This might come as a surprise to you—I know it’s somewhat surprising to me, but courtesy of a stat pulled by Dom Rinelli yesterday, we now that, at least in reference to Pittsburgh Steelers history, that three-year veteran punter Jordan Berry has been rather solid so far in his career.
According to Rinelli, Berry owns outright or as a share the three best seasons for a punter in team history when it comes to net punting average, which is, in my opinion, the most important statistic, though it requires a lot of context in order to ensure that it tells the right story.
P Jordan Berry – who signed a one-year contract extension with the #Steelers on Feb. 1 – owns or is tied for the top three single-season net punting averages in team history (min 40 punts):
Team record 40.2 avg (2016)
39.8 avg 2017 (2nd)
39.1 avg in 2015 (T-3rd, Sepulveda 2010)
— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) February 13, 2018
Berry’s best season was in 2016 when he punted for a net average of 40.2, the only time in team history that a punter (with a minimum of 40 punts) was able to clear the 40-yard average mark. This past season, he wasn’t too far behind, averaging 39.8 net yards per punt.
During his first season in 2015, his net punting average was 39.1 yards, which so far registers as the worst of his career. That was also the best net average posted by Daniel Sepulveda, whom the Steelers drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft—trading up in order to do so.
Net punting average does require a lot of context, and really is as much as anything a team statistic. Unless the punter is constantly angling balls out of bounds in ways that returners cannot field the ball, then he needs his coverage players to assist him in preventing the receiving team from advancing the ball very far, if at all.
While Dave Bryan and Alex Kozora have recently posted articles in which they have attempted to explain and defend Berry, who seems to have more than his fair share of detractors, I do believe that, at this point in his career, he is just an average performer, in the middle of the pack.
The truth is that, while his net punting average might be the best in team history, the team’s history is not exactly representative of great punting. He does not have a consistently big leg, nor consistent hangtime to take advantage of a big leg.
This past season alone, there were 22 punters who punted at least 40 times that averaged 40 net yards per punt or greater. In other words, coming in lower than 40 is actually below the league standard. 17 punters did it in 2016 (including Berry), 16 in 2015, though just 10 in 2014. You would have to go back to 2010, during Sepulveda’s best season, to find the last time at least 10 punters didn’t net 40 yards.
Punting has certainly evolved, and we can’t hold punters of the past to a 40-yard net standard. Even in just the past decade, major advancements have been made in the understanding of the mechanics of punting, as well as in the training of punters. But Berry, playing now, can be held to those standards. And in comparison to current standards, he is average. Which is fine, let me be clear about that. He is still a young and improving player. But anybody wanting to cut him or send him to the Pro Bowl is missing the mark.