punters excel when they know they have to hit a chip shot, with the ball going 30 to 40 yards. This is where Hartmann is on his game.
In his first year in the NFL, did a nice job with a 44.4-yard average per punt. This is a good sign for a player with room to grow.
An average of five seconds is akin to the Mendoza Line for punters. Can be coached up to improve his hang time.
His control on short kicks helps out a score that was affected by his drop rate inside the 20.
Just a rookie, Hartmann has serious upside. Houston wasn't a high-punting team in 2011, and with no offseason, he was thrown to the wolves.
27. Sav Rocca, Washington Redskins
Rocca dropped a deadly 27 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line during the 2011 season, but perhaps most importantly he had just one touchback.
While Rocca was the man putting the ball inside the 20, inside the 10 he was less than stellar, pushing the ball out of bounds on those kicks.
He has good power but below average compared with the rest. Averaged just 42.7 yards per kick.
Rocca's hang time of 5.2 seconds puts him just ahead of the rest of the pack.
Rocca kicked just four balls out of bounds all year, but look at his drops inside the 10 and you quickly see that his accuracy is not his strength.
Rocca is solid, and for a team aiming to get better he's qualified to handle the job. Washington could look for a stronger leg in facing elite offenses in Dallas, New York and Philadelphia.
26. Brad Maynard, Cleveland Browns
Maynard had 81 punts in 2011—33 of those landed inside the 20-yard line.
Maynard has very good control, but could do better at keeping the ball inbounds and in play.
Averages just a shade over 40 yards per punt, which keeps him among the lowest in the NFL.
Maynard is just under the league average with an average of five seconds of hang time.
When asked to drop the ball inside the 20 he's good, but 18 kicks went out of bounds this year.
Maynard has been around the league since 1997, so he's lost some of his power on the ball, but his accuracy is still good enough to get the job done.
25. Chas Henry, Philadelphia Eagles
Henry scores pretty well in terms of accuracy and hang time, but his ability to pin the offense deep inside their own 20-yard line isn't a strength.
Has good placement and a nice spin on the ball. Does a good job shooting the ball high and letting it drop short.
Has better accuracy than power—averaging just under 43 yards per kick.
Henry's best attribute is his ability to kick high and let the ball hang for his teammates to get down in coverage. Has an average of 5.30 seconds, with 16 of his kicks being fair caught.
Henry shows good control—just two of his kicks went out of bounds—but his placement inside the 20-yard line could be better.
As a rookie during the 2011 season, Henry impressed with good timing and good hang time. Only one of his punts was blocked and only two went out of bounds.
24. Adam Podlesh, Chicago Bears
Podlesh tied for No. 21 on kicks dropped inside the 20, and did so on the fifth-most punts in the NFL.
One area where Podlesh really stood out was his ability to pin the ball inside the 10. Tied for the sixth-best score with 11 punts inside the 10.
His average of 43.4 yards puts him slightly below average—but Chicago's wind definitely factors in.
Podlesh has the misfortune of punting in the Windy City, but his hang time of five seconds isn't quite good enough.
With a high number of coffin-corner kicks, Podlesh's accuracy receives a high score. Consider only four kicks went out of bounds and only three were touchbacks.
Podlesh has been in the league long enough for the Bears to know what they have in him. He's a solid punter who provides good field position, but he's never going to lead the league in longest punt or net yards.
23. Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills
Just 20 of his 72 punts landed inside the red zone. Moorman is a good punter historically, but he had a poor season.
Tied for third worst with just four punts landing inside the 10-yard line.
Moorman can sail the ball deep without issue. He averages almost 48 yards per punt.
With a hang time of 5.10 seconds, Moorman is right on par with the league average.
Moorman's accuracy is solid. He had only six of his 72 punts go out of bounds.
Moorman may best be known for taking a hit from Sean Taylor in the Pro Bowl, but he's a very good punter in his own right. Moorman has one of the strongest legs in the NFL.
22. Zoltan Mesko, New England Patriots
Mesko's placement could be better—he had 27 punts inside the 20 on 64 attempts.
Mesko comes in right in the middle of the NFL, tied for the No. 15 spot with seven punts downed inside the 10-yard line.
Mesko's best attribute is his power. He's averaging nearly 46 yards per punt.
