Let's talk about one of the most important factors of the NFL that often flies under the radar - Special Teams.
Two seasons ago, the Miami Dolphins made an extremely tough decision and let go of veteran punter Brandon Fields. In came Matt Darr, a rookie out of Tennessee Volunteers' program with a reputation for having a huge leg.
I had the privilege of watching Darr punt during his games as a Vol, and I knew what the team was getting when they decided to move forward with Darr as their starting punter.
So far, in two seasons, Darr has been respectable if not spectacular. That being said, I think 2017 will be the year Darr takes the leap and explodes into a Top 5 NFL punter. Yes, you are probably used to hearing the previous phrase attached in some way to Ryan Tannehill. We've been saying it for 5 years now. That is another article for another time.
This is about Matt Darr. The stats truly do not do Darr justice for the year that he had in 2016. Although he was still a bit inconsistent, Darr ranked 7th in the NFL in punts inside the 20-yard line, with 32. He only had 37 punts returned, for just 300 yards, and 0 TD's. Darr's power and hang-time are obvious.
Where Darr can really improve in year 3 is in his accuracy and his touch. Darr's ability to flip the field greatly helped the Dolphins last season, especially when the offense failed to get going in the first 5 weeks of the season. Darr's cannon of a leg kept the Dolphins in games early.
In 2017, Darr needs to build consistency by improving on punts in the opposing team's territory and also on punts pinning opposing offensives deep. Darr had 15 punts downed last season (2nd best in the league), but had at least 5 or 6 other opportunities fail after the ball flew into the end zone. Sure, a few of those were on the Dolphins' gunners who failed to down a punt or two, but a lot of those missed chances were a result of Darr's sheer power.
Darr has been putting in the work this off season. Jakeem Grant, the team's speedy return man, flew Darr out to Texas to punt to Grant. A mutual practice relationship that saw both sides of the special teams unit grow.
Darr has the power. He has the hang time. And he's had two very quiet yet impressive first NFL seasons.
Here's to Darr continuing to flip opponent's fields, and also adding a little more touch.