The first year after Tom Brady was a disappointment for the New England Patriots. Coming off a 12-4 campaign, the team regressed to 7-9 and struggled with consistency on both sides of the ball.
However, not all was bad. The Patriots’ special teams unit, for example, was the best in the game in 2020 and featured all three of the club’s All-Pro selections: while coverage ace Matthew Slater was voted to the second team, both punt returner Gunner Olszewski and punter Jake Bailey earned first-team nominations.
The two did that by playing some impressive football throughout the season, and leading the league in multiple statistical categories. Olszewski was the premier punt returner in the game, and a serious home run threat whenever he touched the ball.
Bailey, meanwhile, was playing in a league of his own when it came to punting the ball away — and the numbers prove it.
Puntalytics compared all punters in the league based on their expected points added on each kick. Needless to say that Bailey was the top performer regardless of category:
Bailey registered a positive EPA of over 0.3 during his 55 punts last year — clearly the highest mark in the league, and the best performance in Puntalytics’ data range going back all the way to 1999. Only one other punter was able to even cross the +0.2 barrier: the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Dickson was the second best player at the position in this category, but still not in the same stratosphere as Bailey.
Bailey’s EPA was not the only impressive statistic coming out of his 2020 season. He also proved himself the perfect mix of precision punter and strong-legged kicker:
The second-year Patriot was head and shoulders above the rest of the league in terms of his open field punting, and he also was only slightly behind Dickson in terms of precision. This is a testament to his accuracy, hang time and power, but also to New England’s coverage personnel: led by the aforementioned Matthew Slater, the group was terrific all season.
All in all, Bailey gained a gross average of 48.7 yards per his 55 punting attempts. Of those kicks, 10 ended either as touchbacks (5) or sailed out of bounds (5), 18 were fairly caught, and were 15 downed by the Patriots’ own coverage unit. Only 12 punts were actually run back by the team’s opponents for an average of 5.9 yards per return — noticeably lower than New England’s own punt return average of 15.5 yards.
No matter how you look at it, Bailey was outstanding in 2020. Heading into his third year in the system, he again projects as a major weapon for the Patriots.