2020 draft pick Braden Mann was hoping to take his game to the next level in year two, but unfortunately his season was disrupted by a knee injury in the opener.
Any assessment of his performance will therefore compare and contrast with veteran Thomas Morstead, who filled in while he was hurt and - by all accounts - was a good mentor to Mann as he worked his way back to full health.
Over the years, we’ve developed a punter assessment metric which aims to account for situations where a punter might have a shorter punt by design due to field position. This gives us a better idea than the raw numbers of how well a punter actually performed.
As a refresher, here’s a recap on how this is compiled from a previous 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 previously indicated that Mann’s number in college were excellent but his rookie season was poor with an ANPP recorded of 61 percent. This is 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.
Optimism was high that the addition of Justin Hardee - an elite punt gunner - would help the Jets’ numbers in terms of punt returns in 2021 and he definitely made a difference on a much improved unit. However, Mann was injured on his first punt of the season so it was Morstead who reaped the benefits for the first half of the season.
Once Mann returned, it didn’t seem like he punted as consistently as Morstead had, which was disappointing. However, he didn’t allow many long returns, only had a few shanks and was much better than last year at getting the ball closer to the goal line on directional punts. So how would this be reflected in the numbers?
Sure enough, Morstead was better than Mann according to this metric. However, he posted an elite-level ANPP of 70 percent and although Mann’s was lower than this, he still ended up at 67 percent, which is well above average based on our historical research and a big improvement on his rookie year.
(Interestingly, although it was a small sample size, kicker Matt Ammendola also posted an ANPP of 67 percent in his one game as an emergency replacement for Mann, albeit that this was skewed by one 65-yard bomb).
Mann’s performances may have seemed underwhelming so far but the numbers do indicate he made a serious improvement in year two and is hopefully on the way to being a reliable punter in the longer-term. His job seems safe, for now, as the Jets don’t currently have any competition for him on the roster.
Although Morstead was arguably even better than he was in 2021, this reflects well on the Jets’ punt coverage because it was a bounce back year for him too. If Mann has a career as good as the former pro bowler Morstead’s has been, that will make him a surefire success story.
With Brant Boyer now entering his seventh year as the Jets’ special teams coordinator, he’s really starting to put his stamp on the Jets’ return game and their kick coverage also took a step forward in 2021. It’s worth factoring in that Mann also did a good job on kickoffs with an impressive touchback percentage of 91.
Hopefully Mann can put together a good full season in 2022 and establish himself as someone the Jets can keep in that role for several years to come. Boyer and the Jets will not have given up hope that he could be even better than Morstead and end up as one of the league’s best as well as being one of the best punters in franchise history.