06 Jun 2023
At Puntalytics, we pride ourselves on our metrics, so before we get into the film, let’s talk about the stats.
In 2022 Zentner finished with an overall pEPA of 0.15, good for 22nd in the FBS and 5th among draft-eligible punters (behind MSU’s Bryce Baringer, Rutgers’ Adam Korsak, Miami’s Lou Hedley, and Oklahoma’s Michael Turk). Zenter posted an open-field score of 0.18 (5th), and a pin-deep score of 0.09 (3rd, ahead of Turk and Baringer). In addition to punting, he also handled kick-off duties, and was a successful placekicker for Kansas State. But you didn’t come here for the kickalytics.
Our benchmark for draftable punters is at least one season with a pEPA above .25 + at most 25 years old. Though Zentner did not earn a draftable grade from us, he made sense as a priority UDFA. Since 2016, Lions’ punter Jack Fox (max pEPA 0.16), Jaguars’ punter Logan Cooke (max pEPA 0.18), and Raiders’ punter A.J Cole III (max pEPA 0.20) are notable examples of punters who did not meet our college thresholds but have gone on to have successful NFL careers.
Zentner’s A+ punts are as good as anyones. Take a look at this punt (fwiw these are time-stamped links):
Zentner hits a rocket from his own 31, the returner thinks it’s a guaranteed touchback, but the punt bounces straight up at the 10 yard line, right into the hands of the coverage team. It goes in as a 66 yard net, downed at the 2. Even if the returner had judged it well, he likely would have called for a fair catch at the 10, and Zentner would have been credited with a 58 yard fair catch.
Now check out this one:
Zentner hits another beauty. This one bounces inside the five and outside the numbers (no returner, college or pros, is touching that) and rolls out of bounds at the 4, for a net of 61 yards.
If there is one single punt from Zentner that convinces me that he can make it in the NFL it is this one:
Lined up on his own left hash and facing a punt rush from the Baylor coverage team, Zentner gets the punt off in under 2 seconds (1.9s is the NFL benchmark for operation time). He hits this one from left hash to the right sideline, moving the returner, who has no choice but to call for a fair catch at the 13. This one goes in as a 48 yard fair catch from own 39 to the opposing 13. No Zentner highlight reel is going to show off this punt, but here he shows NFL caliber combination of operation time, sideline control, distance, and hangtime.
The first two punts show off elite results; this third one showcases a terrific process.
Most of Zentner’s punts don’t look like those above. To be fair to Zentner, that is true of every college punter this year except maybe Bryce Baringer. Zentner’s average punt looks something more like this:
Backed up and facing a Texas rush, Zentner gets off a 41 yard fair catch. He isn’t out-kicking his coverage, and he controls the sideline, but you’d love to see more leg strength. Eagles fans, if this looks familiar, it’s because this is what we call the Aryn Siposs special. A below average, open-field, fair-catch. No one is mad about this punt, but in 2023, NFL punters should be adding 7 to 15 yards to that without sacrificing hangtime.
Zentner also has a lot of punts that look like this one:
There’s nothing bad about this punt, he gets it off quick enough, and boots it with enough hangtime for it to be fair caught at the 17. Here’s the thing, in the NFL (and in college) this is a below average punt. When punting from beyond your 40, the average result is pinning teams at their 10. Chasing those extra yards is well worth the penalty of a touchback. Don’t believe us? Check this out. We know that this might go against old-school punting philosophy, but punters have evolved. Pin deep punts should lead to possessions that begin inside the 10.
Zentner’s middle tier of punts remind us a lot of Siposs. He has great endzone and return control (4 touchbacks on 27 pin deep attempts and only 7 returns of greater than 1 yard on 65 punts) with questions about punt-to-punt leg strength.
Zentner’s worst punts are bad, and there are a worrisome amount of them.
On numerous occasions, Zentner hits a punt that looks like this:
Or like this:
On both of these punts, the ball bounces way in front of the returner, back towards Zentner. These punts might play well in pin-deep territory, but in the open field, both of these are well below average, resulting in nets below 40 yards. In 2022, Zentner had 12 of his 36 open-field punts net fewer than 40 yards, compared to 4/39 for Bryce Baringer or 6/34 for Brad Robbins (in 2021).
The bottom line: Zentner’s highs are outrageously high, but his lows are worrisome. He will need to improve his consistency, and add a few yards to his baseline punt without sacrificing hangtime or placement. He will also need to improve his sideline control, as NFL returners will be less forgiving of down the middle punts. He definitely has a shot, and to us he was the best UDFA bet in the 2023 class. After all, he has already gotten further in the NFL than our 2022 darling, Race Porter.