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Kicker Consideration: The importance of hang time

Hang time can make a big difference for punters.

One of the most important and completely unavailable statistics in NFL special teams is hang time. If I tell you that Jon Ryan out kicked Michael Dickson 57 to 55 yards, it doesn’t really help contextualize the two kicks much, especially once you gain some more information, such as the fact that Dickson’s kick stayed in the air for .6 seconds longer at basically the same distance.

During last week’s game against the Chargers in Week 2 of preseason, Curt Menefee brought up when talking to Brock Huard the point that distance and hang time are two big indicators of punting performance. But does it really matter if the ball gets there .6 seconds later? Let’s dive into the stats and check. Take notes, there will be a test at the end.

How much does hang time matter?

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the fastest ball carriers last season were just about 22 miles per hour, but for the sake of argument and easier math let’s say our gunner is hitting 20 miles per hour flat. How much farther can that gunner get in .6 seconds? About 5.9 yards. That fraction of a second that seems like it wouldn’t matter is the difference between this:

and this:

Notice as well how many of Dickson’s kicks come outside the numbers. This allows the return team to converge to one side and forces the returner to go horizontal before vertical. It’s not just the distance, or the hang time, or the placement, it’s the fact that he does all three consistently. Both of these kicks are about the same distance, but one lets the coverage team get just a bit closer to the returner and before he can turn his eyes up field and get running. The difference? A touchdown.

Hang time through Preseason Week 2

Obviously some other things went wrong for Ryan on his punt returned for a touchdown, it wasn’t just that his punt spent a little less time in the air, but these small differences add up when success and failure are divided by a razor thin margin. After all, don’t we always hear about it being a game of inches? So how have the two kickers fared against one another? Here’s a breakdown of every kick of the preseason by distance and hang time*.

Distance vs Hang time, Seahawks punting through 2 preseason games.

Dickson’s hang times at short ranges are noticeably lower than those of Ryan and this is an area where he can show improvement. In the battle of placement, Dickson is winning hands down, of the four Seahawks punts landing inside the 20 yard line, three of them are off the rookie’s foot. Especially of note is pinning the opposing team inside the 20, inside the 10 no less, from 57 yards out. That’s not just a good punt, this type of field position change is game changing. And if you’ve been wondering this whole time what a great coffin corner kick is, it doesn’t get much better than this.

If you take the first punter in the draft, he better be good. If you trade up to select a punter in any round, he better be worth it. All indications thus far is that Dickson isn’t just good, he’s a weapon.

A farewell to a legend

As I was writing this article, Jon Ryan announced that he’s leaving. His departure from Seattle is something I’ve talked about at length in this series starting last year. I just didn’t see it in the cards that he’s be back, especially after the draft. But I can’t fully express the emotions that hit me when he decided to post this.

How do you properly honor someone who was not only a consummate professional while fighting for his career, but someone who has been with the team the entire Pete Carroll era? The last of the old guard, the last of the old regime. Jon, I’ll never forget watching you score as many touchdowns as Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship game.

I’ll never forget watching you give it your all on American Ninja Warrior, or cracking jokes with your wife Sarah Colonna on Bar Rescue. You were more than just a faceless player on a team I watched once a week. You were part of what made Seattle special. Farewell to our punter, farewell to our captain, farewell to our friend. You are and will always be a Seahawk.

*Hang time numbers mentioned in this article were obtained by the author sitting in front of NFL game pass with a stop watch. NFL if you’re reading this, and who wouldn’t be, please for the love of all that is holy start releasing hang time statistics.