Everybody hates punting. I know there’s a big movement to give punters the respect they deserve, and yes, punters are people, but you can’t deny that punting is the worst part of football. When the most exciting part of a punt is how favorably/unfavorably it bounces, you know it’s not an exciting part of the game. However, San Diego State punter Matt Araiza is making me a believer.
This punt in the video above travelled 79 yards from the Aztecs’ 21-yard line all the way to Hawaii’s endzone. That’s already an insane punt, but it’s not close to Araiza’s best punt of the season.
This man has not one, but TWO 80-plus yard punts on the season. These aren’t just little nothing punts that roll their way inside the opponent’s 20-yard line either. These are punts that get there on the fly. His punt against Air Force is being called “The Big Punt.” While Araiza had said in the past that he regularly kicks punts 68 yards through the air in practice, the Big Punt soared over 80 yards before hitting the ground. You’d think the players on Air Force would be used to dealing with long-range missiles, but Araiza was showing them something they’d never seen before.
Araiza has booted 56 punts this season for a net average of 51.9 yards per punt. The NCAA record is 50.3 yards (minimum 36 punts). The NFL record is 51.4 yards, set by Sammy Baugh in 1940. Araiza is on pace to shatter both.
Araiza has 29 punts of 50-plus yards this season. The NCAA record is 32, set in 1994 by West Virginia’s Todd Sauerbrun. Sauerbrun, by the way, went on to have a solid 13-year NFL career, earning two All-Pro nods with the Carolina Panthers in 2001 and 2002. So, maybe that’s more incentive for an NFL team to draft Araiza in 2022. Back to the point, Araiza also has 15 punts of 60 yards or more this season, and that’s already an NCAA record. His list of accomplishments just goes on and on and on, and it’s starting to garner Araiza serious Heisman hype.
What’s more impressive is that Araiza is not a natural punter. Araiza spent the first two years of his college career as San Diego State’s kicker, only attempting five punts through his freshman and sophomore seasons. As the kicker, Araiza had a solid season in 2019 going 22-of-26 on field goal attempts and a perfect 28-of-28 on extra-point attempts. Araiza has continued to see success when kicking extra points, but his field goal prowess has taken a step back, hitting just 20 of 30 field goal attempts since the start of the 2020 season. It’s likely that if Araiza finds a future in professional football, it would be solely as a punter, with occasional turns kicking extra points.
This begs the question: “Should an NFL team draft Araiza next season? And if so, when should he be drafted?”
In the last six seasons, 12 punters have been drafted. The earliest to be drafted was Mitch Wishnowsky, who was selected by the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. No other punter has been taken earlier than the fifth round in that time. The last time a punter/kicker was selected in the first or second rounds was in 2005 when the Jets took Ohio State’s Mike Nugent with the 47th overall pick. So, it’s safe to say that Araiza will likely not be taken on either of the first two days of the draft.
With how absolutely insane Araiza’s season has been thus far, several other talented punters are being shoved aside to put Araiza in the spotlight. Colorado State’s punter, Ryan Stonehouse, is also having a tremendous season. He’s averaging 51.5 yards per punt, which as I stated earlier would be an NCAA and NFL record, but we don’t hear about him because of how strong Araiza’s leg has been. There’s also Kyle Vantrease, quarterback for the University at Buffalo, who nailed an 81-yard punt in September.
If an NFL quarterback nailed an 81-yard punt, we’d never hear the end of it. I know this was a pooch kick and that gives him all sorts of leeway, but come on, it’s still awesome, and barely anybody knows about it.
Not only is Matt Araiza having the greatest punting season in college football history, but Ryan Stonehouse is having an equally great year. Both of them will likely find their way onto NFL rosters in the near future, and I look forward to seeing them duke it out in the punt yardage category each and every year.