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June 25, 2016

Where does Donnie Jones rank among the NFL's punters?

Eagles NFL
062516DonnieJones Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Donnie J'owns.

Yes, we're doing a punter post.

Traditional punting statistics are essentially useless. You can have a great yards per punt average, but still be a completely ineffective punter if you're booming the ball into the end zone for touchbacks, or out-kicking your coverage, leading to big returns.

A website by the name PurplePTSD.com (it's a Vikings blog) tried to give a better representation of actual punter effectiveness, as opposed to just looking at the traditional stats. They described their work, like so:

The chief problem with punting evaluation, as mentioned above, is what to actually measure. When you’re 80 yards from your opponent’s goal line, you’re just trying to boom it. But at midfield, there’s an element of precision. A 35-yard punt can be very good or very bad, and that skews something like total yards per punt. One way to adjust for this is to simply divide the short punts and the long ones. That may seem crude, but we can get a good idea of a Punter’s ability by only looking at what they were trying to do on each punt. In light of this, I divided each punt by drawing a line at the team’s own 35, or 65 yards out. 

I chose 65 yards because that’s the median of “Longest Punts” for the 2015 season. At that point, most punters are just kicking as far as they can, and even big-legged punters like Matthew Bosher (ATL) and Matt Darr (MIA) aren’t aiming for precision so much as distance. By taking the long group of kicks and looking on at their total yards (touchbacks are still adjusted), we can see which Punters are best at digging their teams out of dire situations. We’ll call this Adjusted Net Yards/Punt, or ANY/P.

We'll cut to the chase -- the Eagles' Donnie Jones finished 11th in their adjusted rankings.

While the folks at PurplePTSD.com did a nice job improving on the traditional stats, one key element was left out of their equation. That would be hang time, which Jones and most other punters would argue is every bit as important (or perhaps even more important) than distance.

Hang time is a major strength of Jones', as opposing punt returners averaged just 5.2 yards per return against him last season, which was third in the NFL.

All 10 of the punters finishing ahead of Jones in PurplePTSD.com's ratings finished behind Jones in yards per return, and seven of the 10 gave up at least 10 yards per return, versus Jones' 5.2. Their rankings essentially reward the punters who are willing to trade distance for net average. 

In other words, Jones' game is trying to produce hang time, and he still fared well in a metric that doesn't factor that aspect in at all, proving once again that Donnie J'owns.

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