With an average hang time of 5.20 seconds, Mesko is hitting the league average. He does a nice job hanging the ball up, but 29 of his punts have been returned to only 17 fair catches.
Mesko does a solid job controlling the ball. Rarely does he miss on his placement on deep kicks. He does need to better control his spin and placement on short kicks.
Mesko is one of the least active punters in the NFL. With just 57 punts in all of 2011, his sample size was notably smaller than others. Mesko's power and hang time give the Patriots a solid field-position advantage.
21. Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts
McAfee's ability to control and place the ball isn't great. He had just 22 punts (out of 88) stick inside the 20-yard line.
Like his inabilities inside the 20, McAfee struggles when asked to drop the ball deep. His hang time should be a benefit here, but too often he's out of position to plant the ball deep.
McAfee has a very solid average of 46.6 yards. With a young team in 2012 this will be a key for the Colts.
Kicking in the comfy confines of Lucas Oil Stadium definitely helps, but McAfee's hang time of 5.60 seconds outpaces the best punters in the NFL. He's tied for first overall.
McAfee's accuracy on corner kicks was impressive. He has a good feel for the ball and is able to control the direction. He has to get better at keeping the ball inbounds.
McAfee's power and overall accuracy are very good. He can hang the ball up and let his guys get under it, resulting in 19 fair catches during 2011.
20. Donnie Jones, St. Louis Rams
Jones dropped 30 picks inside the 20-yard line, an impressive raw number, but he also led the NFL in punts.
Jones does a better job when inside the defense's 50, where he can kick the ball high—as opposed to long—and drop it inside the 10.
Jones averages just 43.9 yards per punt, coming in below the NFL average.
With five seconds being the minimum hang time we like to see in a punter, Jones' average of 5.50 seconds is tied for third highest in the NFL.
Jones' red-zone numbers may not be great, but his combination of hang time and keeping the ball in play results in a very high accuracy score. He had just 11 of his 105 kicks go out of bounds and only nine touchbacks.
Jones is a big part of the St. Louis game plan, and in 2011 he led all punters with 105 kicks. The Rams will hope that's not the case in 2012, but if they need him he's there to provide great hang time and very good ball control in the dome.
19. Chris Kluwe, Minnesota Vikings
Kluwe doesn't have the control to consistently pin the ball inside the 20-yard line. Just 22 of his 77 kicks were downed here.
Kluwe's accuracy is better when placing the ball inside the 10 off shorter punts inside the 50-yard line.
Has the power to drive the ball deep, especially indoors. He's averaging 45.6 yards per punt with a long of 60 yards.
Playing eight games at home, in a dome, definitely helps. Kluwe's hang time of 5.40 seconds is above league average. His hang time in six road appearances in an outdoor stadium: 4.76.
Kluwe is a very good indoor punter, but when asked to control the ball outdoors his accuracy and consistency drop off considerably.
The Vikings played 10 games out of the elements in 2011, and in those games Kluwe was very good. The other six games—including two divisional games in Green Bay and Chicago—he struggled. The Vikings could look soon for a punter with a better all-around game.
18. Michael Koenen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Koenan impressed with very good spin and control on kicks deep. He pinned 25 of his 67 kicks inside the 20.
Koenen ranked near the bottom of the NFL with just five punts inside the 10—good for No. 25 overall. Koenen's accuracy is better when placing the ball inside the 10 off shorter punts inside the 50-yard line.
Koenen lacks the leg strength to drive the ball, averaging just 44.8 yards per punt with a long of 65.
The mark of a good punter is control and hang time. By pushing the ball up and letting it drop, Koenan lets his gunners race down the field to secure a tackle or fair catch. He averaged a hang time of 5.3 seconds.
Koenen has good hang time and good ability to drop the ball inside the 20. What he lacks is great power and the fine-tuned accuracy to drop the ball inside the 10.
Koenen is the type of punter you sign and then don't worry about. He's solid in every aspect of the game, if not spectacular in any one area. In 67 punts he did not have one blocked and only five went out of bounds.
17. Tim Masthay, Green Bay Packers
Masthay dropped almost 50 percent of his punts inside the 20—and this is a guy who plays most games outdoors in the crazy Lambeau Field weather.
Was getting the ball close to the 10 on most punts, but he's much better dropping it inside the 20. Just needs to fine-tune his drop.
