When it comes to punters, I was a bit naive. I was completely jaded by the ever consistent Jason Baker who was the Panther’s punter until the arrival of Brad Nortman. Baker had great stats, setting the majority of the Panther’s punting records, as well as becoming the highest paid punter in the league prior to 2007. So jaded would be the correct word to describe how I felt about Baker, I just didn’t care to learn that it meant something to the course of the game. I never even thought of the possibility of Baker giving the defense a bad field to defend. All of this changed when Brad Nortman arrived in Carolina.
Now I’m not saying Nortman is bad by any stretch of the means. However, I do remember last season when the Panthers traveled up to Chicago to face the Bears. During the course of that game, Nortman had a few punts that went out of bounds after only traveling at least 10-20 yards. I was completely star struck. Never before have I seen a punter give our defense only 60 yards of field to work with. Since those moments, I soon began watch every punting play with the same level of anticipation as the rest of the game, hoping Nortman would succeed in pining the opponent on their half. Since that faithful day in Chicago, Brad Nortman has surpassed the consistency of Jason Baker an has yet to disappoint.
Since his rookie season, Nortman has vastly improved his total yards, his net average yards, as well as adding more punts within the 20 yard line, with more than a few being pinned down near the one yard line. There is no doubt that Nortman vastly improved his numbers from his rookie year, and if there was a “Most Improved Panther Award”, Brad Nortman would definitely have to be in the running. He is currently the fifth ranked punter in the league based on his net average yards, as well as fourth in the league with total net average yards. From being drafted just a year ago, Nortman has gone from one the middle tier punters to one of the top five in the entire league. This is a huge improvement for a player to make, especially in just one year, at a position where there isn’t much of a learning curve. When it comes to punters and kickers, you either have it or you don’t.
The stats seemingly agree that Nortman has it. According to NFL.com, Brad Nortman has increased his net average yards and his total yards, as well as increasing his number of “within the 20” punts by five. Nortman also decreased his number of touchbacks as well, bringing the number from seven down to five. The great thing about his increased stats is that Nortman has been doing this on less punts, with 76 last year and a total of 70 this year. And his net average yards and total average yards? They set Carolina Panther records.
Nortman is also finally seeing the benefits of being one the best punters in the league, being named the NFC’s Special Team Player of the Month for the month of December. The title was won large impart to his improvement in his net average yards this month. His current season average stands at 41.6 net average yards, a number that was boosted this month by a monthly average of 44 net average yards. If Nortman would have averaged those kinds of punts throughout the entire season, he would be either the leagues best punter or second behind St. Louis’ punter, Johnny Hekker, who averaged 44.1 on the year. Thats crazy to think about.
Even if the offense begins to struggle producing, at least the Panthers have a punter who can give the defense an longer field to defend. His punts also get the crowd into the game. There were a few times where Nortman pinned an opponent down on the one and the crowd, as well as my living room, went wild. I believe Nortman has flown under the radar for far too long and I finally think it’s time that he receives the recognition and respect that he deserves. The NFC Special Team Player of the Month only proves that theory. From his vast improvement from his rookie year, we can only expect to see more from Nortman.