NFL1000: Free-Agent Rankings for the 2017 Kicker/Punter Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agent Rankings for the 2017 Kicker/Punter Market

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    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free-agency preview, a series where we'll use the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and scout Chuck Zodda dive into the kicker and punter classes.

    The NFL's recent decision to move back the extra point has made the game more exciting, but it's gotten into a lot of kickers' heads. One of the more interesting things we discovered in the first year of the weekly NFL1000 project was the variance in consistency from kicker to kicker.

    Led by Zodda, our special teams expert, we've tracked the position each week, and few have been great all year. Just a handful made all their extra points, and we've seemingly seen more kickers than ever get the yips because of the increasing challenges brought about by longer extra points. 

    It may not seem like a big deal, but that one change has altered the kicking game, and made the best at the position more valuable than ever. 

    We've also been tracking every NFL punter and rediscovered the value of those who combine hang time and directional ability to help their return specialists. 

    Some fans overlook these positions in the grand scheme of things, but NFL teams know better. Here are the available specialists on the market for 2017.

    Previous Installments:

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings

    All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

10. Kicker: Connor Barth

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 29.6/40
    Accuracy: 28.3/40
    Tackling: 4.1/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 65.0/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Connor Barth had battled injuries in recent years that sapped some of his power, but the Bears signed him just prior to the start of the season as a potential improvement over Robbie Gould on shorter kicks. This proved to be an issue, as he went 14-of-16 on field goals less than 40 yards this year, after only missing four such kicks over the previous seven years.

    Overall, Barth made 78.3 percent of his field-goal attempts, which is not acceptable with the level of talent in today's NFL game.

    Barth does not have any clear tendencies in terms of where he misses, as he has issues both lagging his hips as well as clearing too quickly in certain situations. He still does not seem to trust his power at distance, evidenced by his torquing off the ball on two attempts from 50 and 51 yards this year. On shorter attempts, he would occasionally lose focus and end up pulling kicks to the left.

    Overall, Barth would likely be able to improve by getting out of Soldier Field, as it is difficult to kick there, but it remains to be seen how many teams will be in the market for his services given the year he is coming off. The Bengals may be an option, as they have historically looked for cost-effective players at the position, so he may find he gets another chance in Cincinnati.


    Doug's Quick Take

    In today's NFL, where more pressure is put on kickers than ever, Barth will find it tough to stick on a roster. His accuracy issues at all levels in 2016 make him a troublesome signing, and he was below-average in kickoffs as well.


    Potential Suitors: Cincinnati Bengals

9. Kicker: Chandler Catanzaro

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 31.2/40
    Accuracy: 28.1/40
    Tackling: 4.0/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 66.3/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Chandler Catanzaro will have the most challenging offseason of his career. He suffered a meltdown over a four-week period near the end of the campaign, missing seven kicks over that span. He finished the year with just 75 percent accuracy on field goals and 91.4 percent on extra points. Both of these numbers are significantly below average, and there are several questions surrounding Catanzaro's future with the team.

    Part of the reason is that Catanzaro's issues were so dramatic and varied. He suffered a complete mechanical breakdown during the end of the season. It wasn't any one problem, but rather that he looked incapable of replicating his mechanics from swing to swing, and it seemed as though he had lost the ability to self-diagnose what was wrong.

    However, Catanzaro made 87.9 percent of his field-goal attempts during his rookie season in 2014 and 90.3 percent during his second year. Kickers rarely progress in a linear fashion, and this could simply be growing pains as he looks to cement his place in the NFL. However, the nature of his struggles will give many people pause when considering where he ends up next year.

    What is the most likely outcome?

    A restricted free agent, he'll probably re-sign with Arizona, but the Cardinals will bring in one or more specialists to compete with him. How Catanzaro performs over the next six months will be critical in determining if he is on the roster in Week 1. While kickers can bounce back from struggles, the severity and pace of Catanzaro's issues give him an uphill battle for retaining his job in 2017.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Given Arizona head coach Bruce Arians' general annoyance with his kicking game in 2016, it would be surprising if Catanzaro had a major role with the Cardinals without a showing of significant improvement in the offseason. When Catanzaro missed a 24-yard field goal against the Seahawks in November, Arians famously said, "He's a professional. This ain't high school, baby. You get paid to make it."


