While coaches and commentators claim that there are three facets of the game, one of them is clearly less loved than the others. Special teams are usually brought up only when there is something really great or really bad going on, and even then the focus typically relates to kicking field goals or punt and kickoff returns. This is not a bad thing. The majority of snaps come on offense and defense, and they deserve the majority of the attention. But just because areas like punting are out of the limelight, their impact should not be understated.
On September 9 the Detroit Lions signed both punter Sam Martin and running back Theo Riddick to important contract extensions. Unsurprisingly, the Riddick move grabbed the majority of the headlines, but locking up Martin was no less vital. The Lions chose to make him the third-highest paid punter in the league, and that decision has looked pretty smart so far.
FrozenLion was likely being facetious with his alien-themed comment, but once I saw a compliment, I had to oblige. An article on punting statistics grabs very few headlines, but Lions fans should be excited to see the numbers. Through 21 punts this season, Sam Martin is averaging 50.2 yards per attempt, the third-highest average in the league. Only two other punters have averaged more than 50 yards per kick, and Martin has done so with only one touchback.
Even more impressive is Martin’s 47.0 net yardage average, which is the very best in the league. Some of this can be attributed to the coverage team, but the hang time and angling of his punts is just as big of a factor. Martin has dropped his punts inside the 20-yard line 47.6 percent of the time, which is the sixth-best rate in the league.
Martin was a good punter during his first three seasons—which is why he was extended in the first place—but 2016 is shaping up to be his best to date. From 2013 to 2015, Martin averaged 46.4 yards per punt and a net of 40.9 yards; he is beating both of these figures by a healthy margin. Additionally, just 34.5 percent of his punts were landing inside the 20-yard line, which is much lower than his current rate. 2016 has seen Martin punt the ball farther, limit the return yards and pin opposing offenses back deep.
During his first three seasons, Martin’s punts started on average from the 34.3-yard line. This has only slightly changed in 2016, where his punts have been originating from the 32.8-yard line on average. The distribution of from where the Lions have been punting is generally the same as well. About 85 percent of his punts are equally distributed as originating from three different zones: from the 25-yard line and back, between the 25 and the 35 and from the 35 to midfield. The remaining punts have come from the opponent’s territory.
It has only been six games into the season, but Martin is proving that the Lions were more than justified in giving him a sizable contract extension. He is getting paid like a top-three punter and he is certainly playing like one, as evidenced by all of the key statistics. The Lions offense has been pretty productive to start out the season, but it is nice to know that they have a true weapon to rely on when they are forced to punt.