Friday, January 3, 2014
Hekker named ESPN Punter of the Year
By Nick Wagoner
ST. LOUIS -- Throughout the 2013 NFL season, a nine-member voting panel handed out a weekly award honoring the best punter for that slate of games. With the season over, that group convened a final time and selected the St. Louis Rams' Johnny Hekker as ESPN.com's Punter of the Year.
Hekker received seven of nine votes from the panel, easily walking away with the honor after a record-setting season. The second-year punter out of Oregon State set a league record by averaging a net total of 44.2 yards per punt. He also grossed 46.3 yards per attempt.
Even the advanced metrics took note of Hekker's performance as he led the NFL in expected points added per punt, a newer statistic that assesses punter value based on situational performance. Hekker attempted 78 punts and his ability to combine directional punts with hang time allowed the Rams' coverage units to hold opposing returners to a paltry 79 yards.
Drew Butler, who punted for Pittsburgh and was on the voting panel, offered some high praise for Hekker.
"Hekker really had an amazing year," Butler said. "A 44.2 net is phenomenal, a great testament to his ability to win field position."
Hekker earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last week for his efforts only 48 hours before a strong final showing in Seattle sealed up his record-setting performance. On Monday, Hekker credited the work of his coverage units in helping him achieve the record while acknowledging the record's meaning for him personally.
"It means a lot to me," Hekker said. "That’s a standard that all punters kind of measure their season to. 'How was I able to swing the field advantage for my team?' Thank God I had some of the youngest, most aggressive playmakers that have come up in the NFL this year. All I know is that myself and the 10 others that are with me are part of the best punt team that’s ever played in the NFL. I couldn’t be more proud of the growth that the young guys showed throughout the whole season. Them learning, coach (John Fassel) teaching us the ins and outs of the game, cleaning up our mistakes. We finished strong, and that’s what it’s all about."
The Rams' special teams as a whole struggled early in the season with a seemingly endless parade of flags, though most of those errors came on return units and had little to do with punt coverage. By the end of the season, the special teams had become one of the strongest units on the team, save for some embarrassing and silly penalties in the season finale against Seattle.
Inconsistency was a common theme for the Rams this season, but Hekker deserves credit for being one of few consistently excellent performers on the team.