November 28, 2022

College Football’s 15 best punters of 2021

College Football's 15 best punters of 2021

Iowa Hawkeyes punter Tory Taylor (9) punts the ball against the Illinois Fighting Illini Saturday, December 5, 2020 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

The game always comes down to field position.

Pinning opponents deep in their own territory and making an offense navigate long drives is the road to success. Punters dictate the flow of the game, puts defenses in favorable matchups and out of tough situations. There’s nothing like making a team start from inside their own five-yard line.

These 15 punters displayed strong and consistent legs last season. Now they’re riding that wave of momentum into the fall hoping to endure similar success.

15. Bryce Baringer, Michigan State: He has one of the strongest legs in the Big Ten. Last season Baringer averaged 43.59 yards per punt, which ranked 30th in the FBS and fifth in the league. The Michigan native landed nine of his punts inside the 20-yard line. He also had at least one punt go for 50-plus yards in six of the Spartans’ seven games. Baringer booted a jaw-dropping, 78-yard punt in the win over Michigan at the Big House. Although Baringer’s numbers were solid, Michigan State still finished 11th in the Big Ten and 109th in the FBS in net punting average.

14. Paxton Brooks, Tennessee: Last season the Volunteers finished 12th in the FBS and fourth in the SEC in net punting and he was a big reason why. The former three-star prospect averaged 43.63 yards per punt and he also handled kickoff duties. Brooks landed 17 of his 49 punts inside the 20-yard-line. Not to mention 13 of his punts went for 50-plus yards. The South Carolina had his best performances over Tennessee’s final two games. Brooks booted a 58-yard punt in the win over Vanderbilt. He also had a season-high, 61-yard punt in the finale against Texas A&M.

13. Blake Hayes, Illinois: The Australian is coming off a promising season with the Fighting Illini. Hayes averaged 43.76 yards per punt, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten and 27th in the FBS. Illinois actually finished 34th in the nation in net punting average. Hayes landed 16 of his 42 punts inside the 20-yard line. He also booted nine of his punts for 50-plus yards. The six-foot-six, 215-pounder had a season-high, 62-yard punt in the loss to rival Northwestern. Hayes will make sure to give opposing Big Ten offenses bad field position all season long in 2021.

12. Will Spiers, Clemson: Dabo Swinney emphasized how his punter has been one of the Tigers’ most improved players this spring. Last season he averaged nearly 44 yards per punt, which ranked 22nd in the FBS and sixth in the ACC. Not to mention 17 of his 45 punts landed inside the 20-yard line. The South Carolina native had four punts of 50-plus yards in the win over Syracuse, plus two others against Miami and Ohio State. Clemson finished 79th in the FBS in net punting average in 2020, so Spiers will have to be even better this fall and that’s a scary thought.

11. Kirk Christodoulou, Pittsburgh: He proved to be one of the best punters in the ACC last season. Christodoulou averaged 44.68 per punt, which ranked 16th in the country. The Panthers finished 11th in FBS in net punting. The Australian landed 23 of his 53 punts inside the 20-yard line. In the victory at Florida State he averaged 51 yards per punt. He had 14 of his punts go for 50-plus yards. The six-foot-one, 215-pounder booted a 61-yarder at Boston College, which was a season-high. Christodoulou is very consistent and Pittsburgh will be solid again on special teams.

10. Tory Taylor, Iowa: The former two-star prospect is a prime example of how Kirk Ferentz continues to do more with less. Taylor had a magnificent 2020 campaign and it was just his first season with Iowa. He averaged 44.12 yards per punt, which ranked 19th in the FBS. The Hawkeyes were solid on special teams all around and finished fourth in the FBS in net punting. Taylor landed 17 of his 32 punts inside the 20-yard line. Not to mention nine of his punts went 50 yards and beyond. The Australian earned first team All-Big Ten. Taylor was also named the Big Ten’s Punter of the Year.

9. Trenton Gill, NC State: The North Carolina native finished third in the ACC in net punting average last season. Gill is also the program’s active career leader, with a punt average of 46.3 yards. He landed 18 of his 52 punts in the 20-yard line. Gill booted 16 balls over 50-plus yards, including four against Virginia Tech. His best performance came against North Carolina, when he averaged over 54 yards on three punts. Despite Gill’s success the Wolfpack finished 78th in FBS in net punting. With more efficient punting NC State could win two additional games this fall.

