The Packers are no strangers to new faces at punter. Corey Bojorquez arrived via trade in 2021 after the Packers moved on from J.K. Scott, but lasted just one season. Then came Pat O’Donnell, who, like his predecessor, only lasted a single season in Green Bay.
Now the Packers turn to Daniel Whelan, who unseated O’Donnell after a training camp battle. Whether or not he lasts in Green Bay remains to be seen, but Whelan’s journey to this point has certainly been an interesting one.
A dominant force in high school and college
As every profile on Whelan will tell you, he’s originally from Ireland. Born in Enniskerry, Ireland, Whelan and his family moved to the United States when he was a teenager. Whelan was already an experienced athlete, playing soccer and rugby prior to his arrival in the United States, and his kicking ability caught the notice of the coaching staff at Rancho Mirage High School.
If there is such a thing as a dominant kicker, Whelan might be it. In two years of high school ball, Whelan was a force, recording 130 touchbacks on 150 kickoffs and kicking six field goals of 50 yards or more in addition to serving as his team’s punter.
But if he was surprised by his success, he wasn’t letting on. He told the Palm Springs Desert Sun there was nothing remarkable about his long-distance kicks. “I do it in practice, I do it in games,” he told high school football reporter Nathan Brown. “I just think about, like, keeping my head down. That’s my biggest concern right now.”
Whelan’s big leg landed him a scholarship to UC Davis, where he continued his elite performance. He earned all-conference and All-America nods as a punter. He continued to demonstrate his leg strength as a kicker, too, posting video of a 73-yard conversion in January 2021.
Whelan’s long road through professional football
Though he got some pre-draft attention, Whelan was not selected during the 2022 NFL Draft, ultimately signing with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent but didn’t even make it to training camp with the team. He spent the fall working with former NFL kicker Nick Novak as both a punter and a kicker, then finally got a professional break in the XFL in the spring of 2023.
Kicking for the D.C. Defenders, Whelan averaged 45.6 yards per punt and landed 11 punts inside the 20, both of which ranked third in the eight-team XFL. According to Sports Illustrated’s Bill Huber, Whelan landed four of five punts inside the 20 in one game against the St. Louis Battlehawks. Building on his success in the XFL, Whelan signed with the Packers in May.
It’s difficult to gauge punter battles from the outside looking in, and even if we were privy to all the ins and outs of training camp, I’ll fully admit I don’t know much about punting other than “kick ball far good.” But from a pure numbers perspective, Whelan does seem to have been at least O’Donnell’s equal as a punter in addition to offering some surplus value on kickoffs.
Over three preseason games, Whelan averaged 45.7 yards per punt on six punts, landing three of his six attempts inside the 20-yard line. He had a long punt of 67 yards. O’Donnell, on the other hand, averaged 50.5 yards on four punts, landing two inside the 20. Whelan also kicked off six times in three games, including two touchbacks, giving the Packers another option for that duty if Anders Carlson falters. And, of course, as our Justis Mosqueda notes, Whelan also held for Carlson on field goal and extra-point attempts throughout the preseason.
What does all this add up to? It’s hard to say at this point, other than that the Packers are going in a different direction at punter — again. We won’t really know what the Packers have in Whelan until the weather turns cold. The Packers’ last few punters have struggled down the stretch in Green Bay, and if Whelan can’t provide more stability in November, December, and beyond, we could be talking about another change at punter a year from now.