Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Mar 2010

Historical gross punting averages (K-ball good for punters?)....

So I was debating with a friend at work today comparative performances of athletes in different eras... and I insisted that the guys with highest career punting averages were from past eras and not so much current punters (I had remembered thinking that to myself when looking at those numbers a few years ago).

Anyway we ended up referencing the career punting average page at:


To my surprise there were a significant number of recent players on the list.

As I looked at the top-25 something stood out immediately... all the players were either current (played in 2009, with one exception who last played in 2007) or finished up their career in the early 70s (1973).

Nobody who played the bulk of their career in the 70s, 80s or 90s.

It seemed strange that such a large sample size would be absent from the data.

Then it occured to me to look at the when the K-ball starting being used... BINGO. 1999.

Every one of the players in the top-25 of averages either fisnished their career prior to the 1974 season *OR* played most of their career with a k-ball.

Just thought someone else might find that odd.

Posted by: rosmith51 on 30 Mar 2010

3 replies , Last at 06 Apr 2010, 11:23am by Spielman

Re: Historical gross punting averages (K-ball good for punters?)
by rosmith51 :: Tue, 03/30/2010 - 9:01pm

As a follow-up, looking at the top 50 single season highest punting averages, (www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/punt_yds_per_punt_single_season.h...)

Thre are actually 53 data points since 4 are tied for 50th...

22 happened prior to 1971.

27 happened during the k-ball era (1999-present)

the 4 others were Greg Montgomerys 1992 season and Tom Rouens 1998 season (both 46.9, tied for 33rd), Craig Hentrichs 1998 season (47.2 tied at 25th), and John Kidds 1996 season (46.3, tied for 47th)

Re: Historical gross punting averages
by Spielman :: Tue, 04/06/2010 - 10:06am

Very interesting. I hadn't looked at that leaderboard in forever, and like you, I thought of it as being dominated by old-timers.

The 1998, 1998, 1996 and 1992 data points make me wonder, though... is it the K-ball, or is it the natural progressions of punters being stronger and able to kick the ball farther now than before? Something certainly changed around 1970 to make the numbers drop off. Have they been rising since then, and have just recently reached the point where they've risen above the pre-1970 numbers?

Re: Historical gross punting averages
by Spielman :: Tue, 04/06/2010 - 11:23am

Hmm. Well, I looked at all the league averages that Football Reference has available.

From 1946 through 2008, the league average has mostly been between 40.0 and 42.0 yards. It's dipped below 40.0 7 times, and gone above 42.0 15 times.

It dipped below 40 two separate times, for six years from 1974-1979, and again in 1987 in a strike year featuring replacement players.

The high points came from 1959 through 1965, from 1992 through 1998, and from 2005 through 2008.

There's a sharp drop-off from 1998 to 1999, from 43.2 to 41.7, suggesting that the K-ball wasn't a positive change. The current boom in punting average really started in 2005, and the 2008 season was the highest on record. (PFR's numbers for 2009 are currently screwy, unless the league really did average 4.4 yards a punt last year. The numbers from NFL.com would put 2009's league average even higher than in 2008.)

You *can* choose to interpret the numbers from the mid-70s on as being a relatively steady increase due to improved strength, broken by dips in 1986(?), 1987(strike), 1999(K-ball) and 2002(?), which would fit with my hypothesis above. That's rather unsatisfying though, given how strong the increase has beein since 2004. Maybe the K-ball was initially a hindrance, but punters have adjusted, and are now taking advantage in some way? Have there been any other rule changes I'm unaware of that would have affected punting distance? Are teams trying longer field goals and going for the first down in the maroon zone more often, booting averages by eliminating some of the short kicks?

The boom in punting average over the last five years is surprising, and definitely under-reported.

Login or register to post comments