After spending 11 weeks ranking every single position this summer (except fullback and long snapper), I cap off my NFL rankings with the specialists. These two positions, especially punter, aren’t the easiest to rank, given a lack of stats. What I’ve found is, like most positions, the younger the punter/kicker is, the better. However, these are two positions where you can play into your 40s and still be successful. (Though, apparently, you can also play quarterback until you’re 45.)
Some of the punters who are “past their prime” but still putting up solid numbers are Andy Lee (ARZ), Kevin Huber (CIN), Brett Kern (FA), Thomas Morstead (MIA), and Pat O’Donnell (GB). These guys have been mainstays since I’ve been watching football, so I feel like I have to at least include them in this article.
Before we get into the top 10 punters, I also have two honorable mentions.
Honorable Mentions: Tommy Townsend (KC) & Blake Gillikin (NO)
Townsend is an honorable mention because he only punted 37 times last season, the least out of any starting punter. To put it into perspective, Cameron Johnston of the Texans punted 88 times. (Look at Kansas City’s offense and then look Houston’s, and that should explain why.) So, I figured I would leave Townsend out of the ranking until we can see more from him. The 25-year old made the most of his opportunities in 2021. He was second in the league in yards per punt average (among punters with at least 35 punts) with 49.8. Even more impressive, he led the league with a 46.3 net average and had 18 punts (49%) downed inside the 20-yard line.
Blake Gillikin is another young punter I want to highlight as he has quite the leg himself. Gillikin signed with New Orleans as an undrafted free agent in 2020, was placed on injured reserve, and then took over for Thomas Morstead as the team’s punter in 2021. The 24-year old was seventh in the league in yards/punt (47.7) and fourth in downed punts inside the 20 (29) in his first season as a starter with the Saints.
10. Sam Martin (FA)
Sam Martin is currently looking for a new home after the Broncos cut ties with him on Monday.
Martin should have a pretty good market, as he was fourth in net average (44.1), sixth in punts inside the 20 (28), and tied for the ninth-longest punt (68 yards) in the NFL last year. The 32-year old spent his first seven years in Detroit and was set to make $2.25 million this year in Denver, the eighth-most among punters.
9. Jake Bailey (NE)
New England’s 2019 fifth round pick, Jake Bailey, has quickly become a top punter in the league. He turned in a First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl season in 2020. Last year, he had a 47.3 yards per punt average, a 42.0 net average, and downed 23 punts inside the 20 (tied for 14th-best). He was also tied for fourth with a 71-yard punt, matching his career-high (set in 2020). With the Patriots’ reported offensive struggles in training camp and preseason, Bailey could see a lot of work this season.
8. Johnny Hekker (CAR)
Johnny Hekker is not in the top tier of punters anymore, but he is still good enough to be top 10. Hekker was 29th in yards per punt last year (44.2) and his longest punt (59 yards) ranked 37th in the league. However, the 32-year old’s 23 punts inside the 20 were tied with Bailey for 14th-best, his 43.4 net average ranked fifth, and his 25 fair catches forced ranked third. The Panthers signed the six-time All-Pro to a three-year, $7.6 million deal this offseason.
7. Cameron Johnston (HOU)
Well, when you have one of the worst teams in the league, you should have one of the best punters. (Just ask Brian Moorman.) That’s the case with Cameron Johnston and the Houston Texans, as Johnston led the NFL with 88 punts in 2021. Even though he got so much work, he was able to maintain strong numbers. He had the 13th-best yards/punt average (46.7), ninth-best net average (42.2), seventh-longest punt (69 yards), and second-most punts downed inside the 20 (36).
6. Tress Way (WSH)
Tress Way is another punter who gets a lot of work because of the team he plays for. Way had the fifth-highest yards/punt average last season (48.4), the second-highest in his career. In 2019, the former undrafted free agent finished with the 11th-highest single-season yards/punt average in NFL history (49.6). The 31-year old also had the 10th-best net average (42.1) and had 22 punts land inside the 20 in 2021. Way has been in Washington since 2014 and is the sixth-highest paid punter in the league, making just under $2.5 million.
5. Jack Fox (DET)
When the Lions signed Jack Fox to a reserves/futures contract at the end of the 2019 season, I’m not sure if they knew he was going to be a top 10 punter within two years. Fox averaged the second-highest yards/punt last season (49.2; he broke his own team record), he had the sixth-longest punt (70 yards), and the eighth-highest net average (42.3). In 2020, Fox set the Lions’ franchise record for both yards per punt (49.1) and net yards per punt (44.8). (Both of those ranked top-three in the NFL.) He made the Pro Bowl and was a Second Team All-Pro in 2020.
4. Logan Cooke (JAX)
Logan Cooke is another example of a punter who shines on a bad team. Last year, Cooke finished tied-eighth in yards/punt (47.3), seventh in punts inside the 20 (27), second in net average (45.0), and second in fair catches forced (26). The Jaguars’ 2018 seventh-round pick only punted one ball into the end zone in 2021, which was tied for the fewest in the league for any punter with more than 20 punts. His longest punt (68 yards) was tied for ninth-longest in the league.
