Texas-ex Dick­son has a leg up on the com­pe­ti­tion

NFL writ­ers name Seat­tle rookie top punter

San Antonio Express-News - - NFL - By Teresa M. Walker

Spend­ing a draft pick on a punter isn’t un­usual in the NFL be­cause field po­si­tion mat­ters in the league. When that rookie comes in and shows off a boom­ing leg, peo­ple take no­tice.

Michael Dick­son by­passed his fi­nal year of el­i­gi­bil­ity at Texas to en­ter the draft early, and the Sea­hawks traded up in the fifth round to take the Aus­tralian na­tive and 2017 Ray Guy Award win­ner. Dick­son has made both de­ci­sions pay off in his de­but sea­son.

Dick­son edged out Johnny Hekker of the Rams as the NFL’s top punter in 2018 in vot­ing re­leased Fri­day by a panel of 10 foot­ball writ­ers for the Associated Press. Dick­son re­ceived four first­place votes and was the only punter listed on every bal­lot.

“When’s the last time a rookie topped any of the po­si­tion rank­ings? Who knows?” Dal­las-based Schuyler Dixon said. “When’s the last time a punter skipped his fi­nal sea­son of el­i­gi­bil­ity for the draft? This for­mer Texas Longhorn is a gen­er­a­tional tal­ent.”

Dick­son, who has had a long punt of 69 yards this sea­son, is sec­ond in gross punt­ing av­er­ag­ing at 48.7 yards. But the rookie eas­ily leads the NFL with a net av­er­age of 44.2 yards. He’s also placed 20 punts in­side an op­po­nent’s 20. Dick­son was voted the NFC’s spe­cial teams player for Novem­ber thanks to his leg.

“Spend­ing a fifth-round draft pick on the Aussie from the Texas Longhorns has turned into a key move in Seat­tle’s un­ex­pect­edly solid sea­son,” New York-based lead NFL writer Barry Wilner said.

Hekker, who fin­ished fourth in th­ese rank­ings in 2017, re­ceived two first-place votes. His big­gest chal­lenge comes from play­ing for a team with a high-pow­ered of­fense that just doesn’t need him much. Luck­ily, Hekker keeps find­ing ways to make him­self valu­able.

“He’s a four-tool punter,” said Philadel­phia-based Rob Maaddi. “Hekker can run or throw for a first down on fake punts, and he has also made an extra point and field goal this sea­son. His net av­er­age be­ing fifth is just an added bonus.”

In all, 17 pun­ters re­ceived at least one vote, with only five re­ceiv­ing at least one first-place vote.

Brett Kern of the Ti­tans, who earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2017 when he also the top punter in th­ese rank­ings, joined Hekker re­ceiv­ing two first-place votes and fin­ished third. Kern is fourth with a gross av­er­age of 40.5 yards with his net tak­ing a hit from a strug­gling punt cov­er­age unit. But the 11-year vet­eran still has a strong leg, with a long of 62 yards this sea­son.

“For­get draft­ing Tim Te­bow or trad­ing Jay Cut­ler, Josh McDaniels’ head coach­ing legacy in Den­ver was in­ex­pli­ca­bly waiv­ing Kern, who landed on Ten­nessee’s ros­ter and has been noth­ing but sen­sa­tional for the last decade,” said Den­ver-based Arnie Sta­ple­ton.

No punter has had as many chances this sea­son as Andy Lee of Ari­zona, not that us­age is lim­it­ing his ef­fec­tive­ness. Lee fin­ished fourth with a leg that has a long punt of 64 yards this sea­son.

“Lee is a three-time Pro Bowl pick and could be in for an­other trip with an­other solid sea­son,” New York­based Den­nis Waszak Jr. said. “With Ari­zona’s of­fense strug­gling as the worst-ranked unit in the league, Lee has been plenty busy while punt­ing an NFLlead­ing 71 times, and his 48.5 gross av­er­age and 41.7 net both rank near the top.”

Cameron John­ston of Philadel­phia fin­ished fifth as the other punter to re­ceive a first-place vote.

Alex Gal­lardo / Associated Press

The Sea­hawks’ de­ci­sion to draft Texas-ex Michael Dick­son in the fifth round has paid off. He’s av­er­ag­ing 44,2 yards a punt, which leads the NFL.

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