When the LA Rams waived long-time starting punter Johnny Hekker, the clock started ticking. Much like the team’s efforts to replace long-time place kicker Greg ‘The Leg’ Zuerlein, replacing someone as popular as Hekker is not going to be easy. There is the practical matter of conducting objective tryouts and practices. Then there are the subjective matters of how to value which aspect of a punter’s role.
Should hang time be the criteria? Should how far a punter can kick the football be the determining factor? What about coffin corner punts? What about accidentally punting it into the endzone for a touchback? Should punters be held accountable for how well opposing teams return the punt? And for heaven’s sake, how much emphasis should the coaching staff place on cleanly catching a long snap, spinning the football, setting it upright, and allowing the placekicker to kick a field goal?
And then there is that matter of seasoned veteran versus the potential of unbridled youthful potential. The LA Rams have historically aimed high for veterans, trying to acquire and retain the top player at key positions. For rotational roles, the front office has been content to work with younger players, coach them up into NBA starters, and then allow them to sign on with a new NFL team for as much as the NFL Free Agency market will bear.
But it gets tricky when dealing with a one-man position on special teams like the punter role.
Rams roster: Veteran vs. Rookie
The LA Rams signed veteran punter Riley Dixon to a one-year contract for insurance. Or was it a bit more? In terms of sheer volume, the LA Rams could not have added a more accomplished player. Dixon has punted 441 times in six NFL seasons. With an average of 60 punts per season, Dixon has approximately 7.5 seasons of experience. His punting average has been in a bit of decline since peaking at 46.1 yards per punt in 2019.
Of his 74 punts in 2021, he hit inside the opponent’s 20-yard line on 24 attempts, hit a fair catch on 15 attempts, and kicked in out of bounds (which is not penalized for punts) on 8 attempts. 28 punts were returned, for a total of 237 yards. Finally, he had eight touchbacks. He may not lead the NFL in punting, but he is consistent and dependable.
The LA Rams signed undrafted rookie punter Cameron Dicker after the 2022 NFL Draft. He is the higher reward-higher risk option, but when we say higher risk, we truly mean it in this case. The LA Rams want to make Dicker their punter, which automatically assigns him to hold the football in the case of kicking field goals. The problem? Because he was a placekicker in college, he never was assigned that role. So that is all new to him.
He has one full season of punting, but man, what a season. He punted 47 times for 2,200 yards total or an average of 46.8 yards. He generated 21 fair catches, punted 11 times inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and showed surprising touch with the football by punting just three touchbacks.
Dicker is so very promising that it’s hard to imagine him NOT making this roster.
And there is still the undrafted rookie Julian Diaz, who was brought in for two tryouts with the team. Just a ho-hum day at the office? Think again. The competition for LA Rams’ starting punter is going to be fierce and will go down to the wire.
Sit back and enjoy.