It’s finally here. We’ve waited all offseason, and finally Atlanta Falcons’ football has returned to our lives. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a preseason game as I am today, and the Falcons’ find themselves with several interesting position battles which will take place over the coming weeks.
One that isn’t receiving the attention it likely deserves is the punting situation. Over the years, the Falcons have stayed pretty steady at the position with Michael Koenen from 2005-2010 and Matt Bosher from 2011-2019. Bosher averaged an impressive 45.7 yards per punt during that time before dealing with a hamstring injury which ultimately brought his chapter in Atlanta to a close.
In 2020, the Falcons rolled with punter Sterling Hofrichter who the team selected in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Hofrichter had a decent rookie season, playing in all 16 games and averaging 42.5 yards per punt. The Falcons punting job definitely took a dip with Hofrichter, but that was expected when starting a rookie punter after years of having a reliable option in place. To make thing even more troubling for the punting game, Hofrichter was waived last week with an injury designation, and has reverted to the team’s injured reserve list ultimately ending his sophomore season early.
That brings us to present day, where the Falcons have two punter battling for the starting role: Dom Maggio and Cameron Nizialek. What these two have in common is that neither one has an official NFL punt on record. Like Hofrichter last season, one of the two will enter the season without any prior NFL experience as the Falcons’ starting punter. Obviously a move can be made later, but for now, it’s down to Maggio and Nizialek.
Wearing No. 9 for the Falcons, Maggio played in 52 games while at Wake Forest, where he finished his collegiate career with the second most punting yards with 12,703 yards. His 291 punts at Wake Forest still remain the third-most punts in ACC history. Maggio went undrafted in 2020, and was signed by the Baltimore Ravens and eventually released by the team on August 1.
With the action of waiving Hofrichter with an injury designation, the Falcons acted quickly in bringing in a replacement with Nizialek. Listed as No. 6 for the Falcons, Nizialek has some familiarity with the Falcons as he spent the first three weeks of the 2020 season on the team’s practice squad. He’s very familiar with a certain Falcons player you might know in Younghoe Koo, who was his teammate in 2019 with the Atlanta Legends in the AAF. While having Nizialek placehold for Koo with the Legends, Koo went a perfect 14/14 on field goal attempts. Nizialek also recorded the second best yards-per-punt average that season with 47.4 yards per attempt.
Which player ultimately wins the job is to be determined. It’s also possible that the team eventually brings in a seasoned veteran in hopes of bringing stability to the role. Either way, it’s a game of inches and both Maggio and Nizialek will have three preseason games to separate from the other.
New special teams coordinator Marquice Williams will have some interesting decisions to make leading up to the start of the 2021 season. As a special teams assistant with the Detroit Lions in 2020, his punter at the time, Jack Fox averaged the third most yards-per-punt with 49.1 and finished with the sixth most punts inside the 20-yard line with 26.
Nizialek is listed as the starting punter on the team’s first official depth chart of the season, so he’ll likely get the first crack at it when the Falcons host the Tennessee Titans this evening at 7:00 PM ET. This will be one of the battles to watch tonight.