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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Tori Gurley: The value of a blocked punt

By Kevin Seifert

While many of us have spent the summer watching the rise of undrafted free-agent receiver Dane Sanzenbacher with the Chicago Bears, another interesting dynamic among wide receivers has played out with the Green Bay Packers.

Greg Hardy and Matt Dodge
Only 12 out of 2,467 punts were blocked during the 2010 regular season.
The Packers have a deep group with five jobs seemingly locked up. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb all presumably have made the team. There are a number of promising young players competing for a sixth spot, if there is one, and Tuesday's SportsNation chat brought to light what I thought was an interesting question.

Namely: Would you make a spot on your 53-man roster based on a player's potential to block a punt?

That's the biggest advantage that rookie Tori Gurley has over Chastin West and others. Gurley is 6-foot-4, and as Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out, had by far the longest wingspan (83.5 inches) of any receiver who tested this past winter at the NFL scouting combine. He has blocked five punts during training camp practices this summer, nearly got his hands on one in last Friday's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts and people are actually referring to him as a Pterodactyl. (Brush up on your dinosaur biology here.)

There has to be a special reason for any team to keep a sixth receiver, even for the Packers -- who make relatively liberal use of four- and five-receiver sets. Special teams is a crucial factor, but is the potential for a blocked punt enough of an enticement?

I can see it from both angles. Last season, NFL teams combined for 2,467 punts. Out of that total, 12 were blocked. That's one block for every 205 punts. The Packers last blocked a punt in 2003. No matter how skilled Gurley might be, a blocked punt is one of the lowest-percentage plays in the NFL.

On the other hand, blocked punts are often game-changing plays. If the 53rd man on your roster makes a substantive contribution to just one victory, he's probably paid his way.

Gurley is an intriguing prospect on a number of levels. He has shown flashes as a receiver during the preseason and, as a wise man I know told me, you can't teach 6-foot-4. But the punt-blocking potential is a new one for me. I don't know if I've ever seen it at the top of a player's résumé. Stay tuned.