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Scouting Jets punter Braden Mann

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Texas Bowl- Oklahoma State v Texas A&M Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the draft now complete, we’ve been providing in-depth breakdowns of each of the Jets’ draft picks and will also cover each of the undrafted free agents. We finish up the 2020 draft class today with the Jets’ final pick, sixth round punter Braden Mann.

The 22-year old is listed at 5’11” and 198 pounds and played college football at Texas A&M where he was their full-time punter for the last two seasons and an all-SEC first teamer twice. He was a unanimous all-American, the Ray Guy Award winner and the SEC special teams player of the year in 2018.

Background

Mann was both a kicker and a punter in high school and eventually got recruited to Texas A&M, although he was primarily a kickoff specialist during his first two seasons as he found himself behind NFL propsect Michael Dickson on the depth chart.

During those first two seasons, Mann punted just twice and attempted one field goal, which he missed. However, once Dickson headed to the NFL, Mann took over as the full-time punter and holder, while also remaining as the kickoff specialist.

In just his second game as the starting punter, Mann made a name for himself by flipping the field multiple times against Clemson, helping his team to almost pull off an upset win over the eventual national champions.

Later that season, he set an NCAA record by averaging 60.8 yards per punt in a game against Alabama and also set records for the highest single-season average (51.5) and the highest number of 60-yard punts in a season (14). He was eventually named as the SEC special teams player of the year, the 2019 Ray Guy Award recipient and a unanimous all-American.

In 2019, his numbers were less spectacular but he still averaged 47 yard per punt, although his net average dropped from 45 to 40. However, he was still an all-SEC first teamer.

Having attended the senior bowl and the scouting combine, Mann was selected by the Jets with the 191st overall pick.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Mann brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

Mann isn’t particularly big at 5’11 and 198 but has some athletic ability. At the combine he posted outstanding agility numbers, although his explosiveness numbers were poor. He ran a 4.83 in the 40-yard dash.

Leg Strength

With 14 punts of over 60 yards in 2018 and a gross punt average that was a yard higher than anyone than anyone before him in college football history, Mann’s leg strength is evident.

Generally speaking, he puts good hang time on his kicks, as it’s rare he’ll kick with a low trajectory unless pressured.

His longest punt was an 82-yarder against Kentucky which he kicked from his own eight-yard line and it came to rest eight yards deep in the other end zone.

Directional Punting

Ahead of the 2019 season, Mann told the media he would be working more on the directional aspects on punting. While he had some success in that area - reducing his number of touchbacks from nine to four - most of his other numbers got worse.

You’d expect there to be more return yards in 2018 because he was kicking deeper and potentially out-kicking his coverage while concentrating less on hang time, but actually the return numbers were much worse in 2019, as he allowed 14 yards per return as opposed to a very solid six yards per return in 2018.

Without getting too deep into the philosophy of punting strategy, this makes one wonder whether he might have been better off just booming it as far downfield as possible. However, at the NFL level, you’d expect blocking schemes to be more effective so a directional approach is necessary, if not essential. It’s possible the coverage units just let him down more in 2019, too.

There have certainly been moments where Mann has showcased excellent ball placement and accuracy.

Kicking

There’s definitely a possibility that Mann could retain the kickoff specialist role at the NFL level. His touchback percentage was 61 percent during his college career. That’s not great by NFL standards, but some of the rules are different.

In any case, it’s a higher percentage than either of the two players currently battling for the Jets’ placekicker job - Brett Maher and Sam Ficken - managed in 2019.

He doesn’t appear to have attempted any onside kicks while playing for the Aggies.

Mann isn’t likely to kick field goals or extra points at the NFL level, but it’s always useful to know that your punter can do this in an emergency, much like Ryan Quigley once did when Nick Folk was injured.

In high school, Mann missed just two extra points and three field goals and was 25-for-25 on extra points in his senior year.

However, he missed his only field goal with the Aggies, on a 43-yarder that was tipped at the line in the fourth quarter of a 45-44 loss to UCLA. This proved costly as Josh Rosen led the Bruins back from a 41-10 deficit.

Tackling

Having being denied the chance to play the linebacker position in high school due to his size and concerns over potential injuries, Mann has still made contributions as a tackler over the course of his career with 13 total tackles. That included seven in 2019.

Again, this can be a concern because it’s a sign that he might sometimes be out-kicking his coverage, although most of these seemed to come on plays where at least one of his teammates was in the position to make a play but missed the tackle.

In addition, having a kicker or punter who makes a lot of tackles can be a bad sign because it often means that player is going into business for himself and trying to make a play rather than maintaining discipline as the last line of defense. Jay Feely used to be guilty of this at times, for example. However, in Mann’s case he displays good discipline and does a good job of staying in front of the return man.

While the fumble on that kickoff return was overturned on review, Mann did force one fumble that was recovered for a turnover while with the Aggies.

Even on the few occasions where Mann has had missed tackles, it’s been because he is forcing the return man to cut back into traffic so his teammates can finish the job, often just by throwing his body in the way.

Mann told the media that, earlier in his career, he used to keep count of how many tackles he made because he thought it was important but he later recognized that it would be better if he didn’t have to make any.

Holding

Mann has operated as the holder on extra points and field goals for the past two years and there don’t seem to be any instances of him messing up within that role.

He even made this hustling potential touchdown-saving tackle after a blocked kick that was not his fault.

Intangibles/Miscellaneous

Mann’s consistency has been praised by his coaches, who observed that punters usually like to work on different things, but Mann remained focused on doing everything the same every time.

On bad snaps, Mann seems to be capable of snagging the ball and still getting a decent punt off.

He has made some good punts in the face of pressure and has only had one punt blocked during his career. However, he perhaps should have got the kick off more quickly here, or perhaps kicked it the other way when he sensed the pressure.

Mann showed some good awareness on this fake punt run to pick up 15 on 4th-and-5. It’s likely the coaches had noticed the LSU defenders dropping out of the middle and instructed Mann to take off if the opportunity arose.

Comparison with Lachlan Edwards

Mann’s record-setting numbers are obviously better than Lachlan Edwards managed in college, but can he emulate his achievements at the pro level? Even though his numbers were down last year, Mann’s 47 yards per punt was still half a yard better than Edwards’ best mark in 2017.

Edwards’ net average was actually better than Mann’s in 2019, though, so clearly Mann will still need to work on those directional aspects if he’s going to enjoy more success than the man he is replacing.

On the whole, Edwards’ directional numbers are not actually significantly better than Mann’s have been, though. While Edwards only had three touchbacks last year, that was only one less than Mann. Also, Edwards has only put 32 percent of his punts inside the 20 during his career so far, whereas Mann managed 57 percent in his college career.

Conclusions

Edwards cost the Jets a draft pick in 2016 but was a disappointment as he was underwhelming over the course of his four seasons in the role with some rough moments during that time.

The Jets are hopeful that Mann can be more of an impact player. There’s no question that he has elite “leg talent” but the fact he tried to build up his repertoire and focus on directional kicking more in 2019 only for his numbers to get significantly worse is a minor cause for concern.

Hopefully Brant Boyer can give Mann some useful tips to maximize his talent because he definitely has the potential to make a big impact. If he can become one of the best in the league, this would essentially also mean he would be the best punter in franchise history.