Jacksonville Jaguars Blow It by Drafting a Punter in the Third Round
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The Jaguars' selection of Byran Anger, punter out of Cal, has been much maligned. It's obviously easy to be glib about just the second punter taken that early since the mid-90s. General Manager Gene Smith made an unconventional choice, but that doesn't make it wrong.
What does make it wrong is that it shows a complete and total failure to comprehend what makes teams win. The selection of Anger was a poor one for the following reasons.
1. He won't kick off, and even if he does, he won't improve much on what Josh Scobee did.
The Jaguars were fifth in the NFL last year in touch back percentage on kickoffs. Whatever utility Anger adds, he does so strictly as a punter. Even if he did handle kickoffs, the Jaguars only had 26 kickoffs not wide up in the end zone. Even if Anger was leading the league at 70 percent touchback rate, the net gain would be about six touchbacks a year.
2. Because his entire utility is punting, his actual game impact is low.
The Jaguars punted 99 times in 2011. That's about six times a game. The Jaguars offense will either be equally bad in 2012, in which case the argument must be made that they missed the chance to improve it by selecting another talented player like T.Y. Hilton, or it will be better. If it is better, the importance of Anger decreases.
The Jaguars ranked 29th in net average for punts, a number that was weighed down by the horrible Matt Turk experiment. Had they ranked first in the NFL, and if that difference could be attributed entirely to the punter, the Jaguars would have saved roughly 48 yards a game in field position. The Jags gave up roughly one point for every 15 yards.
In a perfect world where Anger leads the NFL punting, the Jags would get about a field goal's worth of value a game out of Anger. That's great value, but it would require no improvement in the Jags offense, no regression on defense and a league leading year from Anger to realize it.
Will Anger be a good pick for the Jags?
But what if the Jaguars' offense improves?
The Jaguars had the third most punts in football. If they became even league average, that would be around 20 fewer punts a year. If they ever became a good offense, they are looking at 30 fewer punts a year. Success for the Jaguars means that Anger's impact on the game decreases.
3. The Jaguars are assuming punt performance is predictable pre-draft.
Since 1990, there have been 14 punters taken in the top four rounds of the draft. Two of them, Chris Gardoki and Todd Sauerbrun have gone on to make at least one Pro Bowl. Four of them played fewer than two full seasons in the NFL. The list of "early pick" punters doesn't inspire any confidence that teams can accurately judge punting quality pre-draft.
4. Net Punting Average doesn't lead to victories.
Even if Anger does everything he's supposed to, there isn't much evidence that improving net punting average leads to victories. In an eight-year study by Matt Grecco, winning net punting average in any game lead to just a 51 percent chance of winning that game.
In other words, it had very little effect on the outcome.
Keith Goldner of Advanced NFL Stats shows us that of all the ways to limit field position for the other team, turnovers is the one that actually has the most impact on the game.
5. The Jaguars ask for a comparison between Anger and the average third-round pick after the season.
While it's entirely possible that Anger will out perform many third-round picks in 2012, that's a function of playing time as much as anything. Most third-round picks have to earn jobs, but Anger has had his given to him.
The real impact of the third-round picks won't be fully felt for several years.
Beyond that, the Jaguars shouldn't be judged by all third-round picks made, just by the other likely players on the board that could have helped them. Obviously, the Jags weren't looking for a quarterback in Round 3, so there's no point in including them in the discussion. Would Jake Bequette, T.Y. Hilton, Mohamed Sanu or Brandon Taylor have helped Jacksonville more?
That's the real question, and the better standard.
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