Vikings vs. NFC North: Punters

Jeff Locke struggled one again, but can he build on a better second half of 2014?

1. Detroit Lions
Punter: Sam Martin
Martin was drafted by the Lions in 2013 and since then has proven to be one of the better punters in the NFL. He has a very strong leg – his longest punt in 2014 was 71 yards – and he is able to use it consistently, averaging 45.5 yards a punt. Even though he is able to kick the ball far, he is also able to get a lot of hang time that led to a lot of fair catches and a minimal amount of returns.

An odd part of the 2014 season, though, is that he didn’t have many punts land inside the 20, just 25 all season. To make things even odder, he only had five touchbacks, which means that most of his punts were likely coming from his side of midfield.

2. Chicago Bears
Punter: Pat O’Donnell
O’Donnell had one of the shortest punt averages in the NFL during the 2014 season, 43.8 yards a punt. Evan though he did not have a great average he was still considered to be a middle-of-the-pack type of punter. A big part of that is he was able to keep the ball out of the end zone, recording just three touchbacks.

The rest of his stats, however, were pretty mediocre. He had one of his punts blocked, kicked eight out of bounds, had eight downed, recorded 21 fair catches and 31 of his 71 punts were returned for 337 yards. O’Donnell was just drafted by the Bears in the 2014 and he has shown potential but still has a lot of improving to do. Luckily for him, he is still very young and has time to adjust.

3. Green Bay Packers
Punter: Tim Masthay
At the ripe old age of 28, Masthay is the oldest punter in the NFC North. He has had plenty of ups and downs since he first joined the Packers in 2010, and 2014 was a season that he is likely ready to move on from. His longest kick of the season was 58 yards, which was one of the shortest in the NFL, but when your team has the type of offense the Packers have, you often don’t have to bomb the long one.

The team he played on is also likely the reason he took so few punts (48). He still recorded two blocked punts, just 10 fair catches and had 22 of his punts returned. But he also recorded only three touchbacks and he only kicked four balls out of bounds.

4. Minnesota Vikings
Punter: Jeff Locke
It shocked a lot of people when the Vikings selected Locke in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, so there were some pretty heavy expectations set on him once he arrived in Minnesota. So far he has struggled to live up to them.

He punted the ball 75 times in 2014 and averaged 44.2 yards a punt. The left-footed punter also recorded one blocked punt –to his credit it was a poor snap – six touchbacks and he also had over half of his punts returned. However, Locke did seem to turn things around towards the end of the season last year and it will be important for him to keep that momentum rolling into the 2015 season.

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