Like a golfer with a good short game, he makes up for the lack of a great drive with incredible touch and good accuracy.
Playing in Lambeau Field definitely hurts, but his average of 4.90 is bad on any level.
Looking at his ability to pin the offense deep, Masthay is one of the best. Better control and better placement in the corner would help his score.
Masthay is a player to watch as he progresses. His accuracy is at a top tier, and if he can improve his hang time and power he'll be great.
16. Sam Koch, Baltimore Ravens
Dropped down 24 of his 73 punts inside the 20. Koch goes good ball control and a nice backspin.
Does a good job here, but he's inconsistent. Graded by percentage with the rest of the league, he's on par with the NFL average.
Can boot the ball very well, especially for a punter who is primarily outdoors. Has an average of 46.6 yards, with a long of 77 yards (which is very good).
Average hang time of 5.4 seconds placed him at the slightly above-average level among NFL punters.
Koch punted 95 times, and just six of those went out of bounds. He shows very good command of the ball inside the hashes and doesn't miss very often.
The most impressive area with Koch was his timing. He doesn't have punts blocked (zero in 2011) and is very quick on the trigger. From snap to kick he's very good.
15. Dustin Colquitt, Kansas City Chiefs
Colquitt's command inside the 20 was disappointing. He sunk 28 of his 89 punts there—well below the NFL average.
Did a better job at pinning the offense inside their own 10-yard line. He has the ability to drop the ball after a nice hang in the air.
Slightly above average, Colquitt hit for almost 46 yards per kick and had a nice long of 68 yards.
The ball hung on average 5.3 seconds when he boomed it. He has good height and a nice drop, which can throw off return men. Of his 89 punts, 26 were fair caught.
Keeping kicks inbounds is important for field position, and Colquitt only had six go out on him this year.
Colquitt is mechanically very good, and if he could increase his drop rate inside the 20- and 10-yard lines his score would be much higher.
14. Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans
Kern's command when put in a position to drop the ball deep is very good. He pinned defenses inside the 20 on 35 of his 86 kicks.
Gives his guys a chance to make plays on coffin kicks with his placement over his hang time. The ball shows a nice upward bounce that makes catching up to it that much easier.
Lacks the leg strength to drive the ball.
Average hang time of five seconds placed him at No. 29 in the NFL.
Kern has good accuracy and control. What killed his score was his 15 kicks out of bounds—second most in the NFL. When you grade him on a per-kick basis, that dramatically affects his score.
Kern has good potential, but his power and accuracy have to be improved. With added power his hang time should be better, but mechanically you would like to see him swing through the kick more to add air to it.
13. Mat McBriar, Dallas Cowboys
McBriar had 50 punts on the year—23 of them landed inside the 20-yard line. He has the hang time and accuracy to drop the ball deep.
An area where he is good, but could improve. He was slightly below the NFL average in 2011 with four of his punts landing in the dead zone.
Not known as a power punter. He gets great height, but distance is an issue. Averaged just 43.5 yards per punt in 2011.
Can boom the football to great heights, and his 5.50-second hang time is tied for third best in the NFL.
Control can be an issue with McBriar, but he has a good bounce and is generally consistent.
McBriar is among the best in the game at soaring the ball up and letting his players run under it. As such, only 14 of his 2011 kicks were fair caught and only six were downed by his own team. McBriar's raw abilities are great, but the overall execution is average.
12. Matt Bosher, Atlanta Falcons
A master at pushing the ball deep and dropping it inside the 20. Of his 77 punts, 32 were inside the 20 and eight were downed by his teammates.
Good inside the 10, but his punts did result in four touchbacks and 36 returns.
Bosher's game is hang time and accuracy. His power was well below average with a 42.9 average—and that's kicking indoors.
Averaged a 5.50-second hang time—that was tied for third best in 2011.
Short game is good, and when kicking inside his own 50 he is able to control the ball. On long punts he's not as fluid and struggles with placement.
Bosher's hang time and ability to drop the ball inside the red zone make him a very valuable part of the Atlanta Falcons game plan. He could increase his power and work on consistency, but otherwise he's very solid.
11. T.J. Conley, New York Jets
Conley has a good feel for the ball, and gets a nice spin on it, but only 32 of his 91 kicks were downed or caught inside the 20.
