Atlanta was fortunate through most of the Mike Smith and Dan Quinn years to have continuity at punter, going from Michael Koenen to Matt Bosher and enjoying many years of solid play. In 2020, though, the wheels started to come off, with a so-so rookie year for Sterling Hofrichter leading to him being cut and starting a punter carousel that persisted through much of the 2021 season.
It was important to find some stability after that, and in 2022, the Falcons did. Veteran Bradley Pinion came in, won the job in the spring and summer, and punted in all 17 games, putting together a very solid season. Because he was on a one year deal, the Falcons now to have to decide whether Pinion did enough to return—assuming he wants to—or whether they’ll spin the wheel at the position once again.
The Falcons could look for an undrafted option or even draft a punter—I wouldn’t expect the latter, but crazier things have happened—but if they want to dip into free agency, here’s who they should be looking at.
A lock to be your punter
This may be controversial, because I know there isn’t broad agreement that Pinion is decent and/or that he had a quality 2022 season. I’d argue that re-signing him makes sense and that Pinion is, in fact, a good punter.
Pinion did not have the most impressive metrics, but he achieved good hang time on his punts, had said punts land in the end zone for a touchback at one of the lowest rates in football, and had a couple of the longest punts in the league in the past year. Especially as the season rolled on, he was finding a lot of success placing his punts and giving opposing teams terrible field position as a result, with a middle-of-the-pack rate of punts downed inside the 20.
Crucially, he was also quietly very good on kickoffs, limiting return opportunities along the way. Very few punters in the NFL handled kickoffs full-time for their team last season, which increases Pinion’s value.
No one’s going to tell you that Pinion is impossible to replace, but he was an effective specialist and stabilized punter after two years of a miserable carousel for Atlanta. I’d be happy to have him back.
If not Pinion, why not the man the Falcons turned to partway through the 2021 season?
Morstead is coming off another fine season minus one hilarious punt he booted directly into the butt of his own teammate, with middle-of-the-road yards per punt and net yards per punt, but one of the highest rates in the entire league of balls downed inside the 20 yard line and one of the lower touchback rates, as well. He’s one of the older punters still working successfully in the NFL, but there’s a reason for that: Morstead is still good.
Another stone solid punter, Martin was pressed into action after Buffalo burned through two punters and had a fine season. He has a good leg, achieves quality hang time on his punts, has put together a pretty consistent track record in all facets and is still young enough to have several good seasons ahead of him. If it’s not Pinion and it’s not Morstead, Martin would be difficult to feel unhappy about.
The one sour note is that he does tend to put the ball in the end zone more frequently than you’d like, so he’s not exactly a control wizard with his leg (this sentence is hell, isn’t it). His touchback percentage was the seventh-highest in the NFL, and when that can mean the difference between a punt down inside the 10 yard line and an offense starting on the 25, it’s a big deal.
A solid journeyman punter about to enter his age 29 season, Haack was on the middle-to-lower end of every statistical category except punts downed inside the 20 yard line, where he had quality results. The reason he’s had a new team almost every year is due to exactly that: He’s a mediocre-to-solid punter who can do the job but isn’t necessarily someone you want to lock up over the long haul. If you’re searching for an affordable one year stopgap, Haack is someone you’d consider.
He’s young and has a strong leg, but Gillan had the fourth-highest touchback rate in the NFL, which is not what you’re looking for when you’re trying to win the field position battle. That number is a bit of an outlier for his career, but what’s not an outlier is that he was 25th in net yards per punt, a product of not consistently achieving excellent hangtime. Maybe he’d find better outcomes in Atlanta, but it’s not something I’d count on.
Youngish at 27, Scott is sort of the inverse of Gillan. He doesn’t have the strongest leg in the league, but his net yards per punt were better, he’s much better at pinning teams inside the 20, and you can talk yourself into some upside here. Still, Scott put punts in the end zone at more than twice the rate Pinion did and has extremely pedestrian career numbers in terms of net yards per punt.
- Dom Maggio
- Riley Dixon
Who would you sign from this list?