John Bonamego says great punters are hard to find

Posted Jun 22, 2013

Some were surprised when the Lions selected P Sam Martin in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, but is that really such a rare phenomenon?

There were a few surprised Lions fans when the team selected punter Sam Martin in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in April.

But should they really have been so surprised?

Sam MartinP Sam Martin (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

The Lions ranked 31st in the NFL in net punting average (36.9 yards) last season, 32nd in gross average (41.4) and were 22nd with 24 punts inside the 40. The inability to flip the field was a real weakness for this team.

The average position of the 20 punters selected in the draft over the last 10 years before 2013 was 165.4. Coincidentally, Martin was selected 165th.

The Lions considered UCLA's Jeff Locke (drafted by Minnesota 155 overall) and Martin as the best two punters in the draft and had similar grades on both.

"Great punters are very hard to find," Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego told "They are few and far between. If you want one, you pretty much have to be willing to draft one."

So that's what the Lions did.

Martin comes in with a big leg after recording a 45.9 average last season at Appalachian State.

In 2012, 25 of his 60 punts were downed inside the 20 and his net average was 40.8 yards. On kickoffs, he put 45 of the 71 attempts out of the end zone.

Perhaps the Lions could have waited until after the draft and signed a quality punter. But consider this: of the top 10 punters in the NFL last season in net punting average, nine were drafted.

Only Denver's Britton Colquitt went undrafted, but that was more for off-the-field issues than his ability as a punter coming out of Tennessee.

Conversely, of the bottom 10 in the league in the same category, six of those players were undrafted.

It's like any other position on the field -- you get what you pay for.

Now there are certainly exceptions to that rule. The Panthers drafted Brad Nortman in the sixth round last year and he finished with a 36.5 net, which ranked 31st.

Martin has shown off his big leg at times this offseason. He had one sequence in practice last week where he boomed consecutive 70-yard punts out of his own end zone in a special teams period.

He's also been a little inconsistent at times, which can be expected from a rookie going through some changes in his techniques. Most notably, the way the ball leaves his hand before the punt.

"This offseason has been really good for him," Bonamego said of Martin. "There are things that you can't coach. I can't make a guy faster. I can't make him stronger. I can't make him taller.

"Sam has a very, very fast leg. He has a very, very strong leg. He's got an NFL-caliber leg.

"We can help him with his technique and all those other things, but if he didn't have that leg speed and leg strength, then he'd have to be good in everything else.

"He's very level-headed. He's a clean slate as far as learning. He's willing to experiment, and you have to be willing to do that."

The NFL is still a field position game and the Lions needed someone who could be a weapon for them. They needed a punter who could flip the field and reach that five-second plateau in hang time, which is the new normal in the NFL, to help their coverage teams.

Whether Martin can provide all of those things is yet to be determined, but Bonamego thinks the Lions drafted themselves someone who can.

NFL's Top 10 in Net Punting Average in 2012
RankPlayerTeamNet Avg.Drafted
1 Andy Lee SF 43.2 Sixth round in 2004
2 Thomas Morstead NO 43.2 Fifth round in 2009
3 Britton Colquitt Den 42.1 Undrafted
4 Kevin Huber Cin 42.0 Fifth round in 2009
5 Dave Zastudill Ari 41.4 Fourth round in 2002
6 Brandon Fields Mia 41.2 Seventh round in 2007
7 Bryan Anger Jac 40.8 Third round in 2012
8 Dustin Colquitt KC 40.8 Third round in 2005
9 Sam Koch Bal 40.8 Sixth round in 2006
10 John Ryan Sea 40.8 Third round in 2004