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Punter - The Transition from College to Pro


Dan T.

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One of the great mysteries of football...

Of all the positions in the game, it would seem that punter would be the easiest transition from college to the next level. Catch the ball. Kick the ball. High and far, or directionally.

Yet time after time, great college punters bomb out when they step up to the NFL.

The Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's top college punter, has been awarded 10 times since it was first given out in 2000. Nine punters have won the award. (Daniel Sepulveda won twice and the 2009 winner is still in college.) Of the others, only two are on an NFL team - Sepulveda (Steelers) and former Redskin Durant Brooks (Eagles).

All the others are unsigned free agents or out of the league -

2000 Kevin Stemke - out of the league

2001 Travis Dorsch - free agent

2002 Mark Mariscal - out of the league

2003 B.J. Sander - free agent

2004 Dan Sepulveda - Steelers

2005 Ryan Plackemeier - free agent

2006 (Sepulveda again)

2007 Durant Brooks - Eagles

2008 Matt Fodge - free agent

2009 Drew Butler (sophomore at UGa)

So why do the top college punters in the Nation so often flame out in the NFL? To me, it should be an smooth transition into the pros.

Any theories?

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Maybe the change in formation ****s with their head? :whoknows: I don't watch much college football, but I know that instead of having 1 guy hang back to pick up any stray blitzers, there were 3-4 in college games I'm remembering.

Other than that, I got nothing.

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Maybe it's leg strength? I remember Janikowski talking about how he could kick 60+ yarders at Florida State just for fun. He literally described the ball as a, "balloon."

Maybe it is easier to punt in College. Isn't the ball a little more egg shaped in college?

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One thing I heard is that more is asked of them in the NFL. There is much more of an emphasis in directional kicking to set up coverages (beyond even aiming inside the 20), and an emphasis on hang time over pure distance, whereas in college all the had to do was kick the **** out of the ball to get as much distance as they could.

I don't completely buy that, though. Durant Brooks was actually tutored by Ray Guy, a family friend. Guy certainly would have schooled Brooks on the nuances of the game, yet still Brooks flamed out here.

He's still got a chance to establish his NFL career. But it's a mystery how he could be so bad with the Redskins when one year earlier he was the toast of the NCAA.

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];7546980']

Maybe it is easier to punt in College. Isn't the ball a little more egg shaped in college?

I thought so, but google search hits say that the dimensions of the college ball and the NFL ball are the essentially the same:

"The dimensions of the official National Football League and National Collegiate Athletic Association football are specified by its manufacturer as: short circumference: 20¾ to 21¼ inches (527 to 540 mm), long circumference 27¾ to 28½ inches (705 to 724 mm)."

There's some wiggle room in those dimensions, so maybe the college ball is a bit fatter, which is what I've heard. But even a difference in balls shouldn't derail a punter's mojo.

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IMO punting is very similar to putting in golf, all that matters is the 6 inches between the ears. I believe it's all mental, unless an injury occurs, but these guys can't cut it in the NFL level, not because of their physical abilities, but because of the mental inabilities to cope to the NFL game.

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IMO punting is very similar to putting in golf, all that matters is the 6 inches between the ears. I believe it's all mental, unless an injury occurs, but these guys can't cut it in the NFL level, not because of their physical abilities, but because of the mental inabilities to cope to the NFL game.

That might be part of the answer. It seems that some guys can eventually get their stuff together after getting bounced around the league some... almost like they have to go through a maturation process.

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In the NFL, there are a number of differences.

Hang time and distance both come into play. In college, you want both, but not all of the guys you go against are as athletic as an NFL team. Meaning the return units block better and generally return the football much better. You need to have great hang time to allow the coverage team to get downfield, while at the same time you need to still get the distance on your punts that will help pin a team deep.

Another thing was already mentioned by Dan T. There's a ton of coffin corners and directional punts in the NFL.

And then, compound all of that with the fact that the return team usually has a much better group of rushers coming at a punter, meaning their steps need to be fluid and quick and their delivery on point. No wiggle room for a misstep there. Take one step that's too long and there's an excellent shot you're going to get some incredible pressure which can lead to shanks, blocks, etc.

Plus there's the matter of it being psychologically difficult on a punter, as pointed out by bushwack. Punting is no where near as simple as people believe it is.

That said, the top guys in college shouldn't have quite as hard of a transition as they do, but they do.

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IMO punting is very similar to putting in golf, all that matters is the 6 inches between the ears. I believe it's all mental, unless an injury occurs, but these guys can't cut it in the NFL level, not because of their physical abilities, but because of the mental inabilities to cope to the NFL game.

Just a hunch...

It would be interesting to compare two groups of NFL punters and hopefuls - guys who were good at another position in high school in addition to punting vs. guys who were punting specialists their whole scholastic career. I would bet that the first group has better success in the pros than the second.

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Just a hunch...

It would be interesting to compare two groups of NFL punters and hopefuls - guys who were good at another position in high school in addition to punting vs. guys who were punting specialists their whole scholastic career. I would bet that the first group has better success in the pros than the second.

Sample size wouldn't be large enough. there'd be way, way too much variability.

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The size of the football shouldn't matter, since all punters (I believe) come out of college, and they all compete with the same ball. One would think that a guy that can kick a slightly smaller ball better than another guy should be able to keep that advantage when going into the pros. The pros had to kick the same ball too when they were in college, so successful punters in the NFL proves that it's not just a size difference.

I'm not sure I can believe it's a matter of the stage either. It seems as though a large proportion of the best punters flame out while the best at other positions don't. Maybe just the fact that most kickers aren't drafted, or are drafted low means they are more expendable. Even veterans get thrown out after a bad stretch. It could be that special teams just grinds through guys trying to catch a guy on a hot streak, and anyone not peaking at just the right time is cut. Then when they do peak, they catch on with another team - until they go cold again and get cut.

ETA: There just aren't that many career guys with job security in the kicking positions. Add to the fact that the best years for individual kickers aren't that far apart, and there isn't much of a premium for the "best" ones. It's more a game of chance if your guy is going to be great this year vs. next year.

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I don't know if this is or isn't true, but here it it is anyway. I know kickers balls in the NFL are brand new or rarely used, which makes them more difficult for kickers and punters. Does anyone know if game balls for kickers and punters are new like the NFL or have they already been broken in some, which makes it easier to punt and kick?

I know this shouldn't be that much of a difference, but a football that has been broken in is much easier to kick than one that is brand new.

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I'm not sure I can believe it's a matter of the stage either. It seems as though a large proportion of the best punters flame out while the best at other positions don't. Maybe just the fact that most kickers aren't drafted, or are drafted low means they are more expendable. Even veterans get thrown out after a bad stretch. It could be that special teams just grinds through guys trying to catch a guy on a hot streak, and anyone not peaking at just the right time is cut. Then when they do peak, they catch on with another team - until they go cold again and get cut.

This is a good point. Teams show less patience with punters. There's a relatively low investment, and if the guy is not working out, it's easy financially to cycle in someone who is hot.

Otherwise the Redskins would have shown some patience with Durant Brooks.

I don't know if this is or isn't true, but here it it is anyway. I know kickers balls in the NFL are brand new or rarely used, which makes them more difficult for kickers and punters. Does anyone know if game balls for kickers and punters are new like the NFL or have they already been broken in some, which makes it easier to punt and kick?

I know this shouldn't be that much of a difference, but a football that has been broken in is much easier to kick than one that is brand new.

I think you're right in that the NCAA on game day is not as scrupulous about keeping a separate supply of kicking/punting only balls like they do in the NFL.

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