There are 32 teams in the NFL. And Johnny Townsend is now the 33rd ranked punter in the NFL. How is that possible, you ask? Well, the Broncos changed punters this season. They cut former Raiders punter Marquette King and replaced him with former Raiders punter Colby Wadman.
Wadman was the Raiders punter briefly this offseason after the team cut King. Then when the Raiders drafted Townsend, they cut Wadman. Now Townsend has a worse punting average than either one of them. And King isn’t even employed right now.
Townsend is averaging 41.9 yards per punt, which is the worst average of any punter with at least 12 punts this season. He also has just 6 punts inside the 20 which is 29th in the league. Thursday night he had a 23-yard punt and a punt with a 34-yard net.
There was an interesting moment in that game when 49ers 2015 5th round pick punter booted a 64-yard punt that pinned the Raiders at the 6-yard line. That punt was longer by itself than both of Townsend’s first two punts combined. It was also his 13th punt inside the 20 — more than twice as many as Townsend.
These dud punts aren’t just a one-game thing. In the previous two games Townsend had punts of 25, 27, and 28 yards. But Gruden is sticking with his 5th round rookie. Why? Because he remembers when another of his 5th round rookies had some issues with his punting.
“Yeah. Like I said, I think he’s overthinking some things a little bit. Directional punting, putting the ball between the numbers to the side line to the right, to the left, getting it off quicker, whatever it may be,” said Gruden when asked if he is sticking with Townsend.
“I make no excuses for Townsend, but I will say this, I have seen him bomb it. I have seen him be a difference maker and I am confident it’s in our near future. I went through this with [Shane] Lechler. Lechler used to tick me off. He used to punt the ball out of the Black Hole instead of trying to get it inside the 10. I’ve been through it with [Sebastian] Janikowski. Everybody hated Janikowski for the first three or four games. I’m going to be patient and everybody knows that’s not a strength of mine.”
I don’t really know where these booming punts happened that Gruden speaks of with regard to Townsend. I saw no such punts in camp. There is no comparison whatsoever with Lechler. I saw him as a rookie in camp and his leg was spectacular. He would launch it and you’d think the crowd was watching a fireworks display. Even with Marquette King you saw some potential. He was wildly inconsistent, but when he got ahold of one, it was a sky shot.
To put this in baseball terms, Townsend has a lot of pitches, while Lechler and King will hit you with a 100 mph fast ball and dare you to catch up to it. But thus far, Townsend’s curve balls have had no movement and he’s been walking in runs.
For now Gruden is leaving Townsend in to see if he can fight his way through it. Even while most think he should have called to the pen long ago. I’m not making any suggestions here, but both King and Lechler just happen to be free agents at the moment. Just saying.