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2019 Analysis: Buffalo Bills punter Corey Bojorquez

How did the southpaw punter do in 2019? Feet are still paws.

When evaluating players some positions can be tricky, such as punter. A key role with few stats, and fewer good ones, a major component of analysis is often our gut. Corey Bojorquez, the punter for the Buffalo Bills has not impressed many using that test. Can we pin down his performance a little more precisely? Of course we can.

Thank you Pro Football Reference for making data easily accessible.


The data

I’ll go ahead and get one thing out of the way immediately: Punting stats kinda suck. Take the common measurement of blocked punts. While it’s interesting from a team perspective, it’s not a good individual stat whatsoever with much of the blame going to teammates.

Tracking punts inside the 20 isn’t a bad idea. They fail to take anything into context though, such as average field position and teammate skill downing the ball. Corey Bojorquez was tied for third-best in the league with 34 of those for the record, Fair catches suffer a similar fate, with context being ignored. Bojorquez’s 26 tied for second in the league.

About the only punter-specific measure out there is gross average, or how far the ball traveled on average without regard to returns. This still leaves out some key facets (which we’ll get to), but delivers at the least a measure that solely belongs on the foot of the punter.

Corey Bojorquez is less favorably measured in this way, with 41.9 yards on average or second-worst in the league. As you might have expected, I think I have a better lens by which to view punters.

New data

It was important to find context as Bojorquez’s 41.9 yards is not far off from the league average of 45.4 yards per punt. In fact, the entire range is only a difference of eight yards between 41.6 and 49.6 yards per punt. This narrow range makes it incredibly difficult to tell punters apart from a quick glance.

As mentioned above, a major flaw with punting stats is the lack of any context. Sean McDermott has at times earned a reputation for being a bit conservative. This matters for punting as a tendency to call more punts in the opponents’ territory might naturally lead to a lower gross average distance.

There is validity to the idea that Corey Bojorquez’s average punt distance was hurt by a higher number of punts called in opponent territory. For the purpose of the analysis, punts were considered opponent territory from the 50-yard line and beyond.

The league average was 17% of punts being called in opponent territory. Removing Bojorquez’s punts changes it to 16.9%. For the man himself, Corey Bojorquez punted in opponent territory 21 times out of 84 attempts or 25% of the time, a decent amount higher than average.

Looking at only punts inside the opponents’ 40-yard line, these account for 5.9% of Bojorquez’s punts, about double the average of everyone else. For the curious, there’s a cliff at the 35-yard line. Only five punts were attempted from that range. Yes, Bojorquez was one of those (touchback).

Bad punts

Despite the stats being kind to Bojorquez so far, I doubt I’ve convinced anyone he’s an incredible player we all miss the mark on. After all, it only takes a few punts like the one below to color our opinion.

I set out to define a “bad punt” based on measurable criteria that accounted for some context and was based off of sound data. Despite that, consider this a first crack at the project and understand that I know there’s a good deal of guesswork and subjectivity in my grading system.

The “bad punt” definition is based on the idea that longer punts are better. For purposes of this project, punts in opponent territory were removed from consideration. To explain why, consider a 22-yard punt at the Cincinnati Bengals’ 40-yard line. Landing at the 18 it still pinned the opponent inside the 20 and is generally seen as a “decent punt.” Therefore, a distance based measurement in opponent territory is drastically flawed.

This leaves punts on the Buffalo side of the field, which were grouped into two sections (more groups would be better, but again this is a first crack at it).

  • For kicks from your own 1- through your own 24-yard line, a bad punt for our purposes was anything 45 yards or less. With the league average at 45.4, the rationale is that when you have tons of room to kick there’s no reason not to boom it (except outkicking your coverage). Anything below average when the situation calls for “well above average” can be considered “bad.”
  • Between the 25- and 49-yard line, punts under 35 yards were considered “bad.” This is somewhat arbitrary and I won’t bore you with the entire thought process, but a 35-yard punt in this zone results in the opponent receiving it between the 16 and 40. While not great, it’s hard to call it truly bad either.

Here’s the chart you knew was coming.

While it was possible to use the data from Pro Football Reference to arrive at the entire league’s numbers, it wasn’t going to be an easy endeavor. An audit of comparison cases was simple enough, and with ten total should be a representative sample. The first three comparison punters represent the best, average, and worst punters by gross average. The rest are mostly random and are in order of best to worst in gross average.

For the two zones, each punter’s total attempts starts off the show, followed by the number of those kicks that were “bad” as defined above. With attempts being different for each player, the number to really look at is the third column in each zone, which is the percentage of kicks that were bad. The chart speaks for itself. There’s ammo above to support that Corey Bojorquez has some positives to his game, but these contextual stats don’t show him in a kind light.


Summary

As a fan site, it can be hard to type negative things about players from our favorite team and it’d be easy enough for me to hide behind the “first draft” nature of my newfangled bad punt stats. I didn’t just pick things out of a hat though, and I believe the bad punt definition is pretty good even though I doubt perfection. As such, here’s the dreaded negative analysis.

Buffalo should move on from Corey Bojorquez. I’m not opposed to having another punting competition that includes Bojorquez but he’d have to drastically turn things around. Most damning are the statistics of when you need him the most. Over half his punts when the team was backed up in their own territory failed to reach the league average distance. And in the other zone considered, his short or “bad” punt ratio was several times higher than most of his peers. Bad punts can set you back, and Bojorquez has them far too frequently.