    Potential Suitors: Arizona Cardinals

8. Kicker: Nick Novak

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 28.8/40
    Accuracy: 29.5/40
    Tackling: 4.1/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 65.4/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda 

    Nick Novak has one of the weaker legs in the NFL, but over the last five years, he has shown himself to be a slightly above average kicker and competent from inside 50 yards. He made 85.4 percent of his field-goal attempts last season and has not been below 84.6 percent since 2011.

    He has had some issues adjusting to the longer extra points, missing five over the past two campaigns, which puts him slightly lower than the NFL average in that phase.

    Novak's primary mechanical issues come when attempting longer field goals, as he tries to generate added power to compensate for the distance and typically ends up pulling off the ball and slicing it wide right.

    From shorter distances, his mechanics are repeated consistently, and he has an easy motion that is replicated on a regular basis. However, his lack of top-end power makes him a question mark for many playoff contenders, especially those who play in bad weather regularly.

    Novak signed a one-year deal to stay in Houston last offseason, and it's possible they look to do the same this year. However, the Texans may consider some of the other free-agent talent as an upgrade. If they do, Novak will find himself with several options from franchises searching for a low-cost kicker.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Novak is a fine technician who's made the most of his limited attributes, but his kickoffs are subpar and he can't be relied upon from longer than 40 yards. The Texans would do well to find a better option.


    Potential Suitors: Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals

7. Kicker: Greg Zuerlein

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 31.1/40
    Accuracy: 29.7/40
    Tackling: 3.9/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 67.7/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Greg Zuerlein is 29 years old, and after being misused during the 2015 and 2016 campaigns due to his prodigious leg strength, Zuerlein had a bounce-back 2016, making 86.4 percent of his field goals and all 23 extra points he attempted.

    The key issue with Zuerlein is his track record, as former Rams head coach Jeff Fisher loved to trot him out for 60-plus-yard attempts. He tried three in 2015, which was equal to the number of kicks every other team in the league attempted from that distance from my charting.

    Zuerlein also kicked 30 percent of his field goals from 50-plus yards that season, which was far in excess of the 16.2 percent the rest of the NFL attempted. Kicking from distance with such regularity tends to wreck a kicker's confidence, as he won't have enough shorter kicks to get into a strong rhythm.

    Zuerlein appeared to get his confidence back last year, as he was perfect from under 40 yards, though he still showed residual issues from distance, making just two of four kicks from 50-plus yards. In both of his misses from that distance, he torqued off the ball significantly. He mistrusted his leg strength instead of employing the same mechanics he uses on shorter kicks. This indicates more of a mental hurdle, and with enough time, he should be able to address it.

    The real question is: What is Zuerlein's value on the open market? He is an unrestricted free agent who made $1.25 million last year. It is difficult to envision a team's giving him a significant bump in pay without a longer track record of success to back it up.

    Zuerlein's long-term performance can easily be replicated by a lower-cost option from the draft or an undrafted free agent, and he is likely not worth the $2.5 million-per-year contract that successful kickers typically use as a starting point for a free-agent deal.

    The Bengals, always frugal, may try to grab him on a cheap contract, but it is tough to see anyone else choosing to spend on him. Zuerlein's best bet may be to catch on in camp on a cheap pact and try to prove this year was not a fluke, and then look for a bigger deal next offseason.


    Doug's Quick Take 

    Zuerlein ranked ninth among all kickers in field-goal accuracy, and he was one of just five kickers to make all of his extra points. The Rams have 99 problems when it comes to scoring points, but Zuerlein isn't one of them, and the team should do everything possible to retain him. This is a team in need of roster stability.         

