The San Francisco 49ers surprised plenty of us when they decided to draft Clemson punter Bradley Pinion with a fifth round pick. The team subsequently traded Andy Lee to the Cleveland Browns, going all in with the new punter.
There has been talk of competing for the kickoff job, but in the 49ers preseason opener, Pinion handled strictly punting duties. He finished the game with six punts and one free kick following a safety. On the six punts, he averaged 48.8 gross yards, and 38.8 net yards. The net factors in the return, while gross is from kick to catch by the returner. His gross is good for eighth across the league, and his net is good for 20th. In case you're looking to compare, Andy Lee's gross through one game is 40.8 (32nd), and his net is 37.0 (24th).
Here is a rundown of Pinion's six punts. In order, each punt lists gross yards, return yards, penalty yards, and hang time:
Punt 1: 49 yards to HOU 30, 2 yard return, 10-yard Texans holding penalty added on - 4.81 seconds
Punt 2: 37 yards to HOU 29, fair catch - 4.07 seconds
Punt 3: 54 yards to HOU 25, 17-yard return - 3.27 to 40, ball then bounced, caught at 25 at 5.63 seconds
Punt 4: 45 yards to HOU 40, 13-yard return - 3.43 seconds
Punt 5: 58 yards to HOU 8, 17-yard return - 4.56 seconds
Punt 6: 50 yards to HOU 10, 15-yard return, 10-yard 49ers holding penalty - 4.71 seconds
Similar length punts are not always equal for a punter. If you are booting it deep into opposing territory, you might not be as concerned about hang time. And of course, the work of coverage units will impact things as well. His best punt seemed like his first punt. He got the best hang time, and the coverage units did a good job getting down the field to make the tackle.
For comparison, here is what Andy Lee did in his five punts. His gross was shorter, but that was likely due in part to three of his punts getting fair catch waves, with two being downed inside the ten.
Punt 1: 42 yards to WAS 23 - 3.39
Punt 2: 49 yards to WAS 10 - 4.42
Punt 3: 36 yards to WAS 8 (downed) - 4.65
Punt 4: 48 yards to WAS 3 (downed) - 4.75
Punt 5: 29 yards to WAS 13 (fair catch) - 4.53
I think a lot of people felt a bit underwhelmed by Pinion's debut performance. The returns were really the issue, and it would seem hang time was part of the issue. A couple weeks ago, special teams coach Thomas McGaughey said that an optimal hang time would be something similar to distance. So, an ideal hang time on a 45-yard punt would be 4.5 seconds, an ideal hang time on a 52-yard punt would be 5.2 seconds, and so forth.
I have nobody else to compare this to, so those hang time figures lack some context compared to the rest of the league. Nonetheless, I'm going to track Pinion's hang time throughout the preseason, and into the regular season. Although Lee has a lot more experience, it is still worth comparing the two of them given that Pinion was drafted to replace him.
For now, I had James put together some GIFs of three of Pinion's six punts. They include his longest, shortest, and one in the middle. The GIF starts from the snap, goes through the returner catching the ball, and concludes with the first sight of a coverage guy.
This first one was Pinion's shortest, and was punt 2 listed above.
This second GIF is punt 3 list above, and was his longest gross.
This final GIF is punt 5 listed above.