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An in-depth look at Braden Mann’s rookie season

Cleveland Browns v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Jets’ 2020 rookie class yielded mixed results. However, some of the players that underwhelmed could yet make positive strides since they saw their progress slowed by injuries or struggled to get any playing time in 2020.

One player who that doesn’t apply to is punter Braden Mann. Mann, a sixth-round pick, was handed the starting punter role with no competition, played all year and now doesn’t face any competition heading into 2021. However, despite this apparent confidence in Mann’s ability to get the job done, his rookie season was underwhelming.

According to official numbers, Mann - who punted more times than any other player and led the league in punting yards as a result - was in the bottom five for gross average and second-to-last in net average.

On the basis of some of Mann’s college highlights, we were anticipating Mann unleashing some bombs to flip the field. However, this never manifested as he was one of just eight NFL punters to punt 40 times without having a single punt of longer than 60 yards.

Mann was brought in to replace Lachlan Edwards, who had similarly led the NFL in punting yards in 2019 with very similar numbers to those that Mann posted in his rookie year. However, as that was easily the worst of Edwards’ four seasons as the Jets punter, it would be premature to suggest that Mann hasn’t been a downgrade so far.

As we pointed out when we looked in depth at Mann’s college numbers prior to the season, raw punting numbers can be misleading. However, looking in more detail at directional punting metrics does not improve the outlook for Mann.

While he was in the middle of the pack for total punts landed inside the 20, this was mainly because he punted so much more than everyone else. The reality was that only one other punter (Britton Colquitt) landed fewer than a quarter of his punts inside the 20.

Still, this could be explained away by suggesting Mann was mostly punting from deep inside his own territory. That’s why we came up with the concept of ANPP (Adjusted Net Punt Percentage) to measure punter efficiency.

As a refresher, here’s a recap on how this is compiled from last year’s article:

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.

Our research last year underlined how Mann was beyond elite in 2018 with an ANPP of an unprecedented 78 percent and even his 2019 season, which wasn’t as good, clocked in at 69 percent, which is elite by NFL standards.

Having tracked every punt for 2020, we find that Mann’s ANPP for his rookie year was only 61 percent. This is poor and within the range where we’d expect a punter’s job to come under threat if there was no immediate improvement in the following season.

It also continues a concerning downhill trend since Mann took the decision to focus more on his directional punting after his award-winning 2018 season.

Conclusions

Any time you’re evaluating a punter based on his numbers, you need to account for the impact that coverage units can have. The Jets’ coverage units weren’t particularly impressive last year as they lost a few key contributors from 2020, but they did improve over the second half of the year and at least they didn’t allow any touchdowns.

Then again, if it wasn’t for Mann himself making a couple of memorable saving tackles, the team could have given up a few touchdowns and his numbers would’ve looked even worse.

The Jets may bring in a “camp leg” to reduce Mann’s workload, but it’s unlikely they’ll bring in any real competition for him. Instead, they’re committed to having faith that Mann is going to develop into a top-level punter and an underwhelming rookie season probably won’t shake that confidence.

Mann will have to work hard at improving his consistency if he’s going to live up to his potential in 2021 and beyond.