    Potential Suitors: Cincinnati Bengals

6. Kicker: Cairo Santos

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 30.1/40
    Accuracy: 29.4/40
    Tackling: 4.1/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 66.7/100 


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Cairo Santos has one of the whippiest legs in the league, as he features a sidewinding motion that generates capable power out of his small 5'8", 160-pound frame. Santos had the best year of his career in 2016, making 88.6 percent of his field-goal attempts, though he did miss three extra points.

    Santos' accuracy numbers are skewed, though, as his 35.63-yard average distance was more than two yards shorter than the NFL average according to my charting—meaning he was attempting easier kicks than normal.

    Santos has never had a perfect season from under 40 yards, and that could be a concern for a team looking for a dependable option from short distance, especially coupled with the missed extra points in 2016.

    Unfortunately, Santos' misses did not have a common flaw among them. Rather than having a single mechanical issue for him to try to eliminate, he instead will make different mistakes in different situations. This makes it more difficult to build the kind of consistency demanded of top kickers, but he is still a capable option who will continue to compete as a league-average kicker for a number of years.

    Santos is a restricted free agent, and it's hard to envision that Kansas City will let him go, especially considering he'll be cheap to retain. But it may choose to make a short-term upgrade to Phil Dawson if it wants to make another playoff push or two with its current core. If that is the case, Santos could catch on in a number of places, likely for lower cost than a more established option.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Santos' misses from short range are especially bizarre in that he made both of his tries from 50 yards or more and 7-of-8 from 40 to 49 yards. That's a kicker worth working with. 


    Potential Suitors: Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills

5. Kicker: Phil Dawson

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 29.6/40
    Accuracy: 29.3/40
    Tackling: 4/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 65.8/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    At 42, Phil Dawson is one of the elder statesmen of the game, with he and Adam Vinatieri proving that careers for kickers can easily last into one's early 40s. Dawson was 18-of-21 on field goals this year, good for 85.7 percent, which was just above the league mark of 84.2 percent. More importantly, Dawson accomplished this while making his average kick from 40.33 yards, compared to the league number at 37.73 yards.

    Clearly, Dawson still has plenty in the tank and is not just making his money on chip shots.

    While one of his misses this year was due to excess wind, his other two saw him pulling off the ball slightly and lagging his hips while coming through the kicking zone, which is one of the most common issues kickers face.

    Dawson can identify flaws in his mechanics rapidly, and he makes good in-game adjustments to keep small flaws from turning into issues that can cause additional misses. San Francisco did have Bradley Pinion handle kickoff duties for much of the year, though Dawson pitched in occasionally. Any team that's bringing on Dawson may choose to utilize a similar setup on kickoffs. He was capable when called into duty, but he may simply be conserving his leg at this age, much like the Colts did with Vinatieri and Pat McAfee.

    Dawson's age will likely prevent him from getting a long deal, but he presents good value to a team at somewhere in the $3 million- to $3.5 million-per-year range, likely for one to two seasons. While Dawson is at the age where many players are long-retired, he has given no indication he is hanging up his cleats. Dawson could provide value to a franchise looking for an interim solution.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Opponents returned 80.5 percent of Dawson's kickoffs in 2016. That's the highest percentage for any kicker playing at least half the season. That's a problem, and given Kyle Shanahan's reliance on great kickoffs in Atlanta, the 49ers and their new head coach might look for a more powerful leg.


    Potential Suitors: Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans

4. Kicker: Robbie Gould

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    Dan Istitene/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 31.2/40
    Accuracy: 27.6/40
    Tackling: 3.8/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 65.6/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda:

    A surprise cut by the Bears just prior to last season, Robbie Gould charted one of the lowest accuracy numbers in the NFL1000 this year during his time with the Giants. However, it's a case where the numbers don't tell the full story.

    Gould missed two extra points during a windy, cold Week 11 that saw NFL kickers miss a record 11 extra points. In addition, Gould also had a shortened 10-week season after the Giants moved on from Josh Brown. Gould had just 10 field-goal attempts in those games, though he did make all 10. The small sample size did not do him any favors, and his performance on extra points is a significant deviation from the 28-of-29 performance he posted in 2015.

