A year ago, Raiders punter Marquette King ranked No. 3 in the NFL in net punting average, at 42.7 yards. He also was sixth in the league in average yards per punt (47.4) and allowed just 6.4 yards per return.
King’s strong leg was a weapon that often got the Raiders out of deep holes in his five seasons as the team’s punter, and he often flipped the field with his booming kicks that quickly put the other team in a hole.
Yet in the offseason, new Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and his staff weren’t fans of King, and they decided to go in a different direction. They waived King, 29, who then signed a free-agent deal with the Broncos.
To replace King, the Raiders drafted Johnny Townsend in the fifth round out of Florida.
So far, the Townsend-for-King switch hasn’t paid off well for Oakland. Though it often takes a season or two for a punter to find his groove in the NFL, it’s possible that Townsend’s job could be on the line at the end of this season.
Townsend is averaging just 39 net yards per punt and 43.1 in average distance. He’s only put four punts inside the 20-yard line, and his longest punt this season, 56 yards, ranks next-to-last among NFL punters. He’s also coming off a game against the Seahawks in London where he had short punts of just 28 and 27 yards and averaged only 30.7 net yards on three punts. In three of six games he’s had an average of less than 40 yards in net punting.
Gruden certainly wasn’t happy with Townsend’s performance against Seattle.
“He didn’t punt the ball well enough,” Gruden told reporters this week. “This might’ve been the first time Johnny’s seen a drop of rain since he got off the plane (to Oakland). I don’t know if the slick field had anything to do with it, but we have to punt the ball better.”
If the Raiders are to improve after this bye week – and if Townsend is to hang on to his job for 2019 – Townsend will have to punt much better over the final 10 games of this season.
The Raiders return to action on Sunday, Oct. 28, vs. the Indianapolis Colts.