Did the Jaguars make the right choice? That’s the question that has been on most Jaguars fans minds for the last month or so, and through three weeks it seems abundantly clear that the Jaguars front office made the proper choice at quarterback, by going with David Garrard. In this article however, we wonder if the Jaguars indeed made the right choice at the all-important position of punter.
Back in April, the Jaguars used their first pick of the second day of the draft on punter Adam Podlesh, from the University of Maryland. Podlesh impressed many during the scouting combine, and he was rated as the top punter entering the draft. A couple days after selecting Podlesh, the Jaguars dumped veteran punter Chris Hanson, who struggled during the 2006 season with hamstring injuries that caused him to have an average of just 40.6 yards per punt, with a net of just 33.4 yards.
During the Jaguars mini-camps in May, Podlesh was impressive to say the least. Podlesh boomed high, 60+ yard punts outside the numbers and right on the sideline. Podlesh’s punting drew oohh’s and ahh’s from those in attendance. At that time, it seemed as if the Jaguars considerably upgraded a weak spot from 2006.
As we fast forward to the start of training camp in July, Podlesh’s punts seemed to be losing altitude and distance. Through the first week of camp, and after the team’s scrimmage, Podlesh was actually being out-punted by undrafted free agent Tony Yelk, who spent the 2006 season on Atlanta’s practice squad. A few days after the scrimmage, Yelk was let go by the team to avoid any type of competition, and the job was clearly Podlesh’s.
During preseason, Podlesh was average, which was an upgrade from 2006. Podlesh had solid numbers with a 44.4 average, but much of that distance happened to be from some friendly bounces. Still, the numbers don’t lie, and despite the punts being ugly, they were effective.
Through the first three games of Podlesh’s rookie season, the Jacksonville punter has appeared to struggle mightily. Adam has 11 punts with an average of just 38.6 yards gross, and a net average of just 34.6 yards, and that’s including a trip to the mile high city which is very kicker/punter friendly. Podlesh has been outdistanced in two of the three Jaguars games, and his poor start has many people wondering if the Jaguars made a smart move by getting rid of the veteran, Chris Hanson, as well as getting rid of Tony Yelk, who can also place-kick.
Let me first say that no player should be considered any kind of bust after just three games of their career. That being said, lets look at the alternatives that the Jaguars passed on. Veteran Chris Hanson had an awful season in 2006, and his release certainly seemed like the right thing to do by the team. After Hanson was released from New Orleans in training camp, he caught on with the New England Patriots, and has been there punter since opening day. Hanson has only punted four times in three games thanks to the Pats explosive offense, and is averaging just 36.5 yards per punt. It would seem at this time that Podlesh is an upgrade over Hanson.
Lets look at another guy that the Jaguars could have selected in the draft, Daniel Sepulveda from Baylor University. Sepulveda was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of April’s draft, 11 spots after the Jaguars selected Podlesh (112th overall). Through three games, Sepulveda has punted nine times for an average of 38.7 yards per punt with six of his nine punts downed inside the 20. Sepulveda is off to a little bit of a quicker start than Podlesh, but his results aren’t considerably better.
Free agent punter/kicker Tony Yelk is still on the market, as he hasn’t been picked up with any team as of yet. What’s interesting about the speculation if the Jaguars had kept Yelk is that he can not only punt, but placekick as well. In the season opener, in which Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee hurt himself in warm-ups, Tony Yelk could’ve stepped in and kicked field goals, which would likely have changed the Jaguars play-calling, and would likely have led to a Jaguars victory, and a 3-0 start.
In the business of professional sports, most fans expect instant results. If your team takes the top rated punter in the draft, you want him to be more than average, better than the 32nd ranked punter in the NFL, which Podlesh currently is. Here’s one quick piece of advice: relax. It’s only week three, and the team is 2-1, and Podlesh’s gross and net averages are better than what the Jaguars received last season. The coverage is better, and Podlesh will get better too. Just relax.