American football is one of the most popular sports in the United States, with millions of fans tuning in to watch games each year. At the professional level, the National Football League (NFL) is the premier league, featuring some of the best players in the world. Each team in the NFL has a roster of players with specialised positions, including the punter.
A punter is a special teams player on the punting team and/or kicking team who is responsible for kicking the ball to the opposing team when the offense cannot advance the ball down the field - this is known as a punting play.
The punter's primary job is to punt the ball as far down the field as possible while preventing the punt returner from running the ball back for a significant gain.
The punter typically lines up a few yards behind the center, ready to receive the snap from the long snapper from the line of scrimmage. Once the ball is snapped, the punter catches the ball and kicks it down the field. The punter's technique is crucial, as the angle and trajectory of the punt can significantly impact the field position of both teams.
What are their responsibilities?
The punter's primary responsibility is to help his team gain field position by punting the football deep into the opponent's territory.
Here are the key responsibilities of a punter in American football:
Punting the ball: The punter must kick the ball high and far, with the goal of making it difficult for the opposing team to return the ball and forcing them to start their next possession with poor field position.
Directional punting: Sometimes, the punter will be asked to kick the ball in a particular direction, either to avoid a dangerous returner or to pin the opposing team deep in their own territory.
Holding for field goals and extra points: The punter may also serve as the holder on field goal attempts or extra points.
Executing fake punts: In certain situations, the punter may be called upon to execute a fake punt, in which he fakes the punt and runs or passes the ball in an attempt to gain a first down.
Making tackles: Finally, the punter may be called upon to make a tackle in the event that the opposing team returns the ball. While punting is often seen as a less glamorous role on the team, it can be a crucial part of a successful football strategy.
What makes a great punter?
A great punter in American football typically possesses several key attributes:
Strong leg: A great punter needs to be able to kick the ball with power and accuracy, often over long distances. This requires a combination of leg strength and technique.
Consistency: A great punter needs to be able to consistently deliver high-quality punts, regardless of the game situation or weather conditions. This requires a high level of focus and concentration.
Hang time: A great punter needs to be able to kick the ball high enough to allow his team's coverage unit time to get down the field and make a tackle before the returner has a chance to gain significant yardage.
Directional kicking: A great punter needs to be able to place the ball where he wants it, whether that means kicking it out of bounds to avoid a dangerous returner, or angling the kick to one side of the field to make it harder for the return team to set up their return.
Field awareness: A great punter needs to be aware of the game situation and adjust his punting accordingly. For example, he may need to kick the ball shorter to avoid a touchback, or try to pin the opponent deep in their own territory late in the game.
Famous NFL punters
Ray Guy: Widely regarded as the greatest punter in NFL history, Ray Guy played for the Oakland Raiders football team from 1973 to 1986. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro selection. Guy was known for his powerful leg and ability to consistently pin opposing teams deep in their own territory.
Shane Lechler: Shane Lechler played for the Oakland Raiders from 2000 to 2012 and the Houston Texans from 2013 to 2017. He was a six-time First-Team All-Pro selection and a seven-time Pro Bowler. Lechler holds the NFL record for highest career punting average (47.6 yards per punt).
Johnny Hekker: Johnny Hekker has played for the Los Angeles Rams since 2012. He has been named to six Pro Bowls and is a four-time First-Team All-Pro selection. Hekker is known for his accuracy and ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory.
Pat McAfee: Pat McAfee played for the Indianapolis Colts from 2009 to 2016. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and a one-time First-Team All-Pro selection. McAfee was known for his strong leg and ability to kick long field goals in addition to punting.