What is the definition of A Punt in American Football?

A punt in American football is a strategic play often used when a team wants to increase their chances of a defensive stop or give their offense more breathing room. This kicking play involves the punter dropping the football with both hands and then kicking it before it hits the ground, aiming to send it far downfield while staying within bounds to pin the opposing team near their own end zone.

Punting typically occurs on 4th down, after the offense has been unsuccessful in gaining the necessary yardage for a first down. When executed well, a punt can significantly change the dynamics of field position, putting pressure on the opposing team’s offense and giving the punting team’s defense an advantage.

Key Takeaways

  • A punt is a kicking play in American football used to improve field position and increase defensive opportunities
  • Punts are most commonly seen on 4th down when the offensive team hasn’t achieved a first down
  • Quality punting involves skillful execution and strategic planning to maximize benefits for the punting team

Basic Definition of a Punt

A punt in American football is a specific type of kick performed by a player known as the punter. The main objective of a punt is to move the ball downfield and gain better field position for the punting team while handing possession of the ball to the opposing team.

The punting process usually takes place on fourth down when the offensive team has not managed to gain the required yardage for a first down. By punting the ball, the team gives up possession but makes it more challenging for their opponents to score, as they begin their offensive drive further away from the end zone.

To execute a punt, the punter drops the football with both hands and then kicks it before it touches the ground. This requires skill and timing to achieve maximum distance and hang time. The hang time allows the punting team’s coverage unit to move downfield and be in a position to tackle the returner, who is attempting to advance the ball after catching the punt.

In addition to distance, punting strategy may involve angling the kick toward the sidelines to limit the returner’s options or pinning the opposing team closer to their end zone. This increases the likelihood of a defensive stop and could even result in a safety if the receiving team is forced backward into their own end zone.

While not as glamorous as other aspects of the game, punting plays a crucial role in the strategic battle for field position. A skilled punter can significantly impact a game’s momentum and increase their team’s chances of winning by consistently pinning the opposition deep in their own territory.

When Punting Occurs

In American football, punting occurs when a team’s offense is struggling to progress down the field and has reached its fourth down. This situation usually arises after the offense has failed to move the football at least ten yards within three downs. In such scenarios, teams decide to punt in order to relinquish possession and change the field position to their benefit.

Typically, punting the ball happens on the fourth down. The goal of any punt is to pin the opposing team near their end zone or to give the punting team some breathing room. Punting isn’t as simple as it sounds, as the punter needs to adapt to various game situations, weather conditions, and pressure from the opposing team’s defenders.

Teams can, in theory, opt to punt at any point in the field. However, it is most commonly used when the offense is deeply backed up in their own zone. In such instances, punting the ball effectively downfield can throw the opponents a curveball and gain some much-needed momentum or shift the field position in the punting team’s favor.

In summary, punting in American football takes place when a team’s offense is unable to progress effectively, and the team opts to kick the ball on fourth down to change the field position. This tactic can help take the pressure off the struggling offense and create opportunities for the defense to make a stand.

Punt Formation and Execution

Long Snapper

The long snapper is a specialized player responsible for snapping the ball to the punter during a punt play. Their primary skill is delivering a precise, fast, and accurate snap over a greater distance than a typical center would on a regular offensive play.


In American football, the punter is responsible for executing the punt. After receiving the snap from the long snapper, the punter drops the ball from both hands and kicks it before it hits the ground. The goal of a successful punt is to pin the opposing team deep in their territory while providing the coverage team with enough time to tackle the returner or force a fair catch.

Punt Coverage Team

The punt coverage team’s primary objective is to tackle the returner or limit their potential yards gained after receiving the punt. Composed of various positions, such as gunners, blockers, and additional personnel, these players are responsible for quickly getting downfield and containing the returner.

  • Gunner: The gunner’s role on the punt coverage team is to sprint downfield and pressure the returner, either tackling them or forcing them to make a fair catch.
  • Blocker: The blocker is responsible for protecting the punter and maintaining an open lane for the punt, ensuring the ball’s successful launch into the opposing team’s territory.

Return Team

The return team’s primary goal is to create space and opportunities for the punt returner to gain yardage after receiving the punt. They consist of blockers, a returner, and additional personnel in various roles.

  • Punt Returner: The punt returner fields the punted ball and attempts to gain as much yardage as possible by running or utilizing blockers to help navigate through the coverage team.
  • Blocker: Their role on the return team is to create a path for the returner by blocking the oncoming punt coverage defenders, allowing the returner room to maneuver and gain yardage.

Types of Punts

Rugby-Style Punt

The Rugby-Style Punt is a unique variation of punting in American football. This technique involves the punter beginning to run towards one sideline before kicking the ball on the run. The key advantage of this style is that it gives the punter more time and distance to make a more precise kick, away from would-be punt-blockers. Additionally, the rugby-style punt can create a more unpredictable bounce and roll of the ball, which can be advantageous in pinning the receiving team in a poor field position or gaining additional yardage.

However, there are some drawbacks to the rugby-style punt. Since the punter is running towards one sideline, they may have a more limited downfield view, potentially leading to less precise punts compared to a traditional stance. Another potential concern is that if the punter does not have the required skill and timing, the resulting punt can be of lower quality and easily returnable by the receiving team.

