The Jets’ final pick in the 2020 draft is likely to play a key role in his rookie season and over the new few years. Sixth-rounder Braden Mann will replace Lachlan Edwards - himself a former late round pick - as the team’s full time punter.
When we broke down Mann in detail a few months ago, one of the most interesting aspects of his performance over the past few years was the difference betweeen 2018 and 2019.
In 2018, Mann had a record-setting campaign which saw him named as a unanimous all-American, the SEC special teams player of the year and the recipient of the Ray Guy Award. However, in 2019, his numbers dropped off significantly.
Is this a cause for concern? Not necessarily. His 2018 season was so good that, even with that drop off, Mann’s numbers were still very good. He was an all-SEC first teamer again, for example. He just wasn’t the best punter in the nation, at least based on traditional statistics.
Also relevant is the fact that Mann had decided to work more on his directional punting. This didn’t seem to work out because his net average got considerably worse but there may have been other reasons for this.
If we dig deeper into some of his numbers, we can get some better context for just how good Mann was in 2018 and 2019 and what this might say for his chances of being an upgrade over Edwards.
The Potentially Misleading Nature of the Inside-the-20 Statistic
While Edwards’ traditional statistics were generally in the middle of the pack, he was constantly underwhelming. In particular, he didn’t seem to have a knack for pinning an opponent deep in their own territory.
That’s not necessarily just based on anecdotal evidence or a narrative-based perception either. In 2019, Edwards put 33 punts inside the 20. This was in the middle of the pack for NFL punters and in line with his career average, although well short of the the league leader (45) or all-time record (51). However, only 12 of those 33 punts were put inside the 10 and 10 of them were outside the 15.
By way of a comparison, let’s consider Green Bay’s JK Scott who had the same number of punts inside the 20. He put 18 of these inside the 10 and only had six outside the 15.
Mann fares well in this category too. Over his last two seasons, he put the ball inside the 20 at a much higher rate than Edwards but only 11 of his 61 were outside the 15 and he put the ball inside the five-yard line six times in each season. Edwards only did that four times and Scott three times last year.
While Mann’s focus on directional punting didn’t seem to do much for his net average, there were a couple of signs of improvement. Notably, he reduced his total number of touchbacks from nine to four.
Where Mann’s numbers did not improve was in terms of return yardage allowed. You might expect him to outkick his coverage less often if he was concentrating on directional punting, but actually the amount of return yardage he allowed almost doubled in 2019.
There were a couple of reasons for this, not least of which is the Alabama game which was a huge outlier because it accounts for exactly half of his return yardage allowed in that season. And this wasn’t skewed by one long return, either, as Jaylen Waddle had significant return yardage on each of Mann’s four punts.
You could perhaps attribute that to the brilliance of Waddle or the fact the Aggies’ return units had lost a few key players, including current Texans fullback Cullen Gillaspia, in 2019. Either way, Mann didn’t have another game turn out like that over the rest of the season.
Using ANPP to Quantify Punter Efficiency
Several years ago, we came up with a method of measuring punter effectiveness called Adjusted Net Punt Percentage (ANPP). This seeks to account for field position and directional punting effects on the raw numbers.
The same punt can be much better in some situations than others. A 35-yard net punt from the opposing 36-yard line is a great punt. A 35-yard net punt from the opposing 43-yard line is a good punt. A 35-yard net punt from the 50-yard line is okay. But a 35-yard net punt from deep inside your own territory is bad. And if you punt 35 yards from inside the opposing 35, then that’s going to be a touchback with a net of less than 15.
What we instead measure is the percentage of each net punt with reference to the distance from the goal line. So a 30-yard punt from the 50 would only score 60 per cent and you’d be looking to do better than that from there with a maximum possible score of 98 percent if you land it down at the one-yard line. Ultimately, it helps to account for situations where a punter hurt his averages with a short punt that was by design because of the field position.
A few other tweaks are as follows: Kicks that are blocked are ignored. Punts that are negated by penalties are ignored. Any penalty on a return is treated as zero return yardage and the penalty yardage is ignored. Punts from inside your own 35-yard line are limited to a percentage of 65.
The latter is so you don’t get a low score for a booming punt from near your end zone. A 60-yard punt from your own 10-yard line shouldn’t score the same as a 30-yard punt from the opposing 45. This can, of course, mean that you can have an ANPP of over 100% on a given punt. Then again, you can also have a negative percentage if there’s a long return. This isn’t really designed for assessing single punts, but works well with a season-long sample size.
Our research in the past established a clear pattern. Most seasons will see a punter end up with an ANPP of between 60 and 70, which works well as a basic scale with around 65 to be considered as average.
We found that anyone in the low sixties was in danger of losing their job and anyone in the high sixties was solid. Elite punters can reach 70 but the highest score we came up with for a Jets punter was Steve Weatherford’s 68 in 2010. He only posted a 55 in the playoffs that year though.
It should be pretty obvious where this is leading. We cataloged each of Mann’s 107 punts in 2018 and 2019 and calculated his ANPP.
Remarkably, Mann’s 2019 season still checks out as elite on this basis as his ANPP clocks in at 69. That’s even after taking into account that outlier game against Alabama that accounted for half of his return yardage. Excluding that game from the data would have increased his ANPP to 73.
Moreover, for his 2018 season - which we know is about the best season a punter can conceivably expect to have - his ANPP was an outstanding 78. That’s much higher than we’ve seen before.
While Mann’s numbers dropped off in his senior year, this shouldn’t give us any cause for alarm. In fact, it’s probably a positive sign that he has been working on the directional aspects and working out the kinks for the past year rather than coming into the NFL and having to do things he’s never been asked to in the past.
This half of the Jets’ kicking game should be in good hands for at least the next four years and there’s every reason to conclude that Mann has a chance to be elite at the pro level. Hopefully our optimism is well-founded.