For the past few weeks here at CBSSports.com, we've been NFL, and now, we've saved the most important position for last: Punters.in the
Punter is easily one of the most thankless positions in the NFL. If you play well, no one really notices, but if you mess up, everyone thinks you should be cut. Also, it's worth keeping in mind that unlike other players, most punters are also asked to play at least one other position that have nothing to do with punting (Kickoff specialist or holder).
This ranking is only taking into account the punting part of their job. With punters, their job essentially boils down to one thing: They're asked to maximize field position by pinning the opponent as deep as possible in their own territory.
One reason it's hard to rank punters is because not every NFL team tries to achieve that goal in the same way. Almost every punter in the NFL is asked to do their job differently: Some are asked to kick it out of bounds, some are asked to keep the ball near the sideline without putting it out of bounds, some are asked to boot the ball as far as they can while others are asked to shoot for a big hang time so that the returner will be forced into a fair catch. When kicking near the end zone, some are asked to attempt a coffin corner kick while others will pooch the ball high into the air hoping it sits inside the 10.
As you can see, punting isn't as simple as it sounds. Punting is an underappreciated part of the NFL, so let's find out who the most underappreciated players are by getting to our ranking of the 10 best punters in the NFL.
10. Ryan Wright, Vikings
After going undrafted in 2022, the former Tulane punter ended up signing with the Vikings and it didn't him long to beat out Jordan Berry for the starting job.
In the first six weeks of the season, it became pretty clear that the Vikings made a smart decision by keeping Wright. In Week 4 Wright proved that he can do more than punt when he converted a key fourth down with a 13-yard pass that gave Minnesota a first down.
In Week 6 against the Dolphins, Wright punted the ball 10 times, a total that included a booming 73-yard punt out of his own end zone, a kick the Vikings desperately needed in a game they ended up winning 24-16.
Although Wright finished outside the top 10 in both punting average (47.4) and net punting average (42.5), he more than made up for that with his ball placement. Not only did the rookie have the lowest touchback percentage in the NFL -- he punted just one touchback on 73 punts -- but he also ranked fifth with the percentage of his punts that he placed inside his opponents' 20-yard line (44.7%). Those are two key categories for a punter and the fact that Wright ranked in the top-five in both is why he made this list.
When it comes to punting, the 2022 season was definitely the year of the rookie. Wright is one of two rookies who cracked our top-10 list.
9. Tress Way, Commanders
One of the most important statistics for a punter is net yards per kick and during the 2022 season, Way ranked seventh in the NFL with an average of 43 yards per punt. That's an impressive number, considering Way was asked to punt the ball 83 times last season, which was tied for the fourth-most in the NFL.
In both 2020 and 2021, Way ranked in the top five in yards per punt, which wasn't surprising, given how he's been kicking the ball over the course of his career. Since entering the NFL in 2014, Way has slowly turned into one of the best punters in the league. In 2018, not only did the lead the league in punts inside the 20, but he was also the only full-time punter in the NFL who didn't kick a touchback. In 2020, he only kicked three touchbacks, making him one of just three punters who had three or less touchbacks on 60 or more punts.
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Last season, Way put 44.6% of his punts inside the opponents 20-yard line, which was the sixth-best percentage in the NFL. With Way punting sky-high kicks, the Commanders only surrendered 6.4 yards per punt return last season, which was tied for the fourth-best number in the NFL.
When Fox's NFL career started back in 2019, it didn't actually look like he was going to have a career. Fox went undrafted in 2019 and although he would eventually sign with the Chiefs, he got cut before the 2019 season started, which means he was basically sitting at home when the Lions finally decided to take a gamble on him heading into the 2020 season and that gamble has more than paid off.
Over the past three years, Fox has been one of the most consistent punters in the NFL. That includes last season, when he averaged 48.6 yards per punt, which ranked sixth in the NFL. The Lions have been so impressed with Fox that they signed him to a three-year extension in October.
The new deal pays out $3.49 million per year, which makes Fox the second-highest paid punter in the NFL.
7. Logan Cooke, Jaguars
For the first few years of his career, Cooke was one of the only bright spots in Jacksonville. Although he's not the star of the team anymore, the punter is still a huge special teams weapon for the Jags. In 2022, Cooke ranked third in the league in yards per punt (49.3) and sixth in net yards per punt (43.8).
When you're talking about directional punters, Cooke is one of the best in the game. During the 2022 season, opposing punt returners only averaged seven yards per return against the Jags, which ranked in the top-seven in the NFL for punt coverage teams.
Here's an example of how big of a weapon Cooke was for the Jags last season.
Cooke has ranked in the top eight in yards per punt in each of the past four seasons, which makes him one of the most consistent punters in the NFL.
6. Bryan Anger, Cowboys
Anger has carved out quite the career for himself as he heads into his 12th season. At 34 years old, Anger doesn't seem to be slowing down. In 2022, the Cowboys punter ranked in the top 10 in both punting average (48.4) and net punting average (42.8). Anger showed off his huge leg during the 2022 season when he got off a monstrous 83-yard punt, which was the longest punt in the NFL last year.
Anger's big 2022 came after a 2021 season where he was voted a second-team All-Pro.
By the way, if you've heard Anger's name before, it's probably because you know him as the punter who got drafted ahead of Russell Wilson in 2012. The Jaguars took Anger at 70th overall and then the Seahawks took Wilson just five picks later. Anger might not ever live that down, but in hindsight, there were plenty of third-round picks that year who were much worse than Anger.
