One analytical site said Dickson's debut "may have been the best game an NFL punter ever had." Another determined he was worth a whole 9.66 points for the Seahawks.
The rise of analytics has led to a lot of different methods to determine success or failure in an NFL game.
And after Michael Dickson’s unquestionably impressive punting Sunday at Denver — his 59.0 average per kick was second best in Seattle history behind Jon Ryan’s 60.0 against New England in 2012 — analytics junkies have delved into deeper numbers to find new ways determine just how amazing it was.
The football analytic site Football Outsiders studied Dickson’s performance against Denver — specifically, an otherworldly 57.5 net average — and tweeted a story stating in part that “Michael Dickson’s regular-season debut may have been the best game an NFL punter ever had.’’
Among the conclusions of Football Outsiders is that Dickson’s punting — in which he downed four inside the Denver 20 — was worth 9.66 points for the Seahawks. Meaning that without Dickson being Seattle’s punter, the Seahawks would have lost by 13 points instead of three in what was an eventual 27-24 defeat (or some combination therein).
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A few days later, Seahawks special-teams coach Brian Schneider was asked if he’s seen those numbers. He replied that there is really only one he cares about — the difference in the net average of Seattle and its opponent. Net punting average is the distance of the punt minus the return.
That number, too, confirms that Dickson’s performance Sunday was as good as any in Seahawks history, as Schneider quickly notes Seattle had a net plus of 14.8 yards per punt Sunday (and the Seahawks and Broncos each had six punts, making for an apples-to-apples comparison.)
And Denver, Schneider notes with amazement, “had a net of 42.7 (yards).’’
That would have ranked ninth last year in the NFL for a full season.
But Seattle’s net of 57.5 yards — the second best for any game in NFL history in which a punter had more than four punts — put that to shame.
“That’s the biggest (difference) I’ve ever seen,’’ Schneider said of Seattle’s 15 yards advantage per punt.
Schneider, who has been Seattle’s special-teams coach since 2010, said he couldn’t think of any other game that has come close.
“You look at it and you are punting from your own 20 and the defense takes over at the 10 and you punt from your 25 and they take over at the 6 — those two punts right there just totally flip the field,’’ Schneider said. “And then he downs one at the 2 and one at the 11. That’s the whole goal in any kind of special-teams situations is you want to make a long field for the defense, and he definitely did that.’’
It also didn’t escape the attention of Seattle coaches that each of Denver’s three touchdown drives followed touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Broncos got a lone field goal out of the six possessions that followed Seattle punts — Denver punted on the other five.
Even thought Sunday marked Dickson’s first NFL game, it hardly caught the Seattle coaches by surprise.
They became enamored of him during the process of scouting for the 2018 draft, in which they ultimately made a trade with Denver to move up to take him in the fifth round.
“He’s just a really mature, talented kid,’’ said Schneider of Dickson, who grew up in Sydney, Australia, playing Australian Rules Football before famously deciding to try punting instead and landing at Texas, where he spent three years and last season won the Ray Guy Award as the best punter in college football. That accolade led to Dickson deciding to leave school with a year of eligibility left, a rarity for a punter.
The Seahawks were hardly alone in scouting Dickson, and Schneider had lots of company when he attended Dickson’s Pro Day in Austin in late March — reports at the time stated all 32 teams had representatives there.
But Schneider left Austin convinced the Seahawks had to draft him.
More than Dickson’s punting, what Schneider said impressed him was “the person.’’
As Schneider recalls it, a thunderstorm hit the area and it was unclear if Dickson would hold his Pro Day in Texas’ indoor bubble or outdoors.
Schneider said Dickson conducted initial workouts indoors just to show the scouts who were there something, anything.
“He was punting into the wall,’’ Schneider said. “He must have punted 200 balls just right into the wall.’’
Schneider said two minutes before it had been determined Dickson would do some full punts in the indoor center it cleared up just enough that he could go outside.
“It’s raining and he just kills the workout,’’ Schneider said. “Just to see him go through that process and not be affected by that, a lot of guys would have been affected by a lot of circumstances, but he just went right through it. You knew he was pretty special outside of punting from that right there.’’
Which Dickson proved anew Sunday.
Now the question is if there is anything anyone can do to defend Dickson.
No doubt he was aided by Denver’s 5,280 elevation Sunday, so punts averaging close to 60 yards every Sunday aren’t realistic.
Conversely, there’s only so many ways opponents can defend a punter.
“He has a lot of different punts and he hasn’t shown all of them, and situations will come up where he will use different things,’’ Schneider said. “But really you have to defend the whole field for him and what he does is really a nice job of controlling returns, that’s what you really look at.’’
Among a lot other things.