In recent weeks, punter Shane Lechler announced his retirement from the NFL. Lechler, who punted for 18 seasons for the Raiders and Texans, did not play in 2018.
After coming out of Texas A&M, Lechler was selected with the 142nd overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Raiders. Over the course of 13 years in Oakland, Lechler launched 1,014 punts. While in Oakland, Lechler was a six-time All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler. Despite not being as historically dominant as a Texan, Lechler improved upon his NFL-record for most yards per punt.
At any given point in NFL history, very few individuals can be considered the GOAT at their position. In the 21st century, only a handful of players have been even in the consideration as being the best of their position. While the likes of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski/Tony Gonzalez, and Adam Vinatieri/Justin Tucker are heavily publicized, Lechler has gone under the radar as an all-time great player. Over the course of his career, only Jeff Feagles had more punts or more yards. Lechler is the NFL’s all-time leader in yards per punt, and he breathed life into a new age of punters.
The golden age of punting, led by the likes of Johnny Hekker, Michael Dickson, Brett Kern, and Sam Koch hail from the dominant game of Lechler. Lechler weaponized the punt all while diluting the effects of the NFL’s best return men. In a particular game against the Chicago Bears and Devin Hester, the return man GOAT in his own right, Lechler pinned Hester into impossible predicaments and was able to drive the ball over the head of Hester on multiple occasions.
With the new age of punters, one of the NFL combine’s showcase events, the 40-yard dash, has become largely irrelevant from a football perspective. With the likes of Lechler consistently driving the ball 50 yards in the air on punts, the previous standard of 40-yard runs has become outdated. While the 40-yard dash will persist, the history behind it has slowly disappeared since Lechler was drafted.
Lechler may not have the team achievements of punting legend Ray Guy, but Lechler took punting to new heights and enabled the glory of 21st century punting. Without three Super Bowl rings, Lechler may not be considered the greatest punter of all time like Guy has been, but Lechler did the most to change the way the punt works in the modern NFL.
Punting has little in the way of glamour, but Lechler played a major role in weaponizing punting and increasing the importance of field position in the modern NFL.
Thank you, Shane.