Traditional Punt

The Traditional Punt is the standard technique used by punters in American football. This method involves the punter standing approximately 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage and dropping the ball from their hands before kicking it in the air, without taking any sidesteps. The traditional punt focuses on creating the optimal combination of distance, height, and hang time. A well-executed traditional punt enables the punting team’s coverage unit to advance downfield and limit the potential for long returns by the receiving team.

In the traditional punt, the punter usually aims for a high spiraling kick, known as the “coffin corner” punt, which can give the special teams unit an opportunity to down the ball close to the receiving team’s end zone. One of the challenges in executing this type of punt is ensuring consistent accuracy and proper ball placement to avoid touchbacks.

Both the rugby-style and traditional punts have their respective merits, and choosing between the two often comes down to the punter’s skills, comfort level, and strategic goals of the team at a particular moment in the game.

Punting Strategy

Directional Punting

Directional punting is a technique used by punters to strategically place the ball on the field with the goal of limiting the return opportunities for the receiving team. This is accomplished by angling the punt towards the sideline or a specific area of the field, rather than kicking it straight downfield. This strategy aims to minimize the potential for big returns by forcing the returner to field the ball near the sideline, limiting their running space and possibly pinning them against the boundary.

To execute a directional punt, a punter must have good control of their kicking leg, and be able to accurately judge the angle and distance required. This can be achieved through focused practice and repetition, refining the punter’s skill and footwork.

Coffin Corner Punting

Coffin corner punting is another strategic technique that focuses on pinning the opposition as close to their own end zone as possible, preferably inside their own 10-yard line. The goal is to force the receiving team to start their offensive possession in an unfavorable field position, increasing the chances of a defensive stop or a safety. The name “coffin corner” is derived from the intent to “bury” the opposing team deep in their own territory.

When performing a coffin corner punt, the punter aims for the corner of the field toward the sideline near the opponent’s goal line. The key to successful coffin corner punting is the ability to control the distance and hang time of the punt, allowing coverage players to reach the ball and down it before it enters the end zone for a touchback.

Both directional and coffin corner punting play important roles in a team’s overall strategy during a game, providing a tactical advantage through the effective management of field position. By mastering these techniques, punters can become valuable assets to their team’s success.

Punting Statistics

Net Punting Average

Net punting average is a statistic that measures the effectiveness of a punter in American football. It takes into account both the distance of the punt and the return yardage by the receiving team. To calculate the net punting average, first subtract the total return yardage from the total punt yardage, and then divide this number by the total number of punts:

Net Punting Average = (Total Punt Yardage - Total Return Yardage) / Total Punts

TIP: The higher the net punting average, the better the punter’s performance.

Net punting average can be a useful metric when comparing punters or assessing a team’s overall punting performance. By considering return yards, it accounts for the impact of the coverage team and the punter’s ability to place the ball effectively.

Gross Punting Average

Gross punting average is a simpler metric that only measures the average distance a punter kicks the ball. It does not take into account any return yardage by the receiving team. To calculate the gross punting average, divide the total punt yardage by the total number of punts:

Gross Punting Average = Total Punt Yardage / Total Punts

TIP: A higher gross punting average indicates a longer average punt distance.

Gross punting average is a good initial indicator of a punter’s leg strength and ability to kick the ball far downfield. However, it doesn’t capture the full picture of a punter’s performance, as it ignores the contribution of the coverage team and factors such as hang time and punt placement, which can affect the likelihood of a successful return.

In conclusion, both net punting average and gross punting average can provide valuable insights into a punter’s performance in American football. While gross punting average highlights the raw kicking distance, net punting average gives a better understanding of the overall effectiveness of a punt, accounting for return yardage and coverage success.

Famous Punters in American Football History

One notable punter in American football history is Ray Guy, who was the first punter ever to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Throughout his career, Guy played for the Oakland Raiders and was instrumental in their victories during the team’s impressive run in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Known for his remarkable hang time and towering punts, his contributions to the game paved the way for future specialist punters.

Shane Lechler is another influential punter who played for the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans over his 18-year-long career. With a record-setting career average of 47.6 yards per punt, Lechler rose to prominence as one of the best punters in NFL history. He was named to the All-Pro First Team six times and selected for the Pro Bowl seven times.

Another legendary punter is Jeff Feagles, who holds the NFL career records for most punts (1,713) and most punting yards (71,211). Feagles had an extensive 22-year career, during which he played for five different NFL teams, including the New York Giants, with whom he won a Super Bowl. He was known for his incredible consistency and accuracy in pinning opponents deep in their own territory.

Lastly, Sammy Baugh deserves mention as a pioneering punter who redefined the role in the early days of the sport. Although known primarily as a quarterback, Baugh was equally proficient in punting and led the league in average yards per punt five times throughout his career. His versatility and skills paved the way for the development of the modern punting game, making him a legendary figure in American football history.

In summary, Ray Guy, Shane Lechler, Jeff Feagles, and Sammy Baugh are among the most famous and influential punters in American football history. Their exceptional skills and achievements not only broke records but also revolutionized the role of punters and their impact on the game.