The Pittsburgh Steelers re-signed punter Jordan Berry earlier during the offseason and while that move wasn’t a huge surprise, the fact that they signed him to a two-year contract was and that’s mainly because his stats from 2018 weren’t overly impressive.
In addition to posting one of the NFL’s lowest gross punting averages in 2018 of 43.7 yards, Berry’s net punting average of 38.8 yards was just as bad in the rankings and certainly not a number that special teams coordinator Danny Smith liked talking about this offseason.
In defense of punters, averages and net averages aren’t always a great representation of how the player performed and I was somewhat able to show why that is in regard to Berry last offseason. That stats study that I did a year ago February somewhat helped defend Berry’s 2017 gross punting average of 43.2 yards and his net punting average of 39.8 yards and mainly because 23.4% of all his punts came on the opponent’s side of midfield. That defense aside, Berry’s 2017 gross punting average of 47.4 on punts that took place inside the Steelers own 21-yard-line also ranked low league-wide.
While Berry’s poor 2017 punting stats could halfway be defended, his 2018 stats really can’t be.
For starters, only 10 (15.9%) of Berry’s 63 total punts in 2018 came with the original line of scrimmage being past midfield. Only 3 of those punts flew inside the opposition’s 10-yard-line as well. If you’re scoring at home, those 10 punts had an average distance 33.9 yards past the line of scrimmage and that average is just 9.3 yards less than his yearly season average of 43.2 yards listed above.
On the 11 punts that Berry had in 2018 that took place inside the Steelers own 21-yard-line his gross average was 47.9 yards and 18 other punters registered better averages on such punts than he did. To make matters even worse, Berry’s net average on those 11 punts was a league-worst, 33.2 yards and once again, that doesn’t reflect well on Smith, either, who always likes to claim that net punting average is the most important stat in that phase of the game.
While not listed in the table below, Berry had 35 punts in 2018 with the original line of scrimmage being between the Steelers 21 and 45-yard-lines and his gross average on those punts was just 46.4 yards, which ranked him in the bottom third of the league. Berry’s net average on those 35 punts was just 42.3 yards.
One of the few positives related to Berry’s 2018 punting is that just 16 in total were returned and that was the lowest percentage in the league. That high percentage is likely a result of Berry having a hang-time average last season of 4.41-seconds, according to Pro Football Focus and only 7 other punters had better averages than he did. Unfortunately hidden in those low amount of returns for the Steelers and Berry’s net average stats is that one of those 16 returned punts resulted in a 73-yard touchdown in the team’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Basically, it appears as though Berry’s ability to produce higher than average punt hang-times is what’s mainly been able to keep him in the NFL all this time. That said, only Smith knows for sure if that’s a case and at this point in this post we must clarify that we do not know how often Berry was asked to directional kick and such last season. We only have raw stats to go off of, not what he may have been told to do on each and every punt.
While the Steelers did sign Berry to a two-year contract this offseason, the punter was only given a signing bonus of $750,000 as part of that deal. In short, the Steelers can easily cut Berry past June 1 and only have dead money hits against their salary cap in 2019 and 2020 of $375,000. That’s cheap and thus they are not in any way, shape or form married to Berry right now for 2019.
The Steelers did sign punter Ian Berryman as an undrafted free agent a week ago and it looks like he might be the one to challenge Berry this year during training camp and the preseason. That said, Berryman’s career gross average on 206 punts at Western Carolina was just 43.8 yards