NASHVILLE – For Brett Kern, the 2019 season was a numbers game.
“I remember earlier in the year, Coach [Mike] Vrabel was talking about how important field position was,” Kern said. “The more you pin them back, the percentages of them – whether it’s scoring a field goal or driving the full length of the field for a touchdown – those percentages get smaller and smaller and smaller. In return, if we can set up good field position for us through that, it goes a long way.
“He had a bunch of statistics for it, and I kind of geek out over statistics.”
At the end of the regular season, Kern had the kind of numbers that were impossible to ignore. The Tennessee Titans punter led the NFL with 37 punts downed inside the 20 versus just two touchbacks and led the AFC with an average of 47.1 yards per punt. In all, he punted 78 times, which means that 47.4 percent of them resulted in opponents having to drive more than 80 yards to score a touchdown.
He also became the third punter since 1991 to average at least 47 yards per punt with a net average of at least 43 yards (43.1, the second highest average of his career).
That efficiency and effectiveness was recognized Friday when Kern was named an Associated Press First-Team All-Pro. It is the first such honor for the three-time Pro Bowler, who was a second-team AP All-Pro in 2017.
Kern earned 34 votes from the national panel of media members that determines All-Pro teams. No one else at his position got more than 13 votes.
Running back Derrick Henry, the NFL's leading rusher, was named to the second team as running back and flex player. He finished second to Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey in both.
Safety Kevin Byard (seven), cornerback Logan Ryan (four) and center Ben Jones (two) also received votes at their respective positions but did not make the first or second teams. Byard missed a spot on the second team by one vote.
The voting mirrored the Pro Bowl. Kern and Henry were the only Titans selected to participate in that contest.
Tennessee did not have any players earn All-Pro recognition in 2018.
Kern set the stage for what was to come when his final 16 punts of 2018 ended up inside the opponents’ 20, including six of six in the finale against Indianapolis. In his 12 NFL season, he has had nearly seven times as many punts end up inside the 20 (355) as he has had touchbacks.
“I probably consider myself more of a precision punter,” Kern said. “I probably don’t have the biggest leg in the league, as far as being able to get big hang times or anything like that. It’s just being able to hit my targets when I’m out there and just knowing when I can be a little more aggressive with my line and when I kind of have to settle back.
“… It just takes a lot of practice, understanding the types of punts that you want to hit and then going out there and executing.”