Punter AJ Cole of the Las Vegas Raiders simply wants to carry on the legacy of the late, great Ray Guy.
Guy, unanimously considered to be the greatest punter of all time, died last week at the age of 72 in Hattiesburg, Miss. He is the only punter to be selected in the first round of the National Football League draft and the only punter to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“Man...this hurts to hear. [R]est in peace to a LEGEND!!” Cole wrote on Twitter when he learned of Guy’s passing.
Cole has understood that he is walking in the footprints of a legend since he signed with the Raiders as a free agent out of North Carolina State in 2019.
During a practice in 2020, Cole wore Guy’s No. 8 jersey in honor of the Hall of Famer.
“I’ve said since I got here that I have a lot of pride in playing this position, especially for this organization, because of this history they have,” Cole said. “The Raiders have the greatest history at the punter position of any franchise, and that started with Ray Guy. The level that he got to where his name is pretty much synonymous with NFL punting, it’s not something you see a lot. It’s definitely a sad day. It’s sad to lose a legend like that.
“I have a lot of pride playing this position for this organization because the Raiders do have the greatest history at the punter position. To carry on that legacy that Ray Guy started is extremely important to me.”
Cole also said on an episode of Upon Further Review: “He was able to do something very few people in any sport are able to do, which is to make his name synonymous with the position. If you say the position of punter to pretty much anybody, Ray Guy is one of the first names that come to mind.”
Although Guy is unquestionably the best, the Raiders have had a long line of great punters that includes Shane Lechler, Marquette King, Jeff Gossett, Johnny Townsend, Mike Eischeid, Leo Araguz, Billy Joe Herbert, and Wayne Crow.
Cole has fit right in.
The 6-4, 220-pound Cole averaged 46.0 yards per punt as a rookie, followed by seasons of 44.1, and 50.0, and this season is at 49.9 in eight games, with a career-long of 74 yards as a rookie, and he has not had a punt blocked in the 200 he has made in his career.
“The results haven’t always been as kind to Cole as his kicks have deserved, but no punter has a better combination of distance, hang time and direction this season,” Pro Football Focus noted in selecting Cole to their 2021 All-Pro Team. “His average hang time is an impressive 4.4 seconds.”
Cole’s average of 50.0 yards per punt last season fell a bit short of Hall of Fame quarterback and punter Sammy Baugh's NFL record of 51.4 yards.
The 26-year-old Cole already ranks eighth on the Raiders’ all-time punting list, with his 47.4-yard career average second only to Lechler’s 47.5, and he has pinned opponents inside their 20-yard-line a total of 93 times with only 15 touchbacks.
Cole has a ways to go to catch up with Guy, selected with the 23rd overall pick of the 1973 NFL Draft before spending his entire 14-year career with the Raiders while appearing in 207 games and punting 1,049 times for 44,493 yards (a 42.4-yard average). He appeared in 22 postseason games, and seven Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro six times.
The 6-2, 240-pound Lechler was named first-team All-Pro six times, made seven Pro Bowls, led the NFL in punting average five times, and is the NFL’s all-time leader in career punting average at 47.6 yards.
Lechler had at least one punt of 50 yards or more in 33 consecutive games from Week 13 of 2003 through Week 14 of 2005, the longest streak by any player since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. Lechler’s 51.1-yard average per punt in 2009 is second only to Baugh’s mark of 51.4 in 1940.
Cole, if he stays healthy, Cole has the leg to rank with the best of them.
The Raiders' game is on Sunday in Seattle and kicks off at 4:05 p.m. EST/1:05 p.m. PST. You can see that game on CBS.
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