The 2014 NFL Draft is still two weeks away, but we can still celebrate the draft in one way. The 2004 NFL Draft took place April 24-25, which means today marks the tenth anniversary of the 49ers selection of punter Andy Lee.
This is of note in part because Andy Lee has turned into an all-world punter, but also because he is the longest-tenured player on the 49ers roster. Brian Jennings carried that title for a sizable chunk of his career. After he was cut last year, Lee took over the title. Lee is signed through 2018 with some reasonable cap charges, so he could be holding that title for some time.
We all know Andy Lee remains one of the best punters in the game. He'll go down as the best punter in 49ers history, leading the team in gross yards. Pro Football Reference does not provide a look at net yards in their team rankings, but I'd imagine his 41.3 career net would rank among the best in franchise history.
Among all-time NFL punters, Lee ranks 4th in career gross yards per punt. His 46.1 yards per punt is behind only Shane Lechler, Thomas Morstead and Brandon Fields. What's fascinating is how much better punters have become in recent years. The top eight punters in this category are all currently active. Among the top 51 punters, only 13 had not played as recently as the mid-90s. And most are still active, or only recently retired.
Whatever the case, Lee continues to roll along. His gross numbers have been fairly consistent. His net numbers have declined from 44.6 to 43.2 to 41.7 the last couple years, but he was still fourth in the league in net yards per punt. He remains a weapon, and he continues to benefit from a strong coverage unit. The world of punting and kick coverage are the epitome and team work. If a player does not fill his role, the entire unit will suffer. If you're occupying a specific lane and either leave it, or find yourself over-pursuing the return man, you can open the door for a huge return. It's not covered quite as frequently as the rest of the game, but it is still fascinating.