Johnny Hekker is due.
The Rams punter, maybe the best to ever drop a football onto his foot before kicking it a long way, isn’t due to hit a good punt. No, that happens basically every time he carries out his job. Hekker is due to throw a pass. He’s potentially the greatest fake-punt passer at his position ever, and yet he hasn’t thrown yet in 2020 through 10 weeks.
Hekker’s former special teams coach, John Fassel, told The Ringer in 2019 that Hekker would much rather throw than punt. So it’s coming, don’t you worry. And the former high-school quarterback very likely will complete the pass, too. Until then, he’ll just keep on setting a new standard for how good an NFL punter can be.
Is Johnny Hekker the best punter of all time?
Before we get into Hekker being maybe the best fake-punter of all time, it’s worth noting: He’s really good at the main part of his job description, too.
Let’s start with the Super Bowl in 2019, a low-scoring affair that only logically would feature a punter as one of its main stars. With his heels only feet from the back of his own end zone, Hekker unleashed a booming kick down the left sideline. It wasn’t caught, and it just kept on rolling. The punt went in the books as a 65-yarder, the longest in Super Bowl history.
That wasn’t a one-off for Hekker. He ranks second all-time in punting average midway through the 2020 season at 47.0 yards per punt, just behind Shane Lechler (47.6). Punting distance isn’t everything, of course, as sometimes punters want to pin the other time rather than crushing one. Hekker can do that, too, with 260 punts inside-the-20 in 137 career games entering Week 11 of 2020. That average of nearly two per game ranks just behind Dustin Colquitt as the second-best among punters all-time with at least 260 such pinned punts.
Hekker would need to play another 156 games in his career at his current pace to pass Jeff Feagles for most punts pinned inside-the-20 in league history. That’s not impossible for the 30-year old Hekker, essentially amounting to another decade in the NFL.
It’s hard to definitively answer who the best punter is because there are the variations in desired outcome from longest punt to most well-placed punt. But when you combine Hekker’s punt average and his ability to pin the other team, it seems fair to say that he’s the most well-rounded punter in NFL history (and that’s even before we get into his passing).
Johnny Hekker’s fake-punt passing
Hekker led his high school team to the state championship game in Washington state as a quarterback. The first six minutes of the highlight tape he sent to college coaches were of him playing QB, with only one minute of punting, according to The Ringer. But it was the punting that caught coaches’ eyes and led Hekker to Oregon State.
The transition into a full-time punter didn’t mean Hekker couldn’t throw anymore. He threw five passes with the Beavers and completed four of them, suggesting things to come in the NFL.
Hekker has thrown 22 passes in the NFL and completed 13 (59 percent). They’ve gone for a total of 184 yards and one touchdown, and he’s been intercepted once. Fake punt data isn’t easily accessible, but The Ringer wrote in 2019 that the whole league (aside from the Rams) attempts about five fake-punt passes by their punter in a season. Hekker averaged 2.75 passes per season himself from 2012 to 2019.
The Rams don’t always even try to disguise it anymore. On this play last year, Hekker moved up to take a snap from a de facto shotgun position before throwing a simple pass into the flat for a first down.
Hekker also just looks the part as a passer, able to step into a throw and deliver a clean spiral.
This has been such an occasional weapon in recent seasons that it’s almost more shocking that Hekker hasn’t yet attempted a pass in 2020 with the season more than halfway gone. The element of surprise is certainly gone these days with Hekker, and it’s not a bad first option to just boot the ball deeper than almost any other punter.
But it still is worth keeping in mind every time Hekker drops deep to receive a snap and punt: That’s not just a punter back there — Hekker is a passer, too.