It’s no secret that the Cowboys had a pretty bad special teams group last year. It’s why Mike McCarthy made sure to add John Fassel, one of the most well-respected special teams coordinators in the league, to his coaching staff early on. Punter Chris Jones and his drastic regression was a big part of that. It was just four seasons ago that Jones set a career high in yards per punt and finished tied for 12th best in that figure, but in 2019 Jones not only hit a career low, but was dead last in the league.
Jones has a year left on his contract but Dallas could save roughly $1.4 million in cap by cutting him. And while there are sure to be some options in free agency, Dallas could look to the draft to find a young stud punter. As with our list of college kickers, this list doesn’t necessarily mean the Cowboys should use a draft pick, but these are the options for late in the draft but especially as undrafted free agents.
Michael Turk, Arizona State
Michael Turk is one of those rare punters who’s coming out early, but it’s because he’s that good. In the season opener this year, Turk set an NCAA record for most yards per punt in a game with five or more attempts; he averaged 63 yards per punt in that game. Three of his five punts were 60 or so yards and one went a whopping 75 yards.
As Arizona State’s offense experienced growing pains with a true freshman quarterback under center all year, Turk consistently helped mitigate said struggles by flipping field position and making it harder on opposing offenses. His 46 yards per punt on the whole year was the 10th best figure in the nation and fifth best among those with 60 or more punts.
With a booming leg and reliable accuracy, Turk has positioned himself as one of the top two punters in this draft class. Dallas probably needs to spend a late draft pick if they want him, but if he plays like he did at Arizona State, he’ll be worth it.
Joseph Charlton, South Carolina
Few punters were better in 2019 than Joseph Charlton. Actually, let me amend that statement: only one punter was better in 2019 than Joseph Charlton. In fact, Charlton’s 47.7 yards per punt was the second highest mark in the country. In the NFL, that number would’ve placed him third in the league.
But beyond Charlton’s strong leg, he also flashed the kind of athleticism you want out of a punter if you have a coach with a history of attempting fake punts. Even though this wasn’t a called fake punt, it highlights Charlton’s quick processing and speed to get the first down. That, along with his punting prowess, should make him attractive to the Cowboys.
Dane Roy, Houston
It was a rough year for the Houston Cougars as a whole, as they went 4-8 and saw their star QB redshirt and then transfer away, but punter Dane Roy persevered through it all to have a really good year.
Despite seeing a career low in punts in 2019, Roy set a career high in total yards and his 46.9 yards per punt ranked fifth in the nation. Arguably the team’s best player (albeit by default), Roy consistently helped to set the defense up with good starting field position, something Dallas sorely lacked in 2019.
Dom Maggio, Wake Forest
Of all the punters on this list, nobody was asked to punt the ball more than Dom Maggio, who hit the ball a whopping 74 times. What’s crazier is this was the third time in Maggio’s four year career that he topped 70 punts in a season. Among the ten punters in 2019 with 70 or more attempts, Maggio led in yards per punt by a wide margin.
As it stands, Maggio’s 46.8 yards per punt was still good enough to tie for sixth best in the nation among all punters and fourth best among senior punters. And his heavy workload in college makes him even more prepared to enter the NFL, where punters routinely go over 70 in a year.
Braden Mann, Texas A&M
Braden Mann may be the best known punter in this class. Taking over as the Aggies’ starting punter in 2018, he set records almost immediately. He averaged 60.8 yards per punt in a game that set a record (later broken by the aforementioned Turk) and his 51 yards per punt on the whole year set a single-season record. He rightfully was awarded the Ray Guy trophy at the end of the year.
Mann regressed a bit in 2019, but his numbers were still impressive. He averaged 47.1 yards per punt, fourth most in the nation, and was consistently one of college football’s best punters. The only knock on his game: a low number of attempts. Mann had 50 punts in 2018 and 57 in 2019, consistently in the bottom 20 of the nation both years in punts. How would his production hold up with an increased workload in the NFL? That’s a question that could loom large over this otherwise promising punter.