The battle for the punting job between veteran Chris Kluwe and second-year pro Marquette King was perhaps the closest position duel in the Raiders training camp.
But six games into the 2013 season, it appears the Raiders made the right call to go with King.
King ranks No. 2 in the NFL with a 49.5-yard average, behind only the 50.6 mark of Miami’s Brandon Fields. King is No. 7 in the league in net average, at 42.0, and he and the Raiders’ punt coverage unit have allowed just 8.4 yards per punt return, which ranks in the middle of the pack of NFL punters at No. 16.
And, the stats don’t come from a small sample size. Over six games, King has been one of the league’s busiest punters, his 33 punts tied for eighth in the NFL.
King won the job over Kluwe by showing more consistency in training camp and exhibition games than he did in camp in 2012, when he was an undrafted free agent from Fort Valley State. In his first camp, he showed a booming leg, but also a tendency to mis-hit too many of his punts. So, the Raiders brought in the steady Kluwe as insurance, and had the two compete for the job. When it was obvious King had become more consistent – while also having the stronger leg – the job went to King.
In exhibition games this year, King had a 53.6-yard average and a net average of 45.3, which was almost 8 yards better than Kluwe.
“Marquette out-punted him,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “Marquette won the competition as the punter.”
At the time the Raiders announced that King had won the job, Bill Williamson of ESPN.com noted that the Raiders were making the right call for their future because of King’s upside and youth.
“He answered the bell,” Williamson wrote of King. “Going with the youngster with potential is the way to go for a team that is rebuilding. I still expect King will have the occasional growing pains as most young punters have. But it will be worth in the long haul.”
So far, that’s been the case. As the 2-4 Raiders enter their bye week – they won’t play again until they host the Steelers on Oct. 27 – King has been a bright spot.
In the Raiders’ victory over the Chargers two Sundays ago, King’s punts were instrumental in getting Oakland out of some field-position jams. And against Kansas City Sunday in the Raiders’ 24-7 loss to the Chiefs, King was called on to punt eight times. He had a 64-yarder and a 51.8-yard average and posted a net of 45.3 yards in possibly his best game. He had better stats against the Broncos in Denver in Septembe, with a 52.5-yard average on six punts, including a 66-yarder, but that was at altitude.
The only problem with King this season has been as a holder for Sebastian Janikowski on field-goal attempts. With the departure of longtime punter/holder Shane Lechler this season, that job has fallen to King, and Janikowski’s success rate has fallen this season.
But, both King and Janikowski say that situation is improving, and Allen believes it will continue to get better.
“I think that’s going to get worked out,” said Allen.