Everyone is familiar with Chris Hanson- so why don't you take a seat? He was the punter for the New England Patriots for last season and a couple seasons prior. Every time the Patriots punted the ball, fans had to hold their breath because of the slow punting motion of Hanson and the probability of a blocked punt or a shank. In a league of 32 teams, Hanson ranked 33rd in Average Net Punting Yards. He was so terrible that the Patriots didn't even bring him into camp to challenge for a roster spot.
The Patriots went into the draft with a goal of bolstering their special teams by drafting an elite punter. Prior years had seen the Patriots draft special teams focused players, like Stephen Gostkowski, Matthew Slater and Jake Ingram in order to have the best possible talent for the most underrated facet of the game. In the 5th round, the Patriots decided to take a chance on a Romanian/Hungarian punter and Michigan graduate by the name of Zoltan Mesko, Emperor of Space.
Mesko was one of the top two punting prospects coming out of college and into the NFL draft. He was unique due to his left footed punting, which gives the ball an unusual spin, as well as his two step punting process. His punts leave his feet extremely quickly with impressive hang time in order to give gunners a chance to get down field.
Patriots fans had little expectations from the punting position, due to the disaster named Chris Hanson's 2009 season, but had plenty of expectation from a 5th round draft pick. The only way for the Patriots punting program to go was up- but up enough to warrant a 5th round pick? Keep in mind that the Patriots have drafted valuable contributors on offense and defense with picks after the 5th round (Julian Edelman, Myron Pryor, Tawm Bradee [spelling?]), so spending a 5th rounder on a punter needed to have high yield.
Let's take a look at his "yield" after the jump!
Keep in mind that Hanson was the 33rd ranked punter out of 32 teams. That means that a team had two punters better than Hanson.
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Look at the difference. Mesko is forcing defenses to go an extra 7 yards per drive and is not allowing opposing return men to have any room or time for big gains. This means that opposing offenses need to go almost an entire set of downs for a score. Those 7 yards means 4 more downs and 4 more chances for the defense to stop the offense. Of course, this is assuming that the a "set of downs" is equal to 10 yards, which is what I'll be counting a set of downs as.
If Mesko punts the ball 3-4 times a game, he's saving the defense 21-28 yards more over last season. That's a bigger number than it seems. That's a quarter of the football field and worth, to me, the difference between giving up a touchdown and giving up a field goal. In my opinion, and my potentially off-base estimation, Mesko is saving this defense 4 points a game.
Think about it. Give the opposition the ball on the 20 yard line and ask them to score. Now, give them the ball on the 45 yard line and ask them to score. Just using your gut feeling, don't you believe the Patriots have a better chance of preventing the score from the 20 yard line than they do from the 45 yard line? The Patriots have more chances to stop the offense because of the field position Mesko has been giving the opposition.
Now I know that there's little proof behind my numbers- I can't prove that if the Patriots still had Chris Hanson on the team the defense would be giving up 4 more points per game. The defense is also much too different from last season to make a direct comparison- in fact, only Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and, sort of, Brandon Meriweather are returning starters from last season's defense. There's no way of comparing the teams.
I just feel like Mesko is giving this team a much better chance to win games. He's been helping this team since Week 1 and, as far as I'm concerned, has been worth the 5th round draft pick. The numbers show he's been a great improvement over Hanson and his performance last week against the Ravens helped win the game for the Patriots.
All in a day's work for the Emperor of Space.