With the Raiders struggling last season, that meant more work for Cole, who didn't seem to mind the extra load. Cole was one of the few bright spots for the team, ranking in the top five in both yards per punt (48.9) and net yards per punt (43.9).
One thing Cole does better than almost anyone is avoiding touchbacks. During the 2022 season, Cole only kicked one touchback, which was tied for the lowest-number by anyone who had more than 15 punts. The Raiders punter also dropped 44.1% of his punts inside the opponents 20-yard line, which was the seventh-best percentage in the NFL last season.
Cole's impressive 2022 season came after a 2021 season where he was voted a first-team All-Pro.
If there's one knock on Cole, it's that he regularly outkicked his coverage last season, which allowed opposing teams to average 11 yards per return against the Raiders, which was the fifth-worst number in the NFL.
Although the Raiders will have plenty of questions going into the 2023 season, they won't have to worry about their special teams. The Raiders were one of only two teams in the NFL that had both their punter and their kicker rank in the top 5 at their position. In our ranking of kickers, which Daniel Carlson came in at No. 2.,
It's too bad that punters don't get more consideration for rookie of the year, because Stonehouse certainly deserved to be in the conversation after a completing one of the most impressive punting seasons in NFL history.
The undrafted free agent averaged 53.1 yards per punt in 2022, which smashed Sammy Baugh's NFL record that had stood for 82 years (Baugh averaged 51.4 yards per punt in 1940). Stonehouse broke the record even though he was asked to punt the ball 90 times, which was the second-most in the NFL last year.
Stonehouse blasts the ball so hard that he seemed to regularly outkick his coverage. Despite his impressive punting average, opposing teams were able to average 10.8 yards per return on him, which was the sixth-worst number in the NFL last season for a punt coverage team. Despite the high punt return number, Stonehouse was still able to average 44 net yards per punt, which ranked fourth in the NFL.
The Titans found a diamond in the rough with Stonehouse and there's a good chance he's going to be Tennessee's punter for a long time to come.
Whenever there's a conversation about the best punters in the NFL, Johnny Hekker's name almost always comes up, which makes sense, because he's one of the best punters in the NFL. Since his rookie year in 2012, Hekker has been an absolute weapon and during the early part of his career (2012-16), he was arguably the only weapon on his team and that's mostly because he played for a Rams team that went 31-48-1 during that five-year span.
Over the course of his career, the four-time Pro Bowler has averaged 46.9 yards per punt, which is the sixth-highest number in NFL history. Of course, yards per punt isn't the best way to measure a punter's skill. Net yards per punt is better and the good news for Hekker is that he also thrives at that. In 2022, Hekker had a net average of 44.1 yards per punt, which ranked third in the NFL.
A big reason why he had such a high net average is because he excelled at forcing his opponent to call for a fair catch. Hekker forced 31 fair catches last season, which was the second-highest number in the NFL. Coverage teams love when they see a fair catch, because it means less work for them.
Hekker's net punting average was also high because he didn't allow very many returns. Of his 81 punts in 2021, only 27 of them were returned, which means 54 of them were either downed, went out of bounds or ended with a fair-catch.
Hekker has also mastered the art of pinning his opponents deep in their own territory. Hekker put 48.1% of his punts inside the 20 last season, which was the second-best percentage in the NFL (From a pure numbers standpoint, he actually led the NFL in punts inside the 20 with a total of 39).
The 2022 season marked Hekker's first in Carolina and the change of scenery seemed to work out well for him.
2. Tommy Townsend, Chiefs
Sometimes, it seems like the Chiefs don't need a punter, but they do have one and he's really good at his job. After finishing second in the NFL in net yards per punt last season, Townsend actually topped himself in 2022 by leading the league with a net average of 45.6 yards. To put that in perspective, no other punter in the league even came within a yard of that total (The second-best average was 44.4).
Townsend's average was tied for the second-highest net punting average since at least 1976, according to the Football Database. As if that's not enough, Townsend also pinned his opponents inside their own 20 on 42.9% of his kicks, a number that ranked in the top 10 in the NFL.
Townsend is headed into the final year of his contract and the Chiefs are soon going to have to decide if they're willing to break the bank to keep him, because he should be able to command top money at his position after being voted a first-team All-Pro in 2022.
1. Michael Dickson, Seahawks
Michael Dickson is the highest-paid punter in the NFL and there's a reason he's the highest-paid punter in the NFL. When it comes to punting, there's no one better right now. For the second straight year, Dickson is at the top of our ranking of best punters.
One thing that makes Dickson so good is his ability to put the ball wherever he wants. Thanks to his precision, the Seahawks punt coverage team has been one of the best units in the NFL over the past few years. In 2022, opposing punt returners only averaged 5.9 yards return against the Seahawks, which was the lowest in the league for any team that had to cover 25 or more returns.
That low return number is a big reason why Dickson finished with a net punting average of 44.4 yards last season, which ranked second in the NFL. One of Dickson's most impressive games in 2022 came in a Week 15 loss to the 49ers. Not only did he average 49.9 yards on seven punts, but he also pinned the 49ers inside their own 15-yard line a total of three times, including one punt that was downed at the 1.
Dickson also had a huge game in Germany, when he placed FOUR punts inside of Tampa Bay's 14-yard line during a 21-16 loss in Week 10. Below, you can see one of his more impressive punts from the game.
When the Seahawks, most fans in Seattle probably thought the team was crazy (because who trades up for a punter?!?!?!), but the gamble has certainly paid off.
During his five seasons in the league, Dickson has consistently been one of the best punters in the NFL, which is why he's at the top of our list.