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If you follow Buffalo Rumblings’ beloved Bruce Nolan for more than five minutes, you’ll likely latch onto the fact that he has a vendetta against wins being used as a quarterback stat. I happen to agree. Wins are solely a team stat. What does this have to do with Buffalo Bills punter Sam Martin? I mean, no one has ever said “Wins are a punter stat.”
Just like wins aren’t QB stats, most punt metrics aren’t punter stats. Take a stat like punts inside the opponent’s 20. That’s largely dependent on the gunners, field position, coaching decisions more. Even a somewhat “pure” stat like yards per punt is dependent on coaching and team tendencies. Efficient offenses are less likely to need deeper punts to switch the field. Aggressive coaches are less likely to call for shorter punts.
That’s a long intro to back my assertion that in general; punting stats…suck! After the 2019 season, I decided to fix that by creating a punting stat that doesn’t suck. It’s time for my proprietary stat “Bad Punt” to take a look at Sam Martin!
Look, that intro has a lot of words. If you want the longer version of things, check out my articles on the subject about the 2019, 2020, and 2021 seasons. The overarching concept is to isolate the one thing the punter controls: punt distance. Wait, that’s just yards per punt, though. Okay, I don’t strictly isolate. Punts are labeled as “good” or “bad” based on results that are adjusted by three zones of field position. The three zones and rationale of good vs. bad are as follows:
- Between the 1- and 24-yard line a punt is considered “good” if it traveled 46 yards or more for the 2022 season. Anything less is “bad.” The league-average punt was 46.8 yards. The idea here is simple: If you’re backed up deep you need at least an average punt. Anything less is a failure.
- Between the 25- and 49-yard line, a punt is considered “bad” if it travels less than 40 yards. In this zone you can’t just boot it, so it’s fine if it’s a bit shorter than perfect average as it still mostly flips the field.
- Punts on the opponent’s side of the field are always considered bad. Analytics heavily suggest going for it once you’ve crossed midfield. Sure you can argue exceptions, but for my purposes these are always considered a “bad” punt.
How did Sam Martin do?
If you’re wondering what the traditional stats (that mostly suck) say about Sam Martin, check out the 2022 punting page from Pro Football Reference. A huge shout out to Pro Football Reference by the way as they provided the data needed to create the bad punt metric.
If you took the time to check out the page, you likely noticed that Sam Martin was pretty mediocre. Hardly a reason for hype like my headline suggested. So what’s the deal? Let’s check out the chart you knew was coming.
Due to the time-consuming nature of this stat, I don’t have league data available. Instead, we go with nine comparison players from the 34 qualifiers last year. If anyone is really curious on how I selected the comps, ask in the comments. The short version is that I take a cross section from top to bottom sorted by yards/punt. The list above is in order of that traditional stat.
Of the 10 players (11 technically since I grabbed both New England Patriots punters and combined them), Sam Martin was the only player with zero bad punts when his team was backed up deep (the 1- 24 range). You might recall a blocked punt and wonder how I arrived at zero bad punts. Blocked punts are usually a protection issue and not the fault of the punter, so they’re not counted here.
In the 25- to 49-yard range, Sam Martin was a little elevated, with 17.2% of his punts failing to travel 40 yards. That’s not great, but also not terrible. So again, why is this a hype piece? Note that two comps on the board are former Bills punters Corey Bojorquez and Matt Haack. Haack’s struggles are in both zones I’ve covered so far, and worse than Martin by far. Bojorquez is better toward the middle of the field, but atrocious when backed up.
Further, Bojorquez has been included in every analysis I’ve done since he was the reason this was invented by yours truly. This marks Haack’s third year in a row appearing on the chart. Feel free to click the links above or trust me when I say that this year’s chart is precisely who these punters are. If you’re backed up, Bojorquez frequently falls short. And Haack is just Haack.
What about that yellow column?
Well even bad punt metrics can’t completely escape team tendencies. In this case its coaching. This year I added the yellow column. While all punts in this zone are considered bad as noted above, it’s not really the punter who’s the problem here. The new yellow column is the percentage of total punts for that player that were on the opponents’ side of the field.
Or in other words, this is the percentage of total punts in which a coach is literally asking for a bad punt. Ideally this number is zero or close to it. The Bills weren’t 0%, but this column does suggest that head coach Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills are trending toward going for it more often than other teams, which corroborates other stats aimed to measure aggressiveness.
So why the hype? Sam Martin really does represent an upgrade over the last few years of Bills punting. Not only that, but Buffalo continues to field an aggressive offense.