On April 30th, 2018, the fates of two NFL franchises changed about an hour apart. In the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks traded up from the 156th overall pick to number 149 to select Texas punter Michael Dickson. 23 picks later, the Green Bay Packers selected JK Scott out of Alabama with the 172nd overall selection.
Admittedly, calling these draft picks “franchise-altering” is a stretch, especially considering the fact that they were fifth-round selections. Trading up for a punter in round three? That’s franchise-altering in a negative way (*stares angrily at Mike Sherman*). Moving up seven spots in round five or using a fifth-round compensatory pick? Not so much.
Still, for two teams that had productive punters a year ago (Jon Ryan and Justin Vogel), the transactions were surprising. Furthermore, they showed faith on the part of both franchises’ personnel departments that these two young players would become truly field-flipping weapons.
So far, it appears to be working nicely for one of them, while the other still has some work to do.
Dickson has shown every bit of the booming leg that John Schneider scouted. He currently sits third in the NFL in gross punting average at 48.0, and he is tied for the league lead with the Eagles’ Cam Johnston in net punting at 43.8. He has also hit just two punts into the end zone while dropping 19 of his 44 boots inside the 20.
Scott’s line is somewhat less impressive, with his 44.5-yard average sitting 17th in the NFL and just one-tenth of a yard above Justin Vogel’s from a year ago. However, his net average is just 38.9 yards, good for 22nd place in the league. That has surely been hurt by his four touchbacks on 33 punts, while he has dropped just ten inside the 20.
One thing that the Packers’ special teams have tried to limit, however, is returns, with hang time being one of the factors that Ron Zook and company try to maximize — even over gross distance. Just nine of Scott’s 33 punts have been returned (27%) for an average return of 7.6 yards. Meanwhile, 20 of Dickson’s 44 kicks (45%) have been returned, but at a comparable average of 7.3 yards per.
One thing is certain: these two look like the best of the four punters taken this year. The two punters drafted this year are Oakland’s Johnny Townsend and Jacksonville’s Logan Cooke, and while both are have comparable net yardage to Scott, they both have gross averages under 43 yards.
With Scott and Dickson both playing in the NFC and entering a burgeoning rivalry between the Packers and Seahawks, they will likely be compared to each other for some time. For now, Dickson clearly has the upper hand. Seeing the two head-to-head this week should be fun for fans of special teams and hang time.
Of course, Packers fans would probably be perfectly content to see Scott’s leg get a nice rest this week and have his only game action come as a holder this Thursday night.