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August 22, 2023

A look at some of the NFL's other punter training camp battles

Can the Eagles find help at the punter position from another team around the NFL?

Eagles NFL
082123LouHedley Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

Lou Hedley (94), formerly of the University of Miami, and currently of the New Orleans Saints

For the first time in a long time, the Philadelphia Eagles had two punters in training camp, battling it out for spot on the 53-man roster. It was the incumbent, Arryn Siposs, who has punted well enough in the regular season, but who has had disastrous games in the playoffs, vs. Ty Zentner, an undrafted rookie free agent.

That camp battle is over, as Zentner never really put any real pressure on Siposs and was released on Saturday. Siposs hasn't exactly crushed it in camp either. He is a good "pin deep" punter, but leaves a lot to be desired as an "open field" punter. He won his battle over Zentner more by default than by anything special he has done in camp or the two preseason games so far.

With Zentner out of the picture, the competition should shift from Siposs vs. Zentner to Siposs vs. punters on other rosters.

There are currently seven other teams with two punters on their 90-man rosters. They are as follows, via Ourlads' depth charts: 

Patriots Bryce Baringer Corliss Waitman 
Bengals Brad Robbins Drue Chrisman 
Steelers Pressley Harvin III Braden Mann 
Commanders Tress Way Michael Palardy 
Packers Pat O'Donnell Daniel Whalen 
Saints Blake Gillikin Lou Hedley 
Cardinals Matt Haack Nolan Cooney 

The two punting battles to watch above, in my opinion:

  1. Patriots: Bryce Baringer vs. Corliss Waitman
  2. Saints: Blake Gillikin vs. Lou Hedley

Patriots: Bryce Baringer vs. Corliss Waitman

The Pats added Waitman during free agency this offseason, in March. Waitman punted for the Broncos last season, averaging 46.6 yards per punt, and a net average of 41.4 yards per punt. By comparison, Siposs averaged 45.6 yards per punt, and a net of 38.6 yards per punt. According to this chart from the Punt Runts, Waitman's "open field" and "pin deep" effectiveness is similar to Siposs'. As such, I'm not sure he's the answer.

Baringer was a punter we profiled during the college season last year. He averaged 48.4 yards per punt in 2021, and 49.0 yards per punt in 2022 at Michigan State, an outdoor, cold weather school. He was selected in the sixth round (192 overall) by the Pats. He also wears goggles, which improves his value immeasurably.

According to Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal, Waitman was winning that battle as of five days ago.

Since then, in the Pats' preseason game against the Packers, on his only two punts of the game, Baringer hit punts of 59 and 61 yards.

If the Pats were to make an unforced error and consider cutting Baringer, the Eagles should be willing to throw them a late round pick to secure him so he doesn't hit waivers.

Saints: Blake Gillikin vs. Lou Hedley

Gillikin has been the Saints' punter for the last two seasons. According to the Punt Runts, he finished 8th in EPA per punt in 2022. He is considered the favorite in this competition. 

Hedley was another punter we profiled during the college football season last year, like Baringer above. He was a 2021 Ray Guy Award semi-finalist in a year that four punters got drafted. He's a big, tattooed, 6'4, 220-pound Aussie who averaged over 45 yards per punt over his career at Miami. Hedley is 30 years old, so it's understandable why he didn't get drafted. I thought Philly might be a logical landing spot for him during the undrafted phase of free agency, since his son lives here.

Hedley has reportedly had a good camp. He is worth a look.

You're welcome for this important service.

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