Although it can be overlooked, good punting is a crucial aspect to the game of football. A good punter uses power and accuracy to pin a team deep in their own zone. In contrast, a lesser punter places their defensive unit in a tough spot trying to defend a short field.
Employing a good punter is something fans can get used to, and ,forget what the alternative could be. Since 2000, the Raiders have slotted Shane Lechler (2000-2012) and Marquette King (2013-2017) at the punter position. Lechler was a 7-time Pro Bowler and ended up on the First-Team All-Pro roster 6 times.
In the five seasons, King took the field for the Raiders, he averaged 46.9 yards per punt and led the league in the average yards per punt in 2013. That year, his kicks averaged almost 49 yards (48.9).
While Lechler lasted 13 seasons on the Raiders, King made it through five. Deemed a locker room distraction, the Raiders released him in 2018. For a team to cut a talent like King for personality issues, some would assume the Raiders saw a successor.
There is an age-old adage referring to what happens to people when they assume. This certainly holds true with the Raiders. Oakland did not exactly have a prospect lined up, but they were able to draft Johnny Townsend in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Typically, using a fifth-round pick on a punter would lead to assume that punter is remarkably talented. Additionally, maybe the best punter in the draft. For those who watched Townsend’s rookie season, we now see where assumptions get us.
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In terms of yards per punt, Townsend ranked dead last in the league at 43.2 yards. For reference, a 43-yard punt from the Raiders’ 20-yard line would only reach 13 yards into the opponent’s territory to the 37-yard line. In this situation, Townsend’s average punt would still be 17 yards away from the opponent’s red zone.
Despite his struggles, Townsend was able to show promise towards the end of the season. He had the best game of his career Week 16 against the Denver Broncos. Townsend averaged 45 yards on five punts with his longest punt being 64 yards. Had Townsend averaged 45 yards per punt all season, he would have tied for 17th in the league.
There is a reason the Raiders drafted Townsend in the fifth round. His punts boast great accuracy and both he and Jon Gruden admitted that Townsend can kick farther than he showed during games. However, Townsend has an impressive ability to limit returns on kicks. This could be due to his punts not going as far or due to his ability to pinpoint locations of his kicks. I prefer to believe the latter, as during his impressive performance against the Broncos, Townsend did not allow a single return yard (even with a 64-yard punt).
Hopefully, Townsend will continue to trend upward. If he does not, Oakland can find a suitable replacement.