Well, ladies and gentlemen, it seems that the whole ‘give a punter more than a year to actually grow and develop’ oddball strategy is paying early dividends, as second-year punter Jordan Berry is off to a pretty good start for the 2016 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers after winning the job over Brad Wing during training camp, who was subsequently traded to the Giants.
Through two games, Berry has punted 10 times, averaging 48.4 gross yards per punt, and 42.8 net yards per punt. Both are significant improvements over his 2015 numbers—42.6 yards gross and 39.1 yards net—but it’s where he ranks relative to the rest of the league that is more impressive.
Of course, this all comes with the somewhat large caveat that we are dealing with a body of work that represents only a fraction of the total season, as there are still 14 out of 16 games remaining, so sample sizes are going to be significantly fleshed out as every week goes by.
But right now, Berry is placing in the top 10 in the league in terms of both gross and net yardage per punt, with his gross average landing him ninth and his net average—the more important one ranking as currently the seventh-best mark in the league. It’s been a while since the Steelers have been in that area.
Brad Wing actually ranks second in the league with a gross average of 53.3 yards—but his 38.6 yards of net average is just 22nd in the league. It doesn’t help that he has already recorded three touchbacks on the season on seven punts.
It is always, of course, important to take into consideration the context of punts. Against the Bengals, for example, Berry punted no less than five times during the game within 55 yards of the Bengals’ end zone.
From the Steelers’ 46-yard line, he punted 45 yards to the Bengals’ nine-yard line. That is not an exceptional gross punt, but the net is very good. From the 50-yard line, he punted 42 yards for a fair catch at the eight-yard line. A good punt that is not on the stat sheet as much. From the Steelers’ 49-yard line, he punted 46 yards with a fair catch at the five-yard line. An exceptional punt.
His 33-yard punt was fair caught at the 10-yard line. His only touchback came at the end of the game, in a one-score game, on a 49-yard punt to prevent the Bengals from returning the punt, which is a smart decision within the game, but which does not look good on paper with a poor 29-yard net average.
Of Berry’s 10 punts, five have gone inside the 20-yard line, one went out of bounds, four were fair caught, and four were returned for a total of 36 yards. Some of those returns were negated by penalties, and a 12-yard return came on a 58-yard punt with a net yardage of 46 yards. Of course, the coverage unit deserves credit as well, but Berry’s improvement so far this year has been obvious, especially given the way he ended the year in 2015.