A Key on Special Teams: Scott’s Consistency

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Through two seasons, there have been times when JK Scott has shown why the Green Bay Packers used a fifth-round draft pick on him in 2018.

Also through two seasons, there have been too many times when Scott’s performance has shown why no team should use anything but a seventh-round pick on a punter.

In 2017, former undrafted free agent Justin Vogel tied for seventh in the league with a net average of 41.6 yards per punt. Vogel didn’t have a great leg but he made up for it with hang time and placement. In the 2018 draft, Gutekunst opted for the bigger leg in selecting Scott with a relatively early draft pick.

In 2018, after a big training camp and strong first six weeks to the season, Scott stumbled – especially down the stretch – and wound up tied for 26th with a net average of 38.8 yards. It was much the same story in 2019, when he was 24th with a net average of 39.9 yards. Through the first six weeks, Scott was fourth in the league with a net average of 44.8 yards. Of the 30 punters with at least 30 punts from Week 7 through Week 17, Scott was 28th in the league with a net average of 36.4 yards. He had just two games with a net average of at least 40 yards during that span.

“I think just the major thing would be what we call his handle time, from the time he catches the ball to the time it hits his foot, just staying in consistent range,” special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga said during an offseason Zoom call. “That can lead to a lot of things for any punter, not just JK. Any veteran punter, I think that’s the first thing you go back to is you look at their handle times and is there some variance? Which means they’re rushing it, and that can create stride length changes and those kinds of things.”

This could be a make-or-break season for Scott, who does not have a challenger on the roster. The numbers notwithstanding, there have been some positive indicators. For one, according to Pro Football Focus, opponents returned only 33.8 percent of Scott’s punts last season – the fifth-best rate in the league. His hang time of 4.46 seconds ranked sixth. Those are critical numbers that show Scott’s potential. There was improvement, too. As a rookie, Scott had 19 inside-the-20 punts vs. nine touchbacks – one of the worst ratios in the league. He was much better last season with 25 inside-the-20s vs. four touchbacks. That shows, on a punt-by-punt basis, Scott’s been fine. It’s the bad punt here and there that’s been the issue.

In 2011, when Green Bay’s offense was all-time great, the role of punter Tim Masthay was rather trivial. He punted only 55 times, which ranked 28th. Last year, Scott ranked eighth with 77 punts. On a team that’s being built to run the football and play defense, a punter becomes an important piece of the puzzle in the field-position battle. However, the Packers lost the net-punting battle in each of the final six regular-season games and both postseason games. As former special teams coordinator Ron Zook was fond of saying, it’s not a problem until it’s a problem and then it’s a big problem. Scott’s inconsistency is becoming a big problem.

A KEY AT EACH POSITION

Quarterback: Too many incompletions

Receiver: Too many drops

Running back: How will the carries be divided?

Tight end: For starters, it’s Sternberger

Offensive line: Wagner vs. stud pass rushers

Defensive line: Fixing the run defense

Outside linebacker: It’s Gary time

Inside linebacker: Kirksey's health

Cornerback: Replacing Williams

Safety: Savage's second-year strides

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