3. Michael Dickson (SEA)
Michael Dickson finished 2021 16th in net average (41.7), 12th in yards/punt (46.9), and tied with Cooke for the ninth-longest punt (68 yards). Even though his yards/punt and net average each dropped by almost three yards from 2020, Dickson placed a league-leading 40 punts inside the 20 last season. He punted the ball 83 times (tied second-most in the league). So almost half of his punts had enough finesse on them to where he was able to pin teams deep. Since his rookie season in 2018, when he was a First Team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler, Dickson has dropped 134 punts inside the 20 and never finished a season with less than 28.
2. Bryan Anger (DAL)
Bryan Anger was one of two punters who made the Pro Bowl last season. The 33-year old downed the 11th-most punts inside the 20 (24), had the fourth-best yards/punt average (48.4), and the third-best net average (44.6). Anger also forced 24 fair catches last season, which was fourth-best in the NFL. The former 2012 third-round pick of Jacksonville received a new three-year contract extension from the Cowboys this offseason, making him the league’s second-highest paid punter. Anger is entering his second season in Dallas after spending two in Houston, three in Tampa Bay, and four in Jacksonville.
1. A.J. Cole III (LVR)
A.J. Cole is my number one punter headed into the 2022 season. Cole was the only punter to be named First Team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler in 2021. For starters, he had the seventh-highest net average (42.7). He also downed 28 of his 64 punts inside the 20, which ranked fifth, and his 71-yard punt was tied for the fourth-longest punt in the NFL. Most impressively, Cole averaged 50 yards/punt, which led the league in 2021 and was the eighth-highest average in NFL history. The Raiders gave him a new four-year, $12 million extension last December, tying him with Logan Cooke for the fourth-highest paid punter in the league.
Just like with the punters, there are a handful of veteran kickers who I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention. These are guys who may be past their prime, but are all putting up solid numbers and could be valuable pieces to your fantasy team(s) this year. Some of those veterans are Nick Folk (NE), Graham Gano (NYG), Matt Prater (ARZ), Brandon McManus (DEN), Ryan Succop (TB), and Randy Bullock (TEN).
Honorable Mentions: Wil Lutz (NO) & Brett Maher (DAL)
I wanted to highlight these two players because both are coming off injuries, Lutz more recently. Maher reunited with the Cowboys a few weeks ago after serving as a placeholder for Wil Lutz in New Orleans last year. (Maher played the final eight games for the Saints and made 89% of his FGs.) With Lutz back this year, the Saints had no reason to keep Maher, who wound up back in Dallas, where he spent two seasons. However, the Cowboys just cut him but are planning on bringing him back.
10. Robbie Gould (SF)
Robbie Gould is another veteran who is at the end of his career. However, he has been so good and clutch for so long that he still makes my top 10. Especially after watching him in the playoffs last year, as he kicked the game-winning 45-yard FG against the Packers in frigid temperatures to send the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. Gould has now attempted 21 FGs in the playoffs throughout his career and has made every single one of them, giving him the NFL record for most postseason FGs without a miss. In the 2021 regular season, Gould made 20 out of 23 FGs (87%) and was 39/40 (97.5%) on extra points. The 39-year old now has a 86.6% career FG percentage and a 97.7% career extra point percentage heading into his 18th season.
9. Jake Elliot (PHI)
Coming in at number nine is the kicker who scored the ninth-most points last season (134), Jake Elliot. Elliot was one of four kickers to make 100% of his extra point attempts in 2021, as he was a perfect 44/44 for the first time in his career. (He had missed at least two each of his previous four seasons.) The 27-year old also made 90.9% (30 out of 33) field goal attempts, the highest percentage in his five-year career… by over six percent. On top of that, Elliot did not miss a field goal on the road, going a perfect 15/15. The former Bengals 2017 fifth-round pick was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl appearance last season.
8. Chris Boswell (PIT)
The only “Killer B” left on the Steelers, Chris Boswell is still holding down the fort after being the low man on the totem pole behind Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Martavis Bryant for years. Boswell made 90% of his field goals (36/40) in 2021, his third consecutive year with a 90+% FG conversion. He was tied for sixth in the league among kickers in points last season with 135. Boswell’s first three years (2015-17) were really solid, but then he had a dismal 2018 (65.0 FG %) before rebounding these past three years (2019-21). The 31-year old could be a sneaky good fantasy pickup this season with Mitch Trubisky potentially starting at quarterback.
7. Evan McPherson (CIN)
Evan McPherson had an exceptional rookie season last year, coming up huge in the playoffs to help the Bengals reach the Super Bowl. McPherson cashed in on 14 FGs in the playoffs, tying Adam Vinatieri for the most made in a single postseason. In addition, he didn’t miss one attempt; his 14 FGs without a miss are the third-most in NFL playoff history behind Gould and Boswell. On top of all this, McPherson kicked five game-winning FGs in 2021 (regular season and postseason) and made the most 50+ yard FGs in the league (nine). Safe to say the 2021 fifth-round pick made the Bengals look smart for taking him. He should continue ascending as one of the league’s best kickers.