Where Conley surprised me most was when pinning the ball inside the 10. He hit on the second-most kicks caught or downed inside the 10, with 15 total.
Lacks the leg strength to drive the ball, but he has good accuracy, hang time and placement.
With a hang time of 5.3 seconds, Conley was above average but not quite measuring up to the elite punters.
Keeps the ball in play, with only six of 91 punts being touchbacks. Adding onto that, only seven were out of bounds.
Conley played very well in his third NFL season, showing the accuracy and hang time to quickly move up the ladder. With better power, Conley would be a top-10 punter.
10. Steve Weatherford, New York Giants
Weatherford comes in a little light here. He punted 104 times during the season and just 33 of those were dropped inside the 20. He does play almost every game outdoors, but his score could be higher here with better accuracy.
Was tied for the sixth-most punts downed inside the 10-yard line, with 11.
One area where Weatherford could improve is his strength. Punts went an average of 45.4 yards. His longest punt on the year was 61 yards (outdoors vs. Philadelphia).
Hang time of 5.20 was just above the league average.
Impressive with his command and control on the ball. Of his 104 punts, only seven were touchbacks and 19 were fair caught.
The Giants value Weatherford enough to have made him their franchise player this offseason. He'll earn a high salary, and judging by his play it is well-deserved.
9. Daniel Sepulveda, Pittsburgh Steelers
Sepulveda punted just 25 times in his eight games, but he nailed nine punts inside the 20 during that time. The score here and for punts inside the 10 came off averages, and Sepulveda did very well.
Dropping the ball inside the 10 is not an easy job, and Sepulveda came in right at the league average. Given a full season, his score could have increased with a larger sample size.
With an average punt of 45.3 yards, Sepulveda is above average. His longest punt of 66 yards is respectable if not elite.
A hang time of 5.40 seconds is a good reason why only 32 percent of his punts were returned this year. Teams called for a fair catch 20 percent of the time.
His short game is good, and when kicking inside his own 50 he is able to control the ball. On long punts he's not as fluid and struggles with placement.
Sepulveda played in only eight games this season, but he did enough to warrant a very high score. His future is very bright, as he brings the necessary power and accuracy to be an elite punter.
8. Thomas Morstead, New Orleans Saints
Just 18 of Morstead's 51 kicks were downed inside the 20. While he's not asked to punt often—thanks to Drew Brees
—this number could be higher.
Had the second-fewest punts downed inside the 10 in the entire NFL, with just three of his kicks landing in the coffin corner.
Playing in a dome helps but Morstead has a great leg. He averaged 48.1 yards per punt and booted his longest (64 yards) in Atlanta.
Average hang time of 5.2 seconds places him at No. 20 in the NFL.
A nice combination punter but his overall accuracy is impressive. He's good inside the 20, very consistent and had just four touchbacks all year.
Morstead is seldom used. He had the fewest punts of any punter who started more than eight games, but when he does trot out on the field he delivers. The combination of power and accuracy makes him a dangerous part of the Saints' plans.
7. Dave Zastudil, Arizona Cardinals
Among the highest percentage of punts downed inside the 20. Zastudil put 26 of his 87 punts in the red zone.
Had seven punts downed inside the 10, good for a tie at No. 15 overall.
Long game is lacking.
His average hang time of 5.1 seconds is a good reason for just 19 fair catches all season. Playing in a dome, this should be better.
The overall placement on Zastudil's punts is very good. He has nice control and is a master at dropping the ball down inside the 20.
Among the best punters in the game, the Arizona Cardinals are thrilled to have someone with Zastudil's ability to pin the opposing offense back deep to start their drives.
6. Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins
Fields' ability to pin the ball inside the 20-yard line gave him a per-punt average in the top five in 2011.
Accuracy when placing the ball inside the 10-yard line off shorter punts is exceptional. He punted 78 times this year—14 were downed inside the 10.
With a long of 70 yards and an average of 48.8, Fields is among the NFL's best-kept secrets at the punter position.
Hang time is an issue with Fields, but NFL teams can live with a five-second average. If he can improve this, watch out.
His ability to put the ball inside the 10- and 20-yard lines is incredible. Based purely on that, he may be a top-five punter.
