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2021 NFL Free Agency Analysis: Buffalo Bills punter Matt Haack

Not an all-22 dive but a dive nonetheless

Some positions are very difficult to analyze. Punter is one of those. As noted in my Corey Bojorquez analysis, punting stats are overall terrible. Most notably, it can be hard to separate the impact from the punter and their team in overall results.

Punting is also incredibly influenced by context. In 2020, Braden Mann had the highest volume of punts with 82. Bojorquez had half that with the Buffalo Bills. With such a small sample size for these players, coaching tendency is huge. A conservative coach who asks for just a few extra punts in opponent territory can create several short punts and/or touchbacks. With touchbacks specifically, the range in 2020 was 0-7. One or two cowardly punt calls can be a big deal.

What about the eye test? That falls short too. Was a fair catch a good punt? Maybe. It could also be a gunner who got a free release. Or Micah Hyde returning who is told not to risk injuring himself. Was the punter’s technique good? Being perfectly candid it doesn’t matter. There are differing styles that are considered “good.” Punting is a results-based skill with some variation to be expected.

So is analyzing punters a useless endeavor? Nah. But noting the imperfections in the usual methods is important to come to a conclusion. So let’s talk Matt Haack...


My proprietary “bad punt” metric

Check out the link above regarding the Bojorquez analysis for full description of definitions. Full disclosure, I’m betting that if you’re on Rumblings and decided to click on anything labeled with the words “punter” and “analysis” I assume you’re just the kind of sick puppy who already read that one.

This is pretty straightforward. By my definitions, Haack had more bad punts than Bojorquez and the averages I calculated. So far we’re not off to a great start.

The Other Stats

Yes I know. Punter stats...bad! They give us a limited view but limited is better than nothing. Haack had a 44.7 yards per punt average, which was 26th of 34 qualifying players in 2020. Bad, right? Not really. More like average. For qualifying players the league average was 45.9 and tightly clustered near that. Only ten punters were more than two yards away from that average.

You can easily get the number of touchbacks, kicks inside the 20, and fair catches for punters. These definitely have flaws related to team dynamics and coaching decisions but these can give an idea on tendencies. Based on the variance in punt attempts, I did the nerd thing and converted these to rates.

Touchbacks are generally seen as bad because they indicate a lack of control and usually give an opponent yardage that the punter was specifically trying to avoid. Haack had two of these for 3 percent of his punts. League average was 7 percent so this measure paints Haack in a favorable light.

Punts inside the 20 are typically seen as valuable. Haack had 26 of these or 38 percent of his total punts. League average was 36 percent meaning Haack was thoroughly average.

Fair catches are quite dependent on gunner talent, etc. but again are a stat seen as favorable. The idea being that “the best return is no return.” Punters with good hang time definitely impact this metric, which is why I wished hang time was regularly recorded. The league average was 28 percent of punts ending in a fair catch. Haack was an insignificant bit higher at 32 percent.

Volatility

One final consideration is the idea of stability or the contrast of volatility. Averages are nice but the same average can be arrived at in multiple ways. Let’s do a thought experiment. You’re a head coach with the mildly intriguing psychic ability of knowing that in your next game your team will punt twice. However, you don’t know when they’ll occur in the game or in what context (field position, score, etc).

For some weird reason you have two punters on your roster and you can also see enough of the future to know the distances they’ll punt if activated for this game.

  • Punter A, we’ll call him “Schmorey Schmojorquez,” will have punts of 20 and 60 yards if allowed to play.
  • Punter B, we’ll call him “Schmatt Schmaack,” will have punts of 39 and 41 yards if allowed to play.

Both players will average 40 yards per punt, but it’s obvious their game will be drastically different. In case the above was too subtle, this is a bit of the difference between Borjorquez and Haack. Bojorquez hit a 72-yarder last season. But he also had a 12-yarder. And a 15-yarder in 2019. And the 12-yarder was when Buffalo was on their own 18. Both punters had some lousy punts in the 20s the last two years, but Haack has avoided the teens. And in 2020, Haack’s shortest was 29 yards. That punt was from the opponent’s 44-yard line, meaning it landed at the 15.


Summary

Punting stats don’t look kindly on Matt Haack but remember that punting stats suck. Being fair, in many categories he’s average if you care about normal distributions. Taking a look at things globally, Haack seems to be a consistent punter who keeps the ball out of the end zone and rarely has awful punts let alone catastrophes. There’s little evidence to suggest the Bills upgraded. There’s a lot of evidence to say that this should work out fine. One last reminder that punting stats suck and punt outcomes rely a lot on the rest of the team. Haack should be fine and perhaps Haack + Buffalo will work out much better than “fine.”