6. Tyler Bass (BUF)
Tyler Bass is another kicker who was once a day three draft pick, and it has paid off for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills got the 2020 sixth-round pick they used to select Bass from the Wyatt Teller trade in 2019. (So that trade may not have been as bad as we originally thought?) Bass was one of four kickers who did not miss an extra point in 2021, as he nailed 51 of them. He also made 87.5% of his FGs, up from 82.4% his rookie season. He missed four FGs in 2021, with one of them coming in the 40-49 yard range and the other three missing from beyond 50. Bass was tied with Boswell and Greg Joseph (MIN) for sixth in points by a kicker last season with 135.
After a shaky start to his rookie season, Bass has found his swagger. Combine that with a booming leg and a high-powered offense, and you have one of the best young kickers in the game.
5. Younghoe Koo (ATL)
Younghoe Koo has been a bright spot for the Falcons ever since joining the team in 2019. Koo is one of just two NFL kickers to make at least 93% of his field goals each of the last two seasons. In 2020, he made 37 of 39 FGs and 33 of 36 extra points, giving him 144 points and his first Pro Bowl appearance.
Last season, Koo only scored 111 points but was 30/30 kicking extra points and 27/29 kicking field goals. The 28-year old is the third-highest paid kicker in the league after the Falcons signed him to a five-year, $24.25 million contract extension this offseason. Koo is in an interesting spot. The Falcons might be bad enough where they won’t be able to score TDs, but might be good enough to at least get in field goal range for Koo. We’ll see what either Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder can do.
4. Matt Gay (LAR)
Matt Gay has quickly emerged as one of the game’s best young kickers. After scoring 124 points for the Buccaneers in his rookie season in 2019, Tampa waived him in favor of veteran Ryan Succop. Gay signed with the Colts but then was released in early November of 2020, allowing the Rams to scoop him up. And man, did that work out for them. Last season, Gay made 94.1% of his kicks (32/34) and missed just one extra point in 49 attempts. He was also third in the league in scoring with 144 points. Gay made his first Pro Bowl and, more importantly, kicked the game-winning field goal against his former team (Tampa) in the Divisional Round before helping kick the Rams to a Super Bowl title.
3. Harrison Butker (KC)
Harrison Butker could be even higher on this list, but, with the numbers that the other kickers put up, I have him at number three. Butker has established himself as one of the top kickers in the game since the Panthers drafted him in the seventh round in 2017. After replacing Cairo Santos as Kansas City’s kicker early on in the 2017 season, Butker has made 90.1% of his field goals (146/162), which ranks second in NFL history behind Justin Tucker.
The problem for Butker is Kansas City’s offense has been so good that he doesn’t get as many opportunities to kick field goals. He scored 123 points in 2020 and then 122 in 2021, which ranked 15th in the league. If there is one area of Butker’s game to critique (since it’s not his fault Patrick Mahomes is such a good QB), it’s making extra points. He has missed eight over the last two years and 15 over his career. Butker is, surprisingly, the 10th-highest paid kicker in the league, making an average of under $4.1 million per year.
2. Daniel Carlson (LVR)
Daniel Carlson has become one of my favorite kickers and is my fantasy crush this season for kickers. Carlson is the only kicker to have at least 140 points each of the past two seasons. In 2020, he was tied with Younghoe Koo and Jason Sanders for first place with 144 points. In 2021, he tied with Nick Folk for first with 150 points. Carlson did have sole possession of first place in FGs attempted (43) and FGs made (40) in 2021. In addition, the 27-year old is one of just four kickers who have hit at least 90% of their field goals each of the past two seasons. (He made 94.3% in 2020 and 93% in 2021.) The former Vikings 2018 fifth-round pick was named Second Team All-Pro last season and is the fifth-highest paid kicker in the NFL, making $4.6 million per year.
1. Justin Tucker (BAL)
Justin Tucker has already cemented himself as one of the best kickers in NFL history… and he’s only 32 years old. Tucker was signed by Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2012, when he beat out Billy Cundiff for the Ravens’ starting kicker job. And since then, he has become the most accurate kicker in NFL history, with a career percentage of 91.1%. He has scored 1,360 points, never finishing a season with less than 128. He’s made 48 50+ yard FGs. He’s kicked 18 game-winning FGs. And he’s been named an All-Pro seven times and a Pro Bowler five times. Oh, and he did this…
Tucker was the last of the four guys who did not miss an extra point last season. He was one of three kickers who made 100% of his extra point attempts and at least 90% of his field goal attempts (Jake Elliott and Younghoe Koo were the others). The Ravens signed Tucker to a four-year, $24 million contract extension a few weeks ago, making him the highest paid kicker in NFL history.
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