Fields is one of my favorite punters to watch. He has flawless technique, isn't afraid to boot the ball deep and is consistent. He also had two tackles this year, which definitely helps.
5. Britton Colquitt, Denver Broncos
With 111 punts in 2011, Colquitt had plenty of chances to pin offenses deep. He dropped just 37 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Had the most punts of any player in 2011 when you factor in the playoffs. During that time he pinned 11 punts inside the 10-yard line.
The thin Denver air may contribute, but Colquitt's 2011 average of 46.6 was near the top of the NFL food chain. His long of 66 yards is impressive.
The altitude factors in again here, but his 5.40 seconds is tied for seventh in the NFL.
In terms of pure accuracy, it doesn't get much better. Colquitt has excellent command of the ball and is able to put a nice spin on it. Playing with an offense that pinned him deep in his own territory at times limited his red-zone and coffin opportunities.
His hang time, command, control and power are all on par with the best of the best.
4. Jon Ryan, Seattle Seahawks
Of his 95 punts, a solid 35 landed or were downed inside the 20-yard line. Ryan's control of the ball when asked to strategically plant it deep is impressive.
Ryan is among the best in the game at taking the ball at the 50-yard line, sending it straight up and back down inside the 10-yard line.
The second-longest punt of the 2011 NFL season was 77 yards, and Ryan kicked it in Week 1 against San Francisco.
A hang time of 5.40 seconds is good enough for Ryan to rank near the top. He's tied with stud punters Andy Lee and Shane Lechler.
Ryan has great control of the ball. He kicked 95 times and only six were out of bounds, with none coming after Week 9.
Ryan does a great job kicking in the unpredictable Seattle weather. He brings the perfect combination of strength and accuracy.
3. Shane Lechler, Oakland Raiders
When you add up every punt from every punter and factor in their ratio of punts that land inside the 20, Lechler comes in just above average. Of his punts, 29 landed inside the 20-yard line and 44 were returned.
Lechler's play dropped off a bit in 2011 based on how well he pinned the ball deep. Just 11 of his 77 punts were downed inside the 10-yard line.
The year's longest punt was 80 yards, and it was Shane Lechler who booted it. That 80-yard bomb came against the Chicago Bears at home. His average of 49.9 wasn't the best in the game, but it was close.
Lechler's 5.40 hang time was good enough to be tied for seventh overall in the NFL.
Lechler has the best directional accuracy of any punter in the game. He has exceptional control and can kick accurately and consistently to either corner from any place on the field. Only seven of his 80 kicks went out of bounds.
Some will be surprised that Lechler isn't ranked higher, even though he's No. 3. The difference between Lechler and the two guys above him are his hang time and his percentages when asked to punt the ball inside the red zone. Lechler is damn good, but based on 2011, there are two guys better.
2. Mike Scifres, San Diego Chargers
Scifres punted 47 times during the 2011 season, and he put 19 of those punts inside the 20-yard line.
The best in the NFL at drilling the ball deep, he dropped 14 punts inside the five-yard line (one in every 3.3 punts).
An average punt of 47.5 yards puts Scifres near the top of the NFL's averages. His longest punt of the year was 71 yards.
With an average hang time of 5.5 seconds, he was tied for third best in 2011.
It's hard to ask for better punting when asking a player to pin the ball deep. The only area where he could improve would be his directional punting. And that's being very picky.
Scifres may not get mentioned in the same breath as Shane Lechler as the best punter in the AFC, but the truth is he had a better 2011 when you break down both their play and their numbers.
1. Andy Lee, San Francisco 49ers
Break it down any way you want—by eye or by averages, Andy Lee is elite. He kicked 96 times in 18 games and downed 41 of the inside the 20. That was the most of any punter in the game.
Actually led the NFL in punts inside the 10-yard line with 14. All the more impressive considering he had the fourth-most punts.
With an average of 50.9 yards, he had the best average among qualifying punters. The only people with a better average each had one punt on the year.
Lee's hang time of 5.40 seconds is all the more impressive considering the wind/rain/fog storms he plays through alongside San Francisco Bay.
Punted 96 times this year. Just four of those punts went out of bounds. When you think control, Andy Lee is who you think of.
The best of the best. Lee is near perfect at what he does. There is not a more valuable punter in the NFL today. He is the ideal combination of power, accuracy, hang time and everything in between.