The most under the radar performance happening in the NFL just might be how good St. Louis Rams punter Johnny Hekker has been. Sure, being a punter in the NFL isn’t one of the most glamorous or rewarding gigs out there, but it is one of the most necessary parts of a successful team. The punter has a lot to do with where the opposing team starts a drive and can provide a huge lift to his team with a well executed coffin corner kick. He could also be the lamb laid to slaughter for botching what seems like an easy task to the casual fan.
While the Rams struggled on special teams to open the season the punting crew was ignored in favor of the oft-flagged return units. Johnny Hekker is leading one of the best punting units in the NFL right now. That is not an arguable statement. Fact: Johnny Hekker is second in average net yards per punt and return yards allowed per punt. He is only second in those categories to the Seattle Seahawks punter Jon Ryan who has been forced into action much less than Hekker.
Hekker’s 69 punts put him at 15th in the league, and his gross yards per punt place him at No. 10. Of his 69 punts, 17 have been pinned down inside the 20-yard line. Roughly one-quarter of his punts stick the opponents into a territory that the Rams’ defense should feel comfortable with. Return men have tried to take back Hekker’s punts 28 times this year only to total 81 yards on those returns. That is a 2.9 yard per return average against an extremely young coverage unit.
Those kinds of numbers are a thing of beauty when you talk about winning the field position battle. It starts with special teams, and between K Greg Zuerlein‘s boot on kickoffs and Hekker’s near pinpoint accuracy on punts the Rams are set up well for the future. Hekker’s net average of 43.8 yards per punt attempt places him in first among all punters by one yard. To put it plain and simple, he is punting with mastery in his second pro season limiting returners to minimal yardage and putting opposing offenses deep in their own territory.
Hekker has to thank his coverage unit for all of the help and bringing down the dangerous return men that St. Louis has faced this season including Patrick Peterson, Golden Tate, Ted Ginn, and Devin Hester. As you may remember Hester did have a PR touchdown against the Rams only to have it called back due to a penalty. Still, the coverage done by the unit as a whole has been undeniably great this season thanks to Hekker’s depth and hang time.
Sadly for Hekker, though, his best in the business performance is being ignored by Pro Bowl voters in 2013. The unfortunate truth is that he is not even in the top 10 in voting which makes the Rams’ push to get him into the game seem desperate despite his more than deserving performance. Even if he doesn’t make the Pro Bowl the Rams know that they have their future at punter in Hekker, and his job is safe for years to come.