One of the most overlooked yet crucial positions in all of football is Punter. A good punt can set the tone for a defense, while a bad one hand the opposing offense a touchdown. The Dallas Cowboys are especially conscious of this, being in the NFC East which is loaded with speedsters. With this in mind, the Cowboys have created some competition for the job.
Undrafted Free Agent signee Cody Mandell was the top ranked punter coming into the 2014 draft. Hailing from the University of Alabama, Mandell was a four-year starter despite being a walk-on. In his last season with the Crimson Tide, he averaged an excellent 47.1 yards per kick, though it should be noted that the high-powered ‘Bama offense only needed 39 punts throughout the season. Still, it’s clear that Cody Mandell has a powerful leg.
In March, the Cowboys re-signed their 2013 kicker Chris Jones, who in 2012 replaced former pro-bowler Matt McBriar. Jones, also an undrafted free agent (out of DII Carson-Newman College), had a decent season for Dallas in 2013, but left more to be desired in some areas. He averaged 45 yards per punt, which put him right around the league average. His best statistic is 30 punts IN20 (inside the twenty yard line), though that could be a product of where he was kicking from as much as anything else.
This echoes the general problem of assessing punters – it is often hard to tell how much is owed to them or to the entire special teams group. Touchbacks, for instance, can go either way: it is the whole unit’s responsibility to put pressure on the returned, but doing so isn’t possible without significant hangtime provided by the punter.
Thus, the best measure of a punter’s ability is probably strength and placement. In this regard, Mandell – who is slightly bigger – may have more potential than veteran Chris Jones, who really has only one full season under his belt due to injury.
This will not be one of the more talked about battles in camp, but it is one that true fans – who understand the position’s importance – will surely watch with a close eye.