    Gould features a strong leg that has allowed him to make 23 of 31 attempts from over 50 yards in his career, even in the swirling winds of Soldier Field. The Bears' stadium is consistently ranked by specialists as one of the most difficult places to kick, and Gould still posted an accuracy of at least 84 percent in eight out of eleven seasons there prior to going to the Giants.

    While Gould is not an upper-echelon kicker in the same class as Justin Tucker, Dan Bailey or Stephen Gostkowski, he could be an option for a team looking for an above-average specialist who won't come at a premium cost.

    Gould's performance could put him in line for a two- or three-year contract at $2 million to $2.5 million per season, and he is unlikely to get a lot in guaranteed money. But for a franchise in need of a kicker and is either on the edge of playoff contention or looking for a boost to go deeper into the playoffs, the 35-year-old Gould could be a perfect stop-gap to fill that role.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Gould's accuracy will get him some looks, and he's above-average as a kickoff artist. The extra-point issues are significant, but the Giants would be wise to bring him back.


    Potential Suitors:  Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals

3. Kicker: Wil Lutz

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 31.4/40
    Accuracy: 30.9/40
    Tackling: 4.2/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 69.4/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Wil Lutz surprised me. There is no other way to put it, as Lutz was well off my radar heading into the year.

    Just how wrong was I? When describing Lutz after his initial signing with the Baltimore Ravens prior to his landing in New Orleans, I wrote, "Lutz has a strong leg, capable of hitting from 50-plus with ease, but his accuracy is questionable at best." He then went out to have the strongest season out of any rookie kicker, placing seventh in the final NFL1000 rankings.

    Lutz has a big leg that generates easy power. He had significant issues repeating his mechanics in college and likely struggled with early nerves in the first two weeks of 2016, missing three field goals during that time. However, Lutz showed a massive amount of mental toughness, bouncing back and missing just three field goals over the remaining 14 games. Lutz also missed just one out of 50 extra-point attempts, proving he can channel his focus even on chip shots.

    However, a word of caution is necessary for Saints fans: Many kickers have exploded onto the scene as rookies, only to see some level of regression in their second and third years. Blair Walsh, Chandler Catanzaro and Dustin Hopkins all had outstanding first seasons but struggled somewhat in subsequent campaigns.

    While Lutz is a high-upside kicker who may be the long-term solution at the position for New Orleans, the path for kickers is seldom linear, and there may be some growing pains ahead. This is normal, and part of the maturation process for young kickers. But if Lutz's first year is any indication, he has the mental fortitude and ability to self-diagnose issues that typically take years to develop, and he is still just 22 years old.

    Lutz is a restricted free agent, so New Orleans will likely enjoy having him on a cheap contact for the next several years.


    Doug's Quick Take

    The Saints will hold on to Lutz, and don't be surprised if he's given a new deal before he hits the open market if he's able to avoid the sophomore slump.


    Potential Suitors: New Orleans Saints

2. Kicker: Steven Hauschka

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 31.6/40
    Accuracy: 29.3/40
    Tackling: 4.1/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 68/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Steven Hauschka has been excellent for the Seattle Seahawks over the past six years. In particular, his last five campaigns stand out, as he has never posted a field-goal accuracy below 83.8 percent during that span. Such numbers would typically indicate he is in for a big payday, and he still may get it.

    However, there are concerns that have developed with Hauschka over the past two seasons that the common statistics do not pick up on.

    The first issue is Hauschka's continued struggle with extra points. After missing four in 2015 for a 90.9 percent accuracy, he missed six more in 2016, making only 82.9 percent of his extra-point attempts.

    The only two kickers who were less accurate on extra points in 2016 were Mike Nugent and Blair Walsh, with both of them being released by their respective teams before they could finish the campaign. Hauschka's short-distance struggles also spilled over into short field goals this year, as he missed two kicks from 20 to 29 yards, after only missing two such attempts over the rest of his career.