8. Ryan Wright, Tulane: The former three-star prospect is arguably one of the best punters out of the Group of Five. Last season he averaged 45.23 yards per punt, which ranked 11th in the FBS. The California native nailed 17 of his 52 punts inside the 20-yard line. Not to mention Wright watched 16 of his punts go for 50-plus yards. He had a season-high, 65-yard punt against SMU. The six-foot-three, 245-pounder averaged 51.25 yards on eight punts at Houston. Wright’s success is the main reason the Green Wave finished 20th in nation in net punting average.

7. Ryan Stonehouse, Colorado State: The California native finished ninth in the FBS in net punting average last season. The Rams only played four games and finished 123rd in FBS in net punting. However, Stonehouse put up great numbers during the process. He nailed eight of his 26 punts inside the 20-yard line. He also had nine punts go for 50-plus yards, including season-highs against Fresno State and San Diego State. Stonehouse is a very underrated punter, but with a full schedule this fall his numbers will get him the detention he deserves.

6. Brad Robbins, Michigan: The former two-star prospect put up some decent numbers for the Wolverines last season. Robbins averaged 45.26 yards per punt, which was first in the Big Ten. The Wolverines finished No. 4 in the league and 26th in FBS in net punting. The Ohio native landed eight of his 23 punts inside the 20-yard line. He also had five of his punts go for 50-plus yards. Robbins’ had a season-high, 62-yard punt against Indiana. Michigan should be able to pin opponents deep in their territories this fall with Robbins handling punting duties again.

5. Lucas Dean, UTSA: The former two-star prospect had a breakout season in 2020. Dean averaged nearly 46 yards per punt, which was sixth-best in the FBS. Not to mention the Roadrunners finished 38th in the country in net punting average. The Australian has one of the strongest legs in the game. Dean landed 27 of his 57 punts inside the 20-yard line. He also had 21 punts go for 50-plus yards, including a season-high of 67. The Roadrunners had a winning campaign last year because of solid play on special teams, which should be a strength again in 2021.

4. Mac Brown, Ole Miss: He increased his punting average from 44.3 in 2019 to 46.6 last season. Brown finished second in the SEC in net punting. The Minnesota native is arguably the most consistent punter in the conference. Brown had at least one punt of 50-plus yards in eight of the Rebels’ 10 games. The six-foot-three, 205-pounder recorded a season-high, 59-yard punt in the win over Kentucky. Brown will need to keep offenses pinned deep this fall to help out the Rebels’ defense, which finished 126th in the FBS in total yards allowed.

3. Austin McNamara, Texas Tech: The former three-star prospect proved he was the real deal in his second season with the Red Raiders. McNamara averaged 46.29 yards per punt, which ranked first in the Big 12 and fifth in the FBS. The Arizona native had so much success at punting the ball in 2020 that he earned first-team All-Big 12 honors. McNamara nailed 11 of his 41 punts inside the 20-yard line. Not to mention 12 of his punts went for 50-plus yards. McNamara had a season-high, 87-yard punt in the win over West Virginia. There’s no denying his tremendous leg power.

2. Jake Camarda, Georgia: The former three-star prospect is coming off a monster season. Carmada earned first-team All-SEC and third-team AP All-America in 2020. He averaged 46.58 yards per punt, which ranked first in the league and fourth in the FBS. The Bulldogs were solid on special teams and finished 17th in the country in net punting average. Camarda nailed 18 of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Not to mention 17 of his 36 punts went for 50-plus yards. The Georgia native had a season-high, 64-yard punt in the win over Tennessee. Camarda is dynamic as punters come.

1. Lou Hedley, Miami: He easily stands out on the field with all of his tattoos and averaged a jaw-dropping, 47.16 yards per punt last season, which was second-best in the FBS. Hedley’s superior play is the reason why Miami finished first in the FBS in net punting average. The former three-star prospect earned second-team All ACC and AP All-America honors. Hedley landed 14 of his 49 punts inside the 20-yard line. The San Francisco native also had 20 of his punts go for 50-plus yards. Hedley’s season-high was 62 yards and he’ll be one of the Hurricanes best weapons this fall.

Honorable Mention

Jacob Finn, N/A: The former Florida Gator entered the transfer portal this past January after finishing third in the SEC in net punting average last season. Wherever Finn lands he’ll bring instant credibility to the punting department.

Reid Bauer, Arkansas: The Texas native finished 31st in the FBS in net punting average and his longest punt of the year went for 62 yards. Despite Bauer’s solid numbers, Arkansas still finished 12th in the SEC and 100th in FBS in net punting average.