The Pittsburgh Steelers signed yet another outside free agent yesterday, bringing their season total to eight. As a street free agent, he won’t have any impact on compensatory picks, assuming he even makes the roster.
They added punter Adam Podlesh, who has the distinction of having been drafted ahead of Daniel Sepulveda in the 2007 NFL Draft. He’s now with his third team after the Chicago Bears released him three years into a five-year contract.
A season ago, he finished last in the entire league in average yards per punt, with just a 40.6-yard average. His net average of 37.9 was slightly better, ranking 29th in the league, mercifully ahead of Zoltan Mesko and Mat McBriar.
Podlesh, in fact, was rated by Pro Football Focus as the worst punter in the league in 2013. But I don’t quite buy that.
His punts were returned a league-low 22.1 percent of the time, with just 15 of his 68 punts being returned. That’s less than one returned punt per game. Of those 15 returns, opponents gained 111 yards, among the lowest return totals in the league.
And that total was inflated by a 57-yard return that was the result of a missed tackle and a gunner over-pursuing an inside lane toward the returner. The second-longest return was 13 yards.
The low return ratio wasn’t due to him sending his punts out of the end zone, either, as he had just two touchbacks while putting 27 punts within the 20. He had a full 40 punts either downed or fair caught. 11 of his punts did go out of bounds, however, which, when not directional kicking, is not a good thing. Based on a small sample, there was a bit of both in that figure.
What Podlesh seems to lack is consistency. He often struggles with hang time, but because his punts don’t have the greatest distance on them, the two neutralize each other. It results in few returns, but meager net gains. It’s lower risk, but lower reward as well.
According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, Podlesh suffered a hip injury prior to the 2012 season and has struggled with his consistency since then. Unfortunately, consistency has precisely been the issue with Steelers punters for far too long.
If he can regain that consistency, however, he can be a good punter for the Steelers. In 2012, for example, he had 34 touchbacks on 64 punts, and despite allowing 25 returns, the total return yardage was just 84, with a net average of 39.4.
In 2011, he ranked seventh in the league with a net average of 40.4, and despite a large return ratio, returns only averaged just over five yards.
The Steelers are looking for consistency at punter, but Podlesh will have to rediscover that consistency for himself. Mesko and McBriar were once consistent too. At the very least, he will be able to push Brad Wing.