Between 2013 and 2017, Ryan Allen served as the New England Patriots’ undisputed punter. Last offseason, however, the team brought in some competition when it signed undrafted rookie Corey Bojorquez. The incumbent ultimately prevailed and beat out Bojorquez during training camp, but the writing was on the wall: New England was ready to find a replacement if a capable one came along. Enter Jake Bailey.
The Patriots selected the Stanford product in the fifth round of this year’s draft, and his presence will create one of the most intriguing position battles to follow this summer. Let’s take a closer look at it.
P Ryan Allen, P Jake Bailey
Ryan Allen is one of the most successful players his position has ever seen: no other punter owns more Super Bowl rings than the three he won in New England, tying him for most all-time with Hall of Famer Ray Guy. And while he may not be the statistically best at his craft, the 29-year-old has been a steady presence in the Patriots’ kicking game operation whether it is as a punter or as a holder on place kicks.
Jake Bailey, meanwhile, entered the NFL as a high-upside option capable of potentially also serving as a kickoff specialist. The rookie was quite solid in both areas during his college career, but showed that he still has plenty room for growth. His potential, however, cannot be denied — as can be the fact that he is a serious challenger to win the Patriots’ punter job in 2019.
The deciding factors
Hang time: Punters need to be able to give the coverage unit time to get down the field and limit a potential return, which is why keeping kicks in the air for the longest possible time is an important skill to have. During New England’s offseason workouts, it appeared as if Bailey had the upper hand: the rookie, who showed his strong leg at Stanford on a regular basis as well, averaged a better hang-time than Allen throughout mandatory minicamp.
Directional punting and ball placement: Being able to hit the football at full strength to get maximum hang time is far from the only responsibility a punter has, though. He also needs to be able to hit his target areas on a reliable basis so that he prevents touchbacks or does not out-kick the coverage. Allen has proven himself in this area over the past six seasons, and he needs to do so again if he wants to keep his job.
Consistency: One thing that stood out about Bailey during minicamp was his inconsistency compared to Allen. He registered a touchback and a fumbled snap and also had a wider range of hang times than the incumbent. The veteran’s numbers and general performance won’t wow anybody, meanwhile, but he is as steady as they come: you more or less know what you are going to get with Allen at punter — something the Patriots certainly value.
Situational punting: “There’s a lot of different punting situations, so there’s situational punting and just being able to put hang time and distance on the ball to help our field position and change field position. But based on the rush, the expected return, field position and so forth, there’s a lot of different things,” Bill Belichick told reporters earlier this offseason. It is clear that whoever adapts best to the different situations that come up in practice and an NFL game will have the best chance of winning the punter gig.
Holding: Teams usually employ their punters as holders on field goals and extra point attempts, and the Patriots are no different. While holding abilities won’t make or break Allen’s or Bailey’s chances of making the team, they will be factored into the equation as well — especially if one of the two shows inconsistencies during the place kicking operation.
Where does the competition between the two punters stand heading into training camp? So far, Jake Bailey seems to be ahead based primarily on the outstanding strength of his leg. Needless to say, however, that the competition will be one of the most intriguing to watch over the course of training camp and the preseason, and as a) the rookie gets more experience at the next level, b) live tackling gets introduced to the special teams drills, and c) holding on field goals and extra points gets added.
Ultimately, Bailey offers more upside but needs to become a more consistent performer to win the job. If he can do that, it would not be a surprise to see the Patriots pick him over Allen. If not, however, New England could very well go back to the trusty veteran who delivered an outstanding performance in his last game — the one during which he won his third championship ring.