Raider fans have had stars in their eyes with visions of 80-yard punts which his legend hath foretold from his days at Fort Valley State. There was really only one such 80-yard punt, against Bethune-Cookman his senior season, but as with any legend, it grew to mythological proportions. Now, it would seem he blasted 80-yard punts with regularity.
The Raiders signed him to see if there was something to this converted wide receiver turned All Conference punter. There was little doubt Lechler was going to be the Raiders' punter last season, but every team has a camp leg and King's story added some intrigue to his signing.
There were those who actually thought Lechler would be cut last off-season. First off was the fact that Shane Lechler was by far the highest paid punter in the NFL and Reggie McKenzie was clearing "out of whack" contracts left and right. Lechler had said when former coach Tom Cable was fired that he was unhappy and wanted out but when Al Davis showed him the money, he signed on the dotted line.
There were also those who asked the question, "If King isn't the future for the Raiders, why did they sign him to a 3-year contract?" The answer being that ALL undrafted free agents are initially signed to 3-year deals so if they make the team and play well (ala Rod Streater), another team can't come in and swipe them up as a free agent the following off-season.
Knowing Lechler was leaving, the Raider had even more incentive to hold onto King as an insurance plan. But, there was no way they were going to keep two punters on the team and wasting a practice squad spot on a punter wasn't going to happen either. Then, funnily enough, King injured his foot late in the preseason and voila, injured reserve.
With Lechler in his lame duck season with the Raiders, and King on injured reserve, he has been made out to be some kind of savior from the punter position.
Lechler has now officially left the Raiders after 13 seasons. He signed a 3-year, $5.5 million deal with theTexans. His exit has brought the Marquette King fervor to an all-time high. I have seen people saying "Lechler who?" (even though Lechler is the last name, so that wouldn't make sense), "Long live the King!" and even a fan post announcing "Lechler is out, King is in."
I hate to burst this giant bubble that has been formed, but there is absolutely no certainty with regard to Marquette King. He is no more likely to be the Raiders next punter than the other punter the Raiders will be signing (and they will) to compete with him in camp.
King is raw potential. That's all he's ever been. His story is great, converting from wide receiver to become an all-conference punter. But, first of all, it isn't like this conference is the SEC or the Pac-12 or something. We're talking about the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Admit most of you had never even heard of that conference before this moment. And he got the honor while averaging a respectable but not great 43 yards per punt (Lechler has an NFL average of 47.5).
Let's say for the sake of argument that he can punt a ball 80 yards. So, what? Punting is not all about how far you can kick the ball. It's not strength and power, it's precision and science. You know the term "outkicking your coverage"? A 70-yard punt without much hang time is big trouble for a coverage team. It give the return man a lot more room to get up to speed and time to find gaps.
What made Lechler statistically the greatest punter in NFL history was not simply how far he could punt the ball. It was many things. It was consistency, accuracy, and technique. It's the same things that had Ray Guy change the way we look at the punter position and putting the word "Hangtime" into our lexicon.
When watching Lechler and King punt in camp, there is no comparison. Lechler's punts are majestic towering spirals off his foot every time. While King's punts were end over end shots which sometimes went great distances but more often did not. While fans were clinging to the legend they had created, it didn't match what I was watching.
His play in preseason matched that. He had a big 71-yard boot in week two against the Cardinals but also had a punt blocked in part because he messed up his steps. He had a 60-yard punt in week one against the Cowboys but he also had a bad shank that traveled just 18 yards. Even with those two good punts, his net average was under 30 yards per punt. With just three of his eight punts stopped inside the 20-yard line. So, you can see he shows up big in flashes but punting is about consistency and accuracy more than the occasional boomer.
This may sound like I am tearing down King. I am not doing anything of the sort. I am simply tearing down the God-like status fans have placed upon him. He knows he has work to do and he is working hard to earn his shot in the NFL. He will be given that opportunity with the Raiders. But don't expect the world because you are setting yourself up for a letdown.
The Raiders just had 13 years of Shane Lechler. Expecting a raw, unproven, undrafted, converted wide receiver to supplant an All Pro, perennial Pro Bowler, greatest punter of all-time without missing a beat is at best naïve. And it is most certainly ridiculous.
Come May, we will get our first looks at his progression as a punter when the team has its first Organized Team Activities. Then it will be another three months before we see it on the field of play. Until then, try to keep some perspective.