The top five punters of all time

[Ray Guy was] the first punter you could look at and say: He won games. - Joe Horrigan, football historian

The criteria by which punters are judged include hang time, kicks inside the 20-yard line, and - a somewhat distant third - longevity. Hang time, of course, is what might be called "cover-ability," the time the ball is in the air as the punter's teammates murderously charge the kick returner. Kicks that are downed inside the twenty are also good since, obviously, they force an opponent to go at least 80 yards to score a touchdown (and probably 45 to 50 at minimum to kick a field goal). Finally, longevity for these players is the quality that enforces itself. If a punter kicks too many out of bounds, he will soon be an ex-punter - and that might well be fewer than six before he's shown the door. For punters, however, there's really no such thing as a singular, "career-making" play, the equivalent of, say, Santonio Holmes'(notes) Super Bowl-winning catch for the Steelers. A punter has to do it again and again…for years.

It should also go without saying that any punt is a better punt if it is a long punt.

Below, then, is one observer's list of the five best punters ever. Numbers three through five might be re-arranged a bit, but numbers one and two are truly numbers one and two.

Number Five: The Unknown

First, slot five goes to that unknown master that slot fives sometimes go to on lists such as this one: Bob Cameron of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League (1980-2002). Weirdly, Cameron was cut and re-signed eight times by the Blue Bombers (and re-signed once as a punter was cut from the team because of drug-related charges), but ultimately, he won three Grey Cups with them, in 1984, '88, and '90. And as intrepid blogger Rob of Rob's Big Ideas points out, "He holds the record, all-time, of any league, with a total of 122.8 km (134,301 yards) punting, [but] in Canada the field is 110 yards long and they play 18 games a season." Rob should be reminded that even if the Bombers played on a 250-yard field, the NFL's leading punter all-time (also listed here) kicked for total yardage equal to only about 53% of Cameron's total. So, either Cameron hit some real blue bombs, or his team really stunk except for three years, or both. Cameron kicked for more than 76 miles. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum this year, and their website hails him as "a symbol for consistency and reliability."

Fourth Best: A Name Fans Will Know

At four, recognition goes to Sean Lechler, the current punter for the Oakland Raiders. In May of 2009, The Sporting News named Lechler the best punter in the league, noting his 48.8-yard average, his 41.2-yard net average, and his 33 kicks inside the 20 in the previous year. For the 2009 season, then, Lechler went out and pushed his average kick figure to 51.1. This year he's in that same neighborhood early on. He's a five-time, first-team All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler, and has had only three kicks blocked in ten-plus years.

Third: A Name Old Fans Will Know

Number three is Sammy Baugh. Dust off the old files here. This Hall of Famer also punted while assembling his shining career as a Redskins quarterback back in the pre-facemask era. Two years into that career, in 1939, Baugh began kicking, and through 1952 he averaged 45.1 yards a kick and was blocked only nine times. In 1940 his average kick went 51.4 yards. In his last two years, 1951 and 1952, he punted only five times; four of those came in 1951. His average kick that "year" was 55.3 yards.

The Journeyman Who Might Have Been King

The runner-upon this list has to be Jeff Feagles(notes), the player who put the most NFL kicks ever inside the 20-yard line (554) and the guy who holds the NFL record for total yards (71,221). Feagles, who played for the Patriots, Eagles, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Giants for 22 years, announced his retirement in April of this year. A ball placement specialist, one of only a couple who could be so described last season, he also holds the record for career NFL punts - 1713. He may be football's best journeyman ever, and might be considered the best punter ever except for one guy.

The Undisputed Champ

That Guy, however, is Ray of the Raiders (1973-1986), the consensus number one punter of all time. Go ahead, google him. It is no exaggeration to suggest that he literally invented hang time. A three-time Super Bowl champion (1976, '80, and '83), he was able to keep the ball in the air for five seconds on a regular basis, and he was able to hit the proverbial coffin corner in the red zone. Ray Guy never had a kick blocked, and he once hit the video screen on the Superdome ceiling. ESPN suggests that he is the "tenth" most underrated athlete of all time (he was the Raiders' emergency QB), following these other "nine" underappreciated greats: Stan Musial, Lenny Moore, Arky Vaughn, Rod Laver, Lefty Grove, Bob Hayes, Jim Marshall/Carl Eller (OK, make Guy eleventh), Goose Gossage, and Ardrian Dantley.

*Note: This article was written by an Associated Content Contributor. To become a Contributor and start publishing your own sports articles, go to Associated Content.

Sources:

"Giants' Feagles retires; NFL mark intact." espn.go.com. 30 April 2010.

Merron, Jeff. "The List: Underrated all-time athletes." espn.go.com. 23 September 2010.

"Punter Rankings: Lechler has the whole package." sportingnews.com. 29 May 2009.

"Shane Lechler" and "Sammy Baugh." pro-football-reference.com. 23 September 2010.

Shornof, Jordan Hart. "Winnipeg Blue Bomber great Bob Cameron worried about job security, not locking spot in CFL Hall of Fame." leaderpost.com, 14 August 2010. (It should be noted that the headline here is "imprecise." There is no "CFL Hall of Fame"; see the correct organizational title above. Canada's football hall of fame honors amateur players as well as those who played in the CFL.)

Wilks, Emmett. "Top Ten Kickers/Punters of All-time." 411mania.com. 8 July 2008.

"Top 10 Punters of All-time." robsbigideas.blogspot.com. 12 October 2010.

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Updated Tuesday, Sep 28, 2010