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Is Thomas Morstead a better punter option for the Jets than Braden Mann in 2023?

NFL: New York Jets at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last month, veteran punter Thomas Morstead announced that he’s re-joining the Jets. The incumbent, Braden Mann, a 2020 sixth round pick, is entering the final year of his rookie deal, but the Jets are reportedly looking to trade him.

The 37-year old Morstead was with the Jets in 2021 and deputized well for Mann while he was out with a knee injury for the first half of the season. Once Mann was healthy again, the Jets released Morstead who spent the rest of the 2021 season with Atlanta and then played for Miami last year. Mann, however, has continued to be inconsistent and many fans welcomed the news that Morstead could potentially be about to replace him.

Let’s look at their 2022 seasons to try and determine whether the Jets can realistically expect Morstead to be an upgrade over Mann.

We broke down Mann’s 2022 season in detail here. To summarize our main conclusions:

  • Mann likely wasn’t as bad as it seemed, as a few costly mistakes at key moments perhaps clouded our perception of how reliable he was;
  • He was not fully to blame for the two costly punt return touchdowns in the second half of the year but these are obviously black marks against him; and
  • He had a uncharacteristic series of touchbacks bunched together in the middle of the season, which may have been due to a change in how they were approaching directional punting situations.

On the face of it, Mann and Morstead’s 2022 seasons weren’t that different. Mann averaged just over 47 yards per punt with a 41.0 net average and Morstead averaged just under 47 yards per punt with a 41.2 net average.

It seemed like Morstead did a better job of limiting returns as he only gave up 329 yards to Mann’s 363 and an average of 10 compared with Mann’s 11.3. However, Mann punted 16 times more than Morstead so this must have meant that a higher percentage of Morstead’s punts were returnable.

Indeed that was the case with the major difference between them being that Mann put 15 punts out of bounds (some of which may have been by design whereas others probably weren’t) and eight into the end zone. Morstead only had two of each.

Pro Football Focus gave Morstead good grades for his performance, ranking him eighth in the NFL. You may recall from our last Mann article that he was ranked fourth though!

Clearly the Jets bringing back Morstead and putting Mann on the block signals that the PFF grades aren’t necessarily looking for the same things the Jets are, with consistency and dependability presumably considered their current priorities.

Our own metric (ANPP, details of which are here) seeks to measure punter efficiency by taking into account field position. By this metric, Mann posted an above-average 67 in 2021 and 2022. However, Morstead posted an excellent 70 as Mann’s deputy in 2021 and running the numbers for every punt he had in 2022 confirms that he again posted a 70 to outperform Mann by this measure.

Perusing the data, Morstead simply didn’t have any shanks of the kind that Mann can be prone to. Mann shanked a 20-yarder out of bounds against Baltimore and a 22-yarder against New England last year for example.

Morstead only had six punts that netted less than 30 yards in 2022. Three of these were from near midfield and landed inside the 20 (with one ending up being a touchback). The other three, in consecutive games immediately after the bye, were a 50-yarder with a 23-yard return, a 46-yarder with a 20-yard return and a 55-yarder with a 26-yard return. So maybe he outkicked his coverage there (or perhaps the coverage unit just let him down) but they definitely weren’t Mann-like shanks.

Despite the aforementioned reports, the Jets haven’t traded Mann yet, nor is there any indication that there might be a high demand for him, although he is 12 years younger than Morstead, so a team might feel that if they could unlock his true potential, they could have a useful asset for a long time. We can’t completely rule out both punters heading to camp and having a competition but moving on from Mann seems most likely.

In many ways, Mann’s situation is reminiscent of the Mike Nugent situation after the Jets drafted him in 2005 and became similarly frustrated with his consistency a few years into his career. Nugent, a placekicker the Jets famously selected with their first pick in the 2005 draft after trading away their first rounder, kicked well enough after leaving the Jets to remain in the league until 2020 and ended his career with a solid 81 percent field goal conversion rate.

The Jets giving up on Mann now could similarly be something they look back on and wonder whether it was a mistake. However, at the same time, Morstead does seem to bring the consistency they are seeking.

Brant Boyer - despite an unconfirmed report earlier in the offseason that suggested he was headed to Arizona - will be back for an eighth year as the Jets’ special teams coordinator and clearly he’s familiar with and confident in Morstead.

Ultimately this is obviously a short-term move but it’s not unexpected and just serves as another reminder that the Jets definitely seem to be in win-now mode.