    However, Hauschka's strong leg is something few kickers can compete with, as he is 12-of-14 on attempts over 50 yards in the last four years. His torquey, whipping style creates an immense amount of power, though the trade-off is the occasional wildness.

    Hauschka's misses tend to come in bunches, and he does take slightly longer to correct mechanical issues than ideal for an upper-echelon kicker. But when he is clicking, he has one of the most potent legs in the league, though there is commonly a two-game stretch where he will need to work out mechanical flaws in most seasons.

    While Hauschka is likely to end up with a contract in the range of four years and $14 million from someone because of his impressive leg strength, that team must understand that part of the price it pays for that talent is the occasional bout of inaccuracy. Hauschka has been nearly perfect in the playoffs, missing just one field goal and one extra point throughout his career, so while he will occasionally have issues in the regular season, he has been deadly in postseason play.


    Doug's Quick Take

    The Seahawks announced they signed former Vikings kicker Walsh on Thursday, and this likely will lead to Hauschka's exit from Seattle. Another team will deal with his inconsistency and hope he can turn that around.


    Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings

1. Kicker: Brandon McManus

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Power: 31.5/40
    Accuracy: 30.4/40
    Tackling: 4.0/10
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 68.9/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Brandon McManus proved his 2015 season was not a fluke, following up his 85.7 percent accuracy on field goals from that campaign with an 85.3 percent showing in 2016. McManus also missed just one extra point in each of the last two seasons, making 67 of 69 attempts over that span.

    In an era where the extra point has taken on greater importance, that consistency gives McManus a slight edge in value over Steven Hauschka, who many view as the premier name on the market. McManus has not missed from closer than 40 yards since his rookie season in 2014, and he continues to build consistency in his mechanics as he grows more confident in his approach.

    Unlike many right-footed kickers who struggle from the right hash and tend to push the ball right, McManus tends to miss left, with four of his five his field-goal misses being wide to that side in 2016 according to my charting. He occasionally gets a little too quick in his approach, and the occasional inaccuracy to the left side is largely a result of this issue. As he gets older and becomes more familiar with his mechanics, this issue is likely to straighten itself out somewhat, but it won't disappear completely.

    McManus benefits from playing in the thin air of Sports Authority Field, but he has shown significant improvement on long field-goal attempts in the last two years as well. While he missed his only two tries during his rookie season, he is 8-of-13 over the past two years on 50-plus-yard attempts, putting his accuracy effectively in line with the NFL average of 61 percent on such kicks over that period.

    Kickers typically continue to add leg strength through their late 20s, so it is not unreasonable to expect improvement here, but McManus still has work to do in maintaining his mechanics and trusting his leg in these situations.

    He does not project as an elite-level talent, so it is tough to see someone poaching him from the Broncos due to his restricted free-agent status. However, Denver will have no hesitations re-signing him for 2017, and he is a near-lock to be its starter going forward.


    Doug's Quick Take

    There are always questions about kickers in Denver, but McManus was very good on field goals and an excellent kickoff artist throughout the season. The Broncos see him as an asset.


    Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos

6. Punter: Colton Schmidt

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Distance: 10.2/20
    Hang time: 13.3/20
    Accuracy: 33.5/45
    Tackling: 3.1/5
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 63.1/100 


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Colton Schmidt had an odd 2016 season.

    His 91 percent target distance punted (TDP) was the second-lowest mark in the league, his hang time of 4.33 seconds was slightly below average, and his accuracy score of 33.5 was the fourth-best mark. Schmidt produced minimal distance, adequate hang and was able to move the ball side to side very well.

    At one point in Weeks 4-6, Schmidt went 10 punts without landing a ball on or inside the numbers; everything was directed to the sidelines, and he also averaged north of 4.6 seconds of hang time during this stretch. This is the kind of performance that I was raving about with Marquette King during his early-season run.

    The talent is there for Schmidt. The problem is consistency.

