Shane Lechler’s simple approach led to the best punting average in NFL history.
The former Texas A&M All-American in 18 seasons with the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans averaged 47.6 yards. He retired after the 2017 season with the second-most punts (1,444) and punt yards (68,676) in NFL history.
“I think what allowed me to be good at it for so long is I was self-taught, no one taught me how to do it,” Lechler said. “So if I ever had an issue, I could figure it out, because I figured it out to begin with. There’s so many of these guys who go to all these camps all over the country and they become so robotic, that I can watch a guy punt in college and the NFL and pretty much tell you what camp he went to because of how his footwork is or how he stands.”
Lechler became so good, they studied him.
“His form and technique were pitch-perfect every single time,” former Indianapolis Colt punter Pat McAfee told NBC’s Peter King. “The ability to be that great for that long, 18 years, is not just a physical gift. You’ve got to work at it. So consistent, great every year, never hurt. In this game, it’s the work you do when no one is watching — the cerebral work, too. You could tell how much of that Shane did.”
Lechler got better with age. He averaged 45.8 yards in his 20s, 48.3 in his 30s and 48.4 in his 40s.
“Some people will say I didn’t have the best form, that’s for sure, but I made contact and my body was in the best position it could be in for a long time,” Lechler said.
Last month Lechler was named to the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team, joining New England quarterback Tom Brady as the lone repeater from the 2000s All-Decade Team.
“When I made the first one, I wouldn’t say I was young in my career, I was at about the halfway point [of my career],” Lechler said. “And to get that one, that was a giant honor because there were a lot of good punters at the time around the league. Then to get the award for the second decade, it just kind of reflected on my longevity in the league, being consistent with my numbers.”
Lechler will be eligible in 2023 for the NFL’s Hall of Fame, which has only one full-time punter, Ray Guy.
“Shane Lechler had a great career, one of the best punters in NFL history,” said Pro Football Talk’s Charean Williams, a Hall of Fame voter. “Some will argue Ray Guy was the best ever. Others, including Hall of Fame player personnel director Gil Brandt and former NFL punter Pat McAfee, would pick Lechler in the debate. There is no arguing Lechler and Guy — or Guy and Lechler — are the two best punters in NFL history. That’s why we voted them on the NFL’s Top-100 team, which, I believe, sealed Lechler’s Hall of Fame candidacy. He will go in . . . some day, likely the next Aggie in the Hall of Fame after Yale Lary.”
Lechler might not make it on the first ballot, but he won’t have to wait 22 years like Guy who retired in 1986 and was inducted in 2014.
“Lechler’s 47.1 average is the best in NFL history, but it’s his net average, as well as his touchback average, that will give some voters pause,” Williams said. “His 39.1 net will be a big topic of discussion, and whoever presents Shane will have to come armed with reasons to explain it.”
Lechler was a seven-time Pro Bowl section and led the league in punting four times, so he’ll eventually make it.
“Waiting does not dilute being a Hall of Famer,” Williams said. “Almost every Hall of Famer had to wait, some longer than others. Shane may have to wait a year or two or three, too, but he will have a bust in Canton at some point in the near future.”
Lechler wouldn’t be the first Aggie who punted in the NFL to make the NFL’s Hall of Fame. Lary was the NFL’s best punter from 1959-64 while playing for the Detroit Lions. He averaged 44.3 yards on 503 punts during an 11-year career, but he was more known for playing defensive back, getting 50 interceptions.
There will be another Aggie punting in the NFL next season after the New York Jets drafted Braden Mann in the sixth round. Mann, the only Aggie to win the Ray Guy Award, averaged an NCAA-record 51.0 yards as a junior. For his career, he averaged a school-record 48.9 yards on 109 attempts to best Drew Kaser (46.2) who was drafted by San Diego in the sixth round of the 2016 draft.
“There’s been a lot of us [punters] in a row that have made it to the league,” Lechler said. “Braden, he put up ungodly numbers and I actually had somebody ask me one day, ‘Are you going to go help Braden and teach him some things?’ I said, ‘No, no, he’s got it figured out.’ The only thing I would do is screw him up. He just needs to do what he’s been doing. He’s doing a fantastic job.”
Lechler gave have his phone number to Mann’s mother in case he has any NFL questions. Lechler’s two daughters play volleyball for Houston Skyline volleyball and Pam Mann is an assistant coach for the organization’s national 14-year-old team.
“I’m definitely not going to be his punting coach,” Lechler laughed. “But I told her if he has any questions about anything on how to handle anything in the NFL as far as getting an agent or talking about some of these different stadiums he’s going to punt in, now that he’s going to New York, how is he going to handle that wind in November, stuff like that, I’ll answer his phone call whenever he calls.”
He’s got time while he waits on Canton to call.
NOTES — Jeff Feagles who played from 1988-2009 is the NFL career leader in punts (1,713) and yards (71,211). ... Lechler said an added honor of making the NFL’s 2010s All-Decade Team was having Houston Texans’ defensive end J.J. Watt included.
“He’s a good friend of mine and that just made it even better,” Lechler said. ... Lechler for the past decade has been coaching one of his daughters’ softball teams but this season has been in limbo because of the coronavrius. ... Lechler was a multi-sport standout at East Bernard and his wife, the former Erin Gibson, was an All-American in volleyball at A&M.