When asked "How do you draft a punter in the first round?" John Madden responded with :
"Because every defensive guy wanted him because he helped the defense. Because every offensive guy wanted him because he helped the offense. And of course everyone on special teams wanted him."
Reggie McKenzie has done Big John one better.
When Marquette King joined the Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2012, he was a project out of Fort Valley State college (in the SIAC conference). He was a tremendous athlete but so very raw, slow in his steps, inconsistent in his ball drop, and just as likely to boom a 65 yarder as to shank a 20 yarder. Fortunately, he sustained an (*ahem*) injury that year, and so incumbent punter Shane Lechler played out the final year of his 4-year contract.
Since then, King has worked at his craft and shown drastic improvement, year after year. In 2015, he took such a major leap forward to make Reggie McKenzie go all in on him. 5 years / $16.5 M is quite a lot for the 21st ranked Punter in the NFL by Gross Avg (45.5 yards per punt). But there's more to it than those raw numbers.
Here's a closer look at how King earned McKenzie's respect and the Raider Nation's love.
Here's a breakdown of King's punting by 10-yard zones.
|# of punts||2||7||18||18||18||18||2|
note: 50-59 means 50 yardline to Opp 41. 60-69 means Opp 40 to Opp 31.
The range from the 1 yardline to the 39 yardline is a zone where typically the team wants the punter to flip the field position by getting a big punt. Punt distance is key in this zone.
Meanwhile, from the 40 yardline onwards, it is more important to try to pin the opponent inside their own 20 yardline and perhaps even further. In this zone, it is less important to get distance on the punts, but rather to use touch and placement to play Price is Right with the punting : deep enough, but not too far.
Mastery of both these aspects is what made both Ray Guy and Shane Lechler so special. Marquette is already well on his way to being the 3rd special Raiders' punter.
From 1 yardline to 39 yardline :
- 45 punts (54%)
- 48.6 avg
- 23 returns (51%). 7.8 avg yards per return
- The Big Punts :
- 22 punts of 50+ yards
- 5 of those were 60+ yards (60, 61, 65, 66) and 1 of those was this 70 yarder against Baltimore :
He's showing a big leg and every year it's more and he's being more and more efficient at hitting the really big punts. And mostly he's getting so much better at minimizing those shanks. He's had 8 short punts under 40 yards. 1 of them was under 30, a partially blocked 25 yarder v PIT.
A little bit more consistency and he'll easily become a 50+ yard Boom punter that can turn an apparent field position deficit into a field position positive for the defense.
From 40 yardline on :
- 38 punts (46%).
- 39.8 avg
- 4 returns (11%), 5.5 avg yards per return
- 30 (78.9%) inside the 20, 15 from 10-19, 11 from 5-9, 2 inside the 5.
- 4 returned (13%) all from 10-19 4 touchbacks (13%)
The biggest jump that the Raiders are seeing from King is his work when punting from good field position. The offense has done their job in setting up field position and now it's up to Marquette to keep pushing that field position advantage.
- On 38 punts, 4 of them failed to drop inside the 20 and 4 of them went into the endzone for touchbacks.
- Of the 30 punts that went inside the 20, 4 were returned at a 5.5 avg. On the 4 returned punts, 3 of the resulting drives still started inside the 20 and the other one started at the 25.
- 26 punts were Pinned inside the 20.
- 13 of those were inside the 10 and 2 of them were inside the 5.
- 1 of those pinned punts set up the safety against Phillip Rivers and this 36 yarder one helped close out the game against Cleveland.
The Marquette Effect
When he was in the Pin Zone, King had 2 pins inside the 5, but more impressive is that he had 3 other 5-yard pins from outside the pin zone. In total, King (and his special teams gunners, notably Taiwan Jones) were able to force opponents to start from inside their own 5 yardline an impressive 5 times and most of them paid immediate dividends :
Week 3 v Cleveland, King's end of game punt forced Josh McCown and the Browns to drive 98 yards with only 2:37 remaining. This eventually led to a deep shot to Travis Benjamin that CWood picked off to seal the game.
Week 9 v Pittsburgh, King had a 41 yarder to the Pittsburgh 2. The Raiders' defense clamped down and the Steelers went 3-and-out. The Steelers punter only manage a 36 yard punt and the Raiders' offense were set up with great field position at the Pit 40. 7 plays later, Touchdown Raaaaaaiders!
Week 10 v Minnesota, King punted 48 yards to the MIN 3. The Vikings relied on Adrian Peterson to push the ball out of their own goalline and eventually got out to the 22. Then their punter Locke got off a 53 yarder to flip field position back.
Week 14 v Denver, King punted 47 yards to the Denver 2. On the 3rd play from scrimmage, Khalil Mack sacked Osweiler and forced a fumble. The fumble was recovered by Denver and resulted in a safety.
Week 15 v Green Bay, King punted 60 yards to the GB 2. Unfortunately, the Raiders' defense could not hold the Packers' offense inside the 5. A couple of penalties (12 Men, Pass interference) helped bring the ball out. But as the Packers drove the length of the field, when they reached the 32 yardline, 66 yards from where they started, Benson Mayowa forced a fumble and the Raiders' recovered. 4 plays later, Carr went deep to Amari for a TD.
The Raiders had 2 huge Division wins down the stretch and Marquette King played a huge role in both of them. Just reading his stat line should make any Raiders' fan smile in appreciation :
Week 14 v Denver (W 15-12)
- 10 punts, 460 yards, 46.0 avg.
- 44.3 Net avg.
- 4 punts of 50+ yards (50, 51, 52, 55).
- 5 punts inside the 20.
- 2 of which were inside the 10
- 1 Running into the Punter penalty taken.
- 1 Muffed Punt "caused" (the famous Jon Condo play)
Week 16 v SD (W 23-20 OT)
- 8 punts, 400 yards, 50.0 avg
- 2 return yards, 49.8 net avg
- Punts Inside the 25 : 7
- Inside the 20 : 6
- Inside the 15 : 5
- Inside the 10 : 2 (1 safety resulted)
Like many of the young Raiders, Marquette is not a finished product. He's worked diligently and effectively to build himself from that raw prospect into a very good NFL punter. What should be obvious is that he still has a long way to go to fully realizing all his potential. His punting depth, punting height, consistency and accuracy are all going to continue to improve and he is going to go from being a very nice player into being a true special teams weapon.
As Coach Madden said, each phase of the game is going to improve because of him and they will all love him. This new contract shows that Reggie McKenzie believes in him, as well.
In the near future, we fans may not bemoan offensive conservatism on 3rd-and-long because Marquette will trot out and flip the field for us.
Let's take a moment to honor Marquette as Justin Tuck would.