Let's face it -- the strongest shovel in the world couldn't unearth any significant analysis about a punter prospect. I have yet to come across a sincere, in-depth draft profile on a punter, nor have I seen a punter's name included in any of the 100 mock drafts that have been shoved in my face this offseason.
At first glance, an autopsy of a punter prospect seems purposeless. You might expect an attempt at investigating a punter to turn out like this:
Pros: Can swing his leg.
Cons: No other detectable football utility.
I know what you're thinking. Punters aren't important. Punters aren't sexy. Punters aren't worth writing or reading about.
And how dare I even tease the idea of picking apart a punter on a Jaguars web blog -- Jaguars fans have lived through perhaps the most scaring punter draft-reach of all time! You were there, I was there -- the Jaguars took California punter Bryan Anger off of the board in round three of the 2012 draft.
If I was somewhat sane, I would have snapped back to reality the second I googled "top punter prospects 2016." I mean, I still remember when the Jaguars reached for the "top punter prospect" in the country in 2012. I remember every season since -- every punt through the back of the endzone, every reference to the "weapon" nickname Anger was gifted with on his draft day, and every instance that someone went out of their way to point out that Super Bowl winning QB Russell Wilson was drafted after punter Bryan Anger in 2012.
So why even put a punter's name at the top of a Big Cat Country article?
To me, it's simple. It's not about the past -- it's about moving forward. And I know this might seem like an oversimplification of such a sensitive topic, so I'm willing to take a step back.
Is punter a team need?
Bryan Anger, cursed with a draft position that he could never realistically live up to, has underperformed through his four seasons in the NFL. As First Coast News beat-writer Mike Kaye and our own Ryan Day have pointed out in the past, Anger's net punting average has taken an alarming dive through every single season of his Jaguars employment.
2012 - 40.8
2013 - 40.5
2014 - 39.6
2015 - 39.5
Net average refers to the distance a punt travels minus the yards gained by the return team. The consistent drop from 2012 to 2015 is concerning -- especially since you'd expect the Jaguars coverage unit to get better as the Jaguars continue their rebuilding process. Then again, the drop in net average isn't really that surprising, taking into account Anger's well-documented propensity to outkick his coverage.
Of course, this article isn't about Anger. My goal is definitely not to convince you that the Jaguars' most pressing need is a freaking punter. And no, repeating history by drafting a leg might not seem be the best way to upgrade the position. But could punter be considered a team need? Yes, I believe it could be.
Alex Kinal, Punter, Wake Forest
Alex Kinal made an appearance in this year's Senior Bowl, playing under the instruction of the Jaguars coaching staff on the South squad. Kinal is not the unanimous number one punting prospect in the country. However, Kinal is, in my opinion, the most interesting punting prospect in the country.
Bryan Anger had the biggest leg of his draft class in 2012. The 2012 Jaguars front office found Bryan Anger very attractive for this reason, but forgot to take into account that a football field is only so long. Anger has totaled a hefty 360 career punts through four seasons, including 27 touchbacks -- too many.
Alex Kinal, unlike Bryan Anger, is considered a precision guy. Kinal holds the NCAA record for total career punts by a single player with 337. Kinal punted for 14,102 total yards at Wake Forest -- that's almost equivalent to the distance between TPC at Sawgrass to the Jacksonville Beach Pier. Kinal punted so much in 2014 that he outgained the sputtering Wake Forest offense by almost 1000 yards.
Here's what is most impressive: Somehow, through four college football seasons -- a career that saw Kinal smash the record for most total punts -- Kinal only recorded nine total touchbacks.
When Kinal was 20 years old, before he even knew the rules of American football, he was one of the best Australian Rules football players in Australia. Australian Rules football is a rugby-like sport with a strong emphasis on precision-punting. Kinal didn't even consider playing Division I American football until he was 20, when Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson watched a video of Kinal punting and offered him a role on their team.
Four years later, after earning the respect of his entire team (and especially his punt coverage unit), Kinal was named as a team captain. His reaction was priceless.
"Of course I didn’t expect it," Kinal said after he received the honor. "I’m a punter."
In the first quarter of the first game of his senior season, Kinal booted a 70-yarder that immediately killed any skepticism surrounding the captain-naming decision. Kinal flipped the field from his own goalline, sticking his opponent within their own 20. I tried -- I desperately tried -- to uncover film of this specific punt. Unfortunately, I couldn't.
The truth is, there isn't much punter film floating around in the toxic waters of the draft media world. I was, however, able to uncover a couple of clips.
Alex Kinal, Punter - Wake Forest, 6'4 209. Couldn't find tape of his 70yd punt, so here's another https://t.co/fmhCGa5LGj— Cole Hartley (@ColeFartley) January 28, 2016
60yd punt -- bad error by Vandy returner https://t.co/SmqeryLRSc— Cole Hartley (@ColeFartley) January 28, 2016
I'm not going to make an attempt to break down Kinal's punting mechanics. You're already reading about a damn punter -- there's honestly no point in inflating this article with empty analysis.
What I can say is that I am not the only person in the world who has been charmed by Kinal's punting ability. I mean, hell, SB Nation's Wake Forest site, Blogger So Dear, took their collective obsession with Kinal so far that they launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for the punter last summer.
A punter for Heisman? That might be ridiculous. The Jaguars drafting a punter this year? Not as ridiculous.
Again, I'm not arguing that the Jaguars should draft a punter. There are plenty of reasons not to, of course, but none of these reasons should have anything to do with 2012. I don't think I need to explain that there is a different regime in place -- one that has no recollection of ever drafting a punter and no ties to a ridiculous third-round punter selection.
Alex Kinal, based on my research, seems to be hovering around the fourth or fifth round in draft projection. But I mean, come on -- no one knows how strongly each NFL team values flipping the field on special teams, much less how much higher a front office might consider Kinal above other punters on the market.
There's a very real chance that Alex Kinal doesn't get drafted at all -- after all, he is just a punter.
You never know, I guess.
The only thing I ask is this -- don't let nightmares of the past blur your vision when it comes to team needs. The draftability of a good punter is debatable, sure, but Alex Kinal's proficiency as a punter is not.