    As strong as that run was, he also went through an eight-punt streak in Weeks 13-14 where he had just one punt above 90 percent TDP and struggled to find his mechanics. While shanks and issues happen to all punters, a two-game stretch like this can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

    Schmidt needs to continue to work to make his mechanics more repeatable. There is an NFL punter trapped in his body; it's just a matter of being able to find that talent every week. Where does Schmidt fit next year? A team looking to save some money that believes in its ability to tap that potential.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Schmidt wasn't a star in either gross or net average, and while he may have potential, it's understandable if the Bills want to move to another option.


    Potential Suitors: Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals

5. Punter: Matt Wile

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: Matt Wile did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading.


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Wile punted in four games this year, one for the Falcons and three for the Cardinals after the release of Drew Butler. He showed a big leg in his one game with the Falcons, booming 57- and 59-yard punts from his own 20-yard line and averaging five seconds of hang time in the process. His performance with Arizona was more balanced but still featured two more big boots during his three-game stint.

    Wile has little track record in the NFL, as this was his first regular-season action since going undrafted out of Michigan in 2015. There is little that can be gleaned in terms of his directional game or long-term consistency, but he was impressive in the limited action he saw.

    Wile is a restricted free agent. Expect to see Arizona re-sign him, and he will get a full-year tryout next season to see if he is the long-term answer.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Wile has been an excellent special teamer in many respects, and though the sample size is small, he'll likely give the Cardinals some much-needed consistency in 2017. 


    Potential Suitors: Arizona Cardinals

4. Punter: Jacob Schum

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    Corey Perrine/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Distance: 12.6/30
    Hang time: 14.3/20
    Accuracy: 31.9/45
    Tackling: 3/5
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 64.8/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda 

    Jacob Schum was brought in to Green Bay in the offseason after the Packers moved on from several disappointing years from Tim Masthay. Schum provided little change from Masthay, as his hang time and ball placement were adequate, but his distance numbers were nothing special.

    Unlike Jeff Locke, whose target distance punted (TDP) was dragged down by one bad game, Schum was consistently inconsistent. His performance in Week 11 is characteristic of what he produced regularly: a 58-yard punt with just 4.02 seconds of hang time, as well as a 34-yard punt from his own 25-yard line with 4.51 seconds of hang time.

    Schum produced inconsistent trajectories and flight paths for much of the year and was not able to make the type of contact necessary to generate regular power. 

    Directionally, Schum showed some bright spots, frequently placing the ball on or outside the numbers. While he preferred going to the left side in the early part of the year, he tended to target the right side throughout the middle of the campaign, before moving back to targeting the left side as the season wrapped up. This was likely by design and showed an advanced feel for the directional game.

    Overall, the key issue is whether a team takes a chance on Schum given the inconsistent contact he produced this year. Schum and Ryan Allen of the Patriots put up similar 2016 campaigns in this regard, but Allen has a stronger track record, so it is hard to see New England make a lateral move with Allen still under contract.

    In all likelihood, Schum winds up back in Green Bay, as there are few other options who match his skills with the need.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Schum is a decent punter who can get it downfield reasonably well and has a good feel for hang time. 


    Potential Suitors: Green Bay Packers

3. Punter: Jeff Locke

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    Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Distance: 12.8/20
    Hang time: 15.2/20
    Accuracy: 28.4/45
    Tackling: 3.1/5
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 62.5/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    Jeff Locke may have been hurt by the Vikings' game plan in the punt game more than anything else. His hang time of 4.46 seconds this year beat the NFL average by nearly one-tenth of a second. But every other aspect of his game appeared to be below average. His TDP of 95 percent was one of the weaker numbers in the league, and his punts regularly fell in the middle of the field.

    The strong hang time numbers suggest Locke can pick up some additional distance by taking a lower trajectory and sacrificing a tenth of a second in hang time.

    However, his numbers this year were also thrown off by a terrible Week 13 performance in which he had three punts shorter than 35 yards from inside his own territory and a 16-yard punt from the opposing 48-yard line. Stripping out this week raises his TDP number to just under 99 percent, more in line with what he has shown previously.

