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Was Thomas Morstead as good as he seemed in 2023?

The Jets punter was much appreciated by Jets fans this year

Atlanta Falcons v New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

At the end of each season we like to take an in-depth look at how the Jets’ punter(s) performed. This season, that means a review of Thomas Morstead’s performance in his second stint with the team.

Most fans and the team itself were obviously delighted with Morstead’s performance this season, and he earned league-wide recognition with an AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award and selection as a Pro Bowl alternate.

Last year, we asked whether Braden Mann had performed as badly as it seemed, ultimately reaching the conclusion that he actually performed pretty well on balance, but that there were pockets of inconsistency which made the decision to move on from him justifiable.

In Morstead’s case, we need to be asking if he was actually as good as it seemed, or did the fact he replaced a player who had worn out his welcome impact upon how the perception of his performances were generally positive?

Despite how positively his performance was received, Morstead’s 48.8 yards per punt average was not good enough to get him in the top-10 in the NFL, and his net average was only in the middle of the pack. It must be noted, though, that this was a unique year for punting average.

Entering 2023, NFL punters had only managed to average 50 yards or more per punt 11 times in NFL history. However, in 2023 alone, it happened another six times. As recently as 2018, Morstead’s gross average would have led the entire NFL. So, despite posting some of the best numbers of his career, Morstead did so in a year when there were several outstanding performers who eclipsed him.

One place he did lead the league, however, was in terms of volume. Morstead’s 99 punts tied an all-time New York Jets record and represented the 9th most punts by any player since 2005. Couple that with his solid average and Morstead ranks 6th all time in total punt yardage in a season, with a Jets franchise record and the highest total in the NFL since 2014.

You may recall from last season that despite the criticism Mann received, he somehow had the 4th highest grade in the NFL from analysis site Pro Football Focus. Once again, Morstead was outside the top-10 for this metric. We obviously don’t have access to a breakdown of how these grades are calculated but they apparently take into account things like hang time and field position.

Jets fans that are skeptical of these numbers, will probably be even more so once they learn that PFF graded Morstead’s player of the week performance against the Giants, where he put three punts inside the five yard line, as just his 9th best performance of the season - with a worse grade than he posted in the following week’s game where he appeared to outkick his coverage on Derius Davis’ back-breaking touchdown return.

Fortunately, we devised our own metric which also takes into account field position and ignores the effects of penalties to assess how optimal a punter’s performance was over the course of the season.

GGN readers who’ve followed our analysis on Mann over the course of his career will be familiar with this metric, which we call ANPP and is designed to measure how efficiently a punter performs when taking into account field position. (A more detailed explanation of what this statistic entails is here).

This metric provides us with a sliding scale from 60 to 70 within which virtually all punters will land over a large sample size. Anything close to 60 means your job is in danger and anything close to 70 means you’re among the league’s best.

Running the numbers for Morstead gives us the kind of result that we would expect, giving him credit for that excellent directional punting over the course of the season. He ended up with an ANPP of 69, which is firmly in the elite range.

On this basis we can confirm that Morstead (a) was very good and (b) was an upgrade over Mann, who had two seasons in a row with a better-than-you-might-expect ANPP of 67. This supports the fact that fans were, on balance, satisfied with his performance and the fact that both the team and the fanbase seem to be keen to bring him back in 2024.

There’s an interesting post-script to this though, and that involves Mann himself. The Jets waived Mann and he looked set to perhaps crash out of the league when he failed to earn a role with the Steelers. However, he found a home in Philadelphia and dramatically improved his raw numbers. As a Jet, Mann averaged 45 yards per punt with a 39 yard net, but his first season with the Eagles saw him post an average of just under 50 and a net of almost 44, both of which were better than Morstead.

The final irony, though, was that Mann, having been the 4th ranked punter in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus in 2022, ended up ranked down in 26th in 2023, despite his career-best numbers.

The Jets once drafted a kicker called Mike Nugent, who never lived up to his draft status and was eventually cast aside, but ultimately went on to have a long, productive career, while the Jets never seemed to find a kicker they could rely upon.

While the Jets are happier with Morstead’s consistency than they were with Mann’s boom-or-bust potential, it’s still possible they’ll regret giving up on the former sixth round pick in the long-run. At 37 years old, Morstead won’t be able to play at a high level forever, and the Jets might wish they had someone in their mid-twenties like Mann to rely on for several years to come.

For now, though, there’s no point dwelling on this. The Jets figure to be a team in win-now mode (which was also the plan in 2023), so bringing back someone as reliable as Morstead would seem smart.

Ideally, he won’t have to punt as often with Aaron Rodgers at the helm if all goes to plan.