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Patriots 2020 roster breakdown: Jake Bailey is undisputed as New England’s punter

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Related: Patriots roster breakdown: QB Brian Lewerke

Cleveland Browns v New England Patriots Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.

Today, the series continues with one of the Patriots’ core special teamers.

Hard facts

Name: Jake Bailey

Position: Punter

Jersey number: 7

Opening day age: 23

Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 UFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Bailey joined the Patriots as the 163rd overall selection in the 2019 NFL draft, but despite his status as a first-year player earned the team’s punter role due to strong performances in training camp and during the preseason. He went on to appear in all 16 of the team’s regular season contests and its lone playoff game in 2019 — all while holding a triple role of punter, holder and kickoff specialist for most of the year.

Bailey’s experience extends beyond his lone season in New England, though. After all, he also saw considerable action during his four-year college career at Stanford. Playing in a combined 52 games, he attempted 185 punts which sailed for 8,105 yards — setting a school record in career punting average with 43.8 yards per kick. Furthermore, Bailey entered the NFL with 291 kickoffs on his rather impressive résumé.

What did his 2019 season look like? When Bailey arrived in New England, he joined a competition against six-year veteran Ryan Allen. Even though Allen was coming off arguably the best game of his career — his play was a big reason for the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl 53 — the rookie quickly presented his talents on the practice fields: not only did he show a strong leg on both punts and kickoffs, he also was able to perform directional kicks on a consistent basis. He therefore eventually beat out Allen to earn New England’s punter gig.

During the season, Bailey continued to play some solid football. He attempted 81 punts throughout the regular season, for 3,638 yards and a gross average of 44.9 yards per kick. Of his 81 kicks, six ended as touchbacks while 17 sailed out of bounds, 18 were fairly caught, and 12 downed by the Patriots’ coverage unit. Only 28 punts were actually run back by the team’s opponents for an average of 6.3 yards per return — noticeably lower than the Patriots’ own average of 8.0 yards.

Midway through the season, the fifth-round draft pick also added the role as New England’s kickoff specialist. After Stephen Gostkowski suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 3, the Patriots did not trust his replacements to take on the job, and instead gave it to Bailey. The rookie ended up holding onto it for the rest of the year and kicked off 65 times during the regular season: 24 of them were returnable and run back for an average of 18.8 yards, while 38 were touchbacks and three landed out of bounds. He also attempted a pair of unsuccessful onside kicks.

Bailey’s numbers were solid but he cooled off a bit after a strong start during which he was named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of Weeks 3 and 11. Adding the kickoff role seemed to impact his punt-placement and general hang-time a bit, and the Patriots’ playoff defeat against the Tennessee Titans is a good example for this. While Bailey looked good doing kickoffs — he allowed only two of four kickoffs to be run back for an average of 20.0 yards per return — he struggled a bit in his role as punter as two of his five tries ended as touchbacks (one sailed out of bounds, two were caught fairly).

Despite that and some early-season inconsistency as a holder, however, Bailey had an overall impressive first season in the NFL. The Patriots should therefore feel good about their decision to draft him and to give him to punter role over the more experienced Ryan Allen.

2020 preview

What is his projected role? Bailey will be New England’s undisputed punter in 2020, but his overall job description will depend on how the team plans to use new place kicker Justin Rohrwasser. If the fifth-round rookie is handed kickoff duties, Bailey’s job in his second season with the club would consist “only” of punting and holding on field goal and extra point attempts. Given his progression last season, such a move could be in the cards and possibly help him become more steady in his primary role.

What is his special teams value? Bailey’s value to the Patriots lies exclusively in the kicking game, and this is not expected to change in 2020. While it remains to be seen whether or not he will eventually be used outside of his punter duties again, any other employment does not appear to be in the cards (that said, he did register one 17-yard run during his career at Stanford).

Does he have positional versatility? From a pure special teams perspective, Bailey does have positional versatility: he has proven that he is capable of performing at an NFL-caliber level not just as a punter, but as a kickoff specialist as well. On top of it all, he also improved as a holder as the 2020 season went along.

What is his salary cap situation? Bailey is entering the second season of his four-year rookie deal, and as such is on the Patriots’ books with a salary cap hit of $747,520 (and currently outside the contracts counting against the cap during the top-51 offseason rule). While New England could save more than half a million dollars by parting ways with him, his contract presents very good value and will therefore not be touched in any way this season.

What is his roster outlook? Considering that Bailey is coming off a strong rookie season and does not have any competition on the roster when it comes to the punter gig, he can be considered a lock to make the team heading into 2020. While his eventual role could look a bit different, as noted above, he will still be a core member of New England’s special teams operation this year and therefore regularly see the field.