As I watched the Chiefs’ latest preseason game on Friday against the Tennessee Titans, a frightening thought occurred to me: “This team is really good. This team could actually do something this year.”
Of course, if you’ve been a Chiefs fan as long as I have, you know, quite well, why that thought is a scary one – because usually that thought ends up being wrong.
Usually, they will not be as good as sweltering summer hopes and training camp heroes lead their fanatics to believe, and they end up doing something like blowing a (cover your eyes now if you’re a squeamish reader) 38-10 lead in the playoffs.
But this year has a different kind of hope to it; I just can’t shake the feeling that the people in charge, Andy Reid and John Dorsey, actually know what they’re doing.
This season we are going to be able to enjoy an amazing defense (when your preseason backup secondary includes Sean Smith, Tyvon Branch and Eric Berry, you know you’re doing something right). We are going to get to watch an actual wide receiver in “I’m Coming Home,” YouTube video inspiration Jeremy Maclin (and an actually competent receiver corps behind him). Joined by breakout tight end Travis Kelce, a decent-if-unspectacular quarterback and demigod Jamaal Charles, this team, despite its shaky offensive line, is going to be really good.
Watching that Tennessee game, if you noticed, the Chiefs did not have to punt a single time. And that leads me to the person I want to discuss: Dustin Colquitt.
Now that we fans of Kansas City have a good team to root for and invest our time, energy and emotions in, I wanted to look back on a time when things were very different.
Dustin Colquitt and I both came into the NFL in 2005 – him as a player, me as a fan (and an unhealthily obsessive one, at that). He was drafted in the third round of that 2005 NFL draft, 99th overall out of the University of Tennessee. Some of my first football memories are of him and the ‘05 team (which barely missed the playoffs) and the ’06 team (which barely made them). This was the world of Chiefs football I was born into, and I certainly was not prepared for the bad times that were to follow.
As soon as I knew enough about football to understand what was happening, the team collapsed. We followed that 2006 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts (hissing noises) with seasons of 4-12, 2-14, 4-12. I was finally in love with football, just in time to have to fully experience this.
Dustin Colquitt was my savior.
Colquitt, in those years, was one of very few bright spots in a dark, dark place. He was one of very few good players on an awful, awful roster. This is where my unusual appreciation for punting began – out of desperation for competence, and the single greatest punter in the history of the NFL.
I looked historical punting statistics on The Football Database (we all have our hobbies), and there is no one with Dustin Colquitt’s mix of power, accuracy, consistency and longevity in the league’s storied history of punting the ball.
When you are comparing punting stats, there are two main ones to look at: net average and how many punts were downed inside the 20 yard line. And then, of course, you’ll have to divide the second statistic by how many punts they’ve kicked overall (so as to see how many chances they had to pin it inside the 20).
Now, perhaps not everyone would agree with me on this (they would be wrong), but punts downed inside the 20, not net average, is the single most important value point for NFL punters – it is what separates the greats from the very good. Pinning the opponent’s offense inside their own 10 or 20 yard line is much more impactful (can lead to safeties, conservative play-calling and shortened kicks for their punter if stopped on downs) than grabbing a few yards here and there with a good net average.
Dustin Colquitt ranks 10th historically in career punts downed inside the 20 (this statistic was not recorded until 1976). However, his net average (again, the second most important punting measure) of 39.4 yards significantly outranks everyone above him, save for one Shane Lechler (38.9 net), who he only marginally outranks.
Lechler, though he does have a basically equivalent net average, and more overall punts downed inside the 20 (Football Database signifies these as In20) took way more punts to do it. So, Lechler has 383 punts In20, but out of 1,185 punts overall. That’s an In20 rate of 32.3 percent. Colquitt, who has not been in the league as long, has 316 punts In20 out of only 815 punts, for a 38.8 percent average. This statistic is the key to understanding that Colquitt has been the greatest recorded punter in NFL history.
His closest competition, as far as having an elite mix of net average and rate of punts In20, are great punters like Lechler, Andy Lee, Donnie Jones, Dave Zastudil, Sam Koch, his main rival, Mike Scifres, and I’ll throw Ray Guy, the only Hall of Fame punter so far, in there for comparison.
Dustin Colquitt: 39.4 net average; 38.8 percent of punts In20.
Andy Lee: 39.5 net average; 31.9 percent of punts In20.
Donnie Jones: 39.1 net average; 32.8 percent of punts In20.
Dave Zastudil: 37.4 net average; 32.8 percent of punts In20.
Sam Koch: 39.0 net average; 35.5 percent of punts In20.
Ray Guy: 36.8 net average; 20.0 percent of punts In20.
Guy’s In20 statistics are skewed since he punted for three years before In20 punts were recorded. Even still, his rates and averages are not as good as Colquitt.
Mike Scifres: 38.6 net average; 40.6 percent of punts In20.
Like I said, Mike Scifres’ main statistics are the only ones really comparable to Colquitt’s. His net average is worse, but his percentage of punts In20 is better. I, however, give the nod to Colquitt when the stats are that close because he’s done it more consistently. Colquitt’s stats are over 815 punts, while Scifres, due to injuries (and having a better offense with the Chargers) has only built these statistics over 684 punts).
They both, undoubtedly, should be considered for the greatest punter of all time, and it should be a pleasure to watch how the rest of their careers unfold. For now, I’m siding with Colquitt, but looking forward to the Jordan and LeBron type greatest of all time debates waging in the future.
Before we get back to what looks to be a very promising season, let’s take another few moments to appreciate what a special, special-teamer we’ve been able to enjoy.
Former head coach Todd Haley, back in February 2009, upon taking over from the irreplaceable Herm Edwards, was asked upon hiring about the state of the roster he was inheriting. “I know we have a pretty good punter right now,” he said. My feelings exactly, Todd.
Back in the miserable 2012 season, the Chiefs were shut out by the Raiders in a cold December game. Then head coach Romeo Crennel said afterwards “If there was a bright spot in this game, it was the punter.” Colquitt had seven punts that day, for 383 yards (a 51.7 net yard average), including a 71-yard punt, and four downed inside the 20. Colquitt was in serious contention for Chiefs MVP that season.
But the person who perhaps best characterized Dustin Colquitt’s historical chops was not even a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, but of the Denver Broncos. Josh McDaniels, at the time head coach of our division rivals, told the Colorado Springs-Gazette back in 2009 that “Their (the Chiefs’) punter is certainly one of the best, maybe of all time. . . I don’t know if we’re going to play a team that wins field position quite the same as Kansas City does.”
So let’s all enjoy our fine upcoming season, but let’s also not forget to appreciate some of the great ones that got us there.