It is rather rare when the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have two punters on the offseason roster at some point ahead of training camp. That often doesn’t happen until after the draft when a college free agent is signed. This year, the Steelers decided to claim punter Braden Mann after he was put on waivers by the New York Jets, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2020.
A three-year starter, Mann owns a gross 45.4-yard punting average with a net of 39.5. He has bettered those numbers over the last two years, however, for example averaging 40.8 net yards per punt last season. Despite putting up decent numbers, the Jets signed 15th-year veteran Thomas Morstead and let Mann go. So what does that mean for incumbent Pressley Harvin III?
“I don’t think it’s guaranteed Harvin will get beat out, but Mann isn’t just a camp leg”, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said in one of his recent chat sessions. He was responding to a fan’s question about Mann’s chances of winning the punting job, saying that watching Harvin punt gives him angina.
Personal football-viewing-related health issues aside, Mann should provide adequate competition for Harvin during training camp this year, and the fact that the Steelers decided to make that move suggests that they agree competition is necessary.
Harvin was their own draft pick in 2021, in the seventh round. He had an extremely inconsistent rookie season, though has been acknowledged frequently, he was dealing with a lot in his personal life, with both his father and his grandmother passing away following battles with long-term health issues. His father passed away on Christmas Eve that year.
To his credit, he did step up last season and improve his consistency, perhaps best illustrated by the fact that he improved his average hangtime by nearly a 10th of a second. He also posted a 41.1-yard net punting average, slightly edging out Mann in that category, and had fewer of his punts returned.
Competition should only serve to bring out the best in both competitors, but I do hope Steelers fans give Harvin a chance. His second season really was quite a bit better than his first, with far fewer mishits and improved directional kicking, something the Steelers focus on in their punting game.
I fully welcome an open competition for the job at punter because there is certainly room for improvement. And the Steelers have shown a willingness to let the proverbial best man win in the past under special teams coordinator Danny Smith, as when Kameron Canaday beat out sixth-rounder Colin Holba at long snapper. Christian Kuntz then beat out Canaday years later. Jordan Berry beat out Brad Wing several years ago at punter. Many years back, the Steelers brought in veteran punter Adam Podlesh to compete as well. He unfortunately was unable to report to training camp that year as his wife was going through a traumatic birth.