The Carolina Panthers made it to the Super Bowl on the strength of a tremendous defense and the outstanding play of quarterback Cam Newton. Meanwhile, punter Brad Nortman possesses one of the strongest legs in the NFL. In what could be a defensive struggle against the Denver Broncos, Nortman’s howitzer leg could be the key to winning the field position battle.
One of the top punting prospects heading into college (#4 by Rivals.com and #8 by Scout.com), Brad Nortman had a solid, if unspectacular, career at Wisconsin, averaging 42.1 yards per punt. After four years with the Badgers, Nortman was taken in the seventh round (207th overall) in the 2012 NFL Draft by Carolina.
Nortman’s rookie campaign was largely in line with his college performance, and he followed it with an outstanding 2013 season that showcased his big leg. Nortman led the NFL in open-field punting average that season, beating out Houston’s Shane Lechler, New Orleans’ Thomas Morstead, and San Francisco’s Andy Lee for the crown.
In 2015 Nortman has seen his numbers in the open-field game regress somewhat ‒ clocking in at 48.8 yards per punt in these situations, good for target distance punted (TDP) of 102%. While still above-average, Nortman seems to have lost his fastball. But after looking at the numbers, it is clear that Nortman’s reduced distance in these scenarios is because of inconsistent performance rather than a loss of power.
Nortman had 51 open-field punts in 2015, and 21 had a gross distance of more than 50 yards, with nine clearing 60 yards. While Nortman had a smattering of 45-49 yard boots, it was the seven punts in open-field opportunities that went less than 40 yards that dragged down his overall performance.
Nortman averaged 4.56 seconds of hang time on his open-field punting opportunities this season, but on his seven that went less than 40 yards, he posted just 4.07 seconds of hang. Strip these seven outliers from the sample and his open-field average clocks in a 4.64 seconds, which is very strong ‒ even by NFL standards.
However, these seven kicks of 40 yards or less in open field situations cannot be discounted. Given this is essentially happening on more than 10% of open field attempts, there is the potential for issues in the Super Bowl.
Another complicating factor is that three of these shanks happened in the last four weeks of the season. Another punter with a potential for shanked kicks is Ryan Allen of the New England Patriots, whose 39-yard open-field punt near the end of the first half of the AFC Championship Game provided Denver a short field. The Broncos capitalized with a field goal. Nortman potentially presents similar opportunities here.
There is no doubt Nortman has one of the best legs in the league. The real question is whether he can be consistent and perform the way he is capable, or if he will shank a kick at the worst possible time. While the punter opposing him – Britton Colquitt – is a model of consistency in directional punting despite lacking a traditionally-strong leg, Nortman may give the Panthers a boom-or-bust performance that could turn the tide of the game.
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Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, the humanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.