    Locke is not an excellent punter by any means, but he is capable. He is also just 27 years old, and punters can be late-developing as they continue to gain comfort with the NFL ball and the demands of the game.

    Because Locke did not show much from a directional standpoint, the best fit for him is a team looking for a capable punter at a low cost rather than a team looking to employ a variety of different looks.

    Kansas City could be a fit if it chooses to move on from Dustin Colquitt prior to the last year on his contract to get out from under a $4.9 million cap hit. Otherwise, there are not a ton of jobs, so there is a decent chance Locke winds up back in Minnesota.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Locke ranked highly in hang time last season, and 14 of his punts were downed. His gross and net average numbers are just OK, but he has potential.

    Potential Suitors: Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs

2. Punter: Shane Lechler

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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Distance: 16.3/20
    Hang time: 14.1/20
    Accuracy: 32.4/45
    Tackling: 3.1/5
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 68.8/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda

    At age 40, Shane Lechler had a strong year for the Texans, placing eighth in the NFL1000 punter rankings. He dominated because of his big leg, with his 16.3 distance score placing him third. His TDP of 103 percent is one of the strongest numbers in the league, suggesting he was a capable long-distance punter and succeeded in pin-deep situations as well.

    Lechler's strength is still his ability to boom punts of 55 yards or more out of his own end, but he showed a capable leg that can pin teams deep in their own territory too.

    One area that is just average for Lechler is his directional ability (12th-best). He is able to target the numbers on occasion but doesn't have the precise placement to find sidelines at distance. This may also be a function of the Texans' preferences.

    Lechler's hang time of 4.36 seconds was also roughly in line with the NFL average, which is a drop-off from his historic levels. He is likely trading a bit of hang time for a lower trajectory that produces a little more distance, but the results were still strong enough for him to be a net positive.

    The real question with Lechler is whether he stays with the Texans. With Houston's troubles on offense this year, his big leg is a good fit, and the Texans would be wise to bring him back for 2017. If he does choose to head elsewhere, Cleveland and Buffalo are possible fits, though he may prefer to compete in the weaker AFC South for an easier chance at another playoff run.


    Doug's Quick Take

    The veteran has a bead on the punting game, and he's been great for a long time. If the Texans decide to move on, he'll be snapped up quickly.


    Potential Suitors: Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns

1. Punter: Britton Colquitt

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores 

    Distance: 13.3/20
    Hang time: 14.3/20
    Accuracy: 33.4/45
    Tackling: 2.9/5
    Position Value: 3/10
    Overall: 66.8/100


    NFL1000 K/P Scout, Chuck Zodda 

    Britton Colquitt had one of the finest punting performances in NFL history during Super Bowl 50 and also a strong run in the playoff games leading up to it. Displaying power that had previously eluded him, it appeared he may have unlocked a new level in his game, coupling booming punts with a strong directional ability.

    However, though Colquitt's 2016 regular season was stronger than his performance during the 2015 campaign, it did not live up to the sky-high expectations.

    His 4.37-second average hang time this year was in line with his numbers from 2015 and is effectively equal to the NFL average. His TDP of 96 percent was 3 percent better than 2015 but still not in the elite range. That suggests the power we saw during the playoff run was an aberration.

    Colquitt is skilled directionally. The lack of top-end power means he is a great fit for a team with a strong offense that utilizes its punters to pin a team deep in its own half. He is not a good fit on a team that consistently requires bailing out of its own end.

    Colquitt also suffers from a lack of available suitors this year, as there are only six open spots at the moment, though there might be several punters released. While he is unlikely to get top dollar, he presents good value to a team in the $2.5-3 million per year range and is likely to end up with a three-year contract.


    Doug's Quick Take

    Colquitt refused to take a pay cut in Denver, so the Broncos moved along. Any punter should be happy to take a pay cut in the Mile High City, and he did see a downturn in performance without Denver's environmental advantages. NFL teams will take note.


    Potential Suitors: Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals


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