The Raiders used a fifth-round pick on punter Johnny Townsend a year ago, but hardly got the value they’d anticipated.
The former Florida standout was 29th in the NFL in net punting average (38.3 yards) and 31st in average (43.2). He also was tied for 28th in punts inside the 20-yard line (17), though that was supposed to be a strength.
And, Townsend's most memorable play didn't involve a kick. In a game against the Chargers in November, Townsend took the ball on a fake punt and picked up 42 yards on a run for a first down in a game Oakland eventually lost.
Now, with the Raiders’ minicamp complete, the team heads toward the start of training camp in July with a wide-open competition at punter between Townsend and rookie A.J. Cole, an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina State.
The Raiders are hoping for much more out of their punter in 2019, whether it’s Townsend, Cole or someone else.
"I don’t think any of us were pleased with how we punted throughout the course of the year," Oakland special teams coach Rich Bisaccia told Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle this week. "I think Johnny would probably say the same thing. He’s really a directional-type guy. But any time you go through a skill position as a rookie and play all 16 games, there’s going to be some ups and downs and I think he weathered them both. We’d like to see some more ups."
Bisaccia said he’s been happy with the performance so far of both Townsend and Cole, and believes it’s a wide-open situation.
Cole was North Carolina State’s No. 1 punter for four seasons, averaging 42.4 yards on 220 punts from 2015-2018. As a senior, Cole put 22 punts inside the 20-yard line and forced 26 fair catches. Over his final two seasons he had just nine touchbacks.
The Raiders signed Cole after he participated in a minicamp tryout.