- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Jacksonville Jaguars have been accused (occasionally by me) of not doing well enough in assessing how the rest of the league's teams value some players the Jags draft.
Some personnel people around the league say the Jaguars simply don’t care about that. In a way, I admire them for it. Don’t be overly concerned and influenced by the forces around you, by the competition. Do your own thing. Bank on your convictions.
But when it comes to taking Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round, the Jaguars absolutely should care about league context.
I know at least one other team had him rated as a fifth-rounder.
Anger is the first punter to go in the top 100 picks since 1995, when Todd Sauerbrun went in the second round to Chicago, 56th overall.
There is a reason for that.
It’s important that you don’t punt terribly. But it’s not so important that you punt fantastically, certainly not important enough that you sacrifice the chance to improve at a position that could be on the field for three downs a game.
“I think it will be evident when you get a chance to see him punt: He’s got a strong history which I feel will transfer to this level in helping us defensively with the yardage we can gain in field position,” general manager Gene Smith said.
“… He’s the player in that round at your pick that you feel can upgrade your football team. I think that’s an easy decision for me, to get a starter in the third round.”
Calling a punter a starter is beyond a stretch.
The Jaguars' defense played 970 plays in 2011. The Jaguars' offense played 958 plays. The Jaguars punted 99 times.
“I think it’s first downs that you gain,” Smith said in a further defense of the pick. “And I feel like in the third round it’s not a round that you always get proven starters.”
In Smith’s three previous drafts, he picked four times in the third round. Guard Will Rackley, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and cornerback Derek Cox are starters. The only nonstarter, defensive tackle D’Anthony Smith, has missed his first two seasons with injuries.
The Jaguars averaged 41.9 yards per punt last season, 31st in the NFL. They averaged 36.5 net yards per punt, 28th in the NFL. Those numbers were, in part, a testament to the team’s foolish conclusion that greybeard Matt Turk was the man to replace Adam Podlesh, who left for Chicago as a free agent.
The Jaguars cut Turk after five games, going with Nick Harris the rest of the way. Harris was 3 yards (and 5.1 net yards) better per punt than Turk had been.
A longer punt is easier to cover, so this is too simple.
Nevertheless, here is my counterproposal to drafting Anger 70th:
Jacksonville uses an average punter and boosts its net average to what was the midpoint for 2011. By my calculations, that would give the Jaguars an extra 15.5 net yards a game. Then use the 70th pick on an offensive lineman who, as part of a better scheme, could help cut the Jaguars’ sack yardage in half. That would give the team an extra 10.3 yards a game, and also help young quarterback Blaine Gabbert not worry so much about getting crunched.
The overall gain from my plan -- not just estimating the average that will come with a big leg, but actually factoring in context -- would be better.
The goal is not to punt, and you drafted a punter. That was the first thing a reporter in Jacksonville said to coach Mike Mularkey after the pick.
“And hold, hold for extra points,” Mularkey said. “If you want to write about him, he’s a really good holder for extra points and field goals, and he just so happens to be a difference-maker when it comes to punting.”
Oh, he holds, too? Well, that changes everything.
No, actually, any guy on offense with good hands, starting with your backup quarterback, should be able to function as a holder.
Maybe Anger is the league’s best punter and holder for 15 years.
Even if he is, it says here there will be at least three dozen players among the picks after Anger who have more impactful careers than he will. And that’s a modest 20 percent of the 183 guys we’re talking about. If the Jaguars missed on him by two rounds, maybe it’s 64 players. It could be more.
Are the Jaguars, coming off a 5-11 season, good enough that they can pass on such potential people? They are not. Perhaps they are expecting Gabbert to be terrible again, knowing they’ll be punting a ton and being proactive?
They need more guys who can score touchdowns or stop touchdowns. Get more guys who can get you first downs and you’ll punt less, kicking more field goals and scoring more touchdowns. Get more guys who can stop a third-down run or break up a third-down pass and you’ll be fielding punts, not covering them.
Do those things, and getting a few additional yards when you have to kick the ball away doesn’t mean so much.
Know where you have a chance to add guys who fit that bill?
With the third-round pick you just used on a punter.
Too often the Jaguars are a punching bag or a punch line.
This time, they deserve it.