Using a draft pick on a punter is blasphemy to many in Raider Nation. Even using a late-round compensatory pick, the notion of using a selection on a boot specialist makes some Raiders fans projectile vomit.
In fact, a big portion of the football following world looks down upon a punter. Face it, they get dismissed faster than the junk mail that arrives in your mailbox or the spam that lands in your email filter.
Fortunately, Jon Gruden is of the opposition notion. The Raiders head coach plucked a strong-legged punter out of collegiate eligibles in Florida’s Johnny Townsend in the fifth round (173rd overall)
“We are happy he was there,” Gruden beamed. “He was our guy, I think, from the beginning. He’s an excellent directional punter. He has a strong leg. He’s an excellent punter. He can handle a bad snap and he’s a great kid. He’s an outstanding athlete, so we’re happy to have him.”
Oh, but Gruden wasn’t done there. Listen up:
“When you talk about punters, no one really looks into what kind of holders they are,” Gruden preached. “The holder is as important to the operation of a field goal than almost the kick itself. This man can put the ball down, he can field a bad snap. He can handle a bad snap and he’s a great kid.”
Want to know how I knew very early Marquette King was not long for the Raiders roster? When Gruden specifically mentioned the hold as a big reason for Giorgio Tavecchio’s missed field goals.
Now, Townsend is slated to be Johnny-on-the-spot in the kicking game. And that’s why he’s the top rookie on my Ray-dar.
Wait, not Kolton Miller, PJ Hall or Maurice Hurst, you ask? Not Arden Key or Brandon Parker?
Unlike his neophyte brethren, Townsend’s snaps and opportunities will be fairly limited. He’s not going to be on the field participating in a 10-plus play drive. He’s not afforded the same opportunity to learn and correct his course from one continuous snap to the next.
Yet, Townsend is going to impact the game with both his hands and foot. One botched hold or one shanked punt can have terrible consequences. But a sound hold or a coffin corner punt can have a resounding effect.
Still trivialized by the position?
Double Stabilization: Gruden made it clear the Raiders needed to give pass rusher Khalil Mack help inside and Oakland double-dipped with Hall and Hurst. The Raiders boss called the duo the best inside rushers in the draft.
Key-Word: Gruden also didn’t mince words about the lack of edge rushing components on the Raiders defense. Hence the selection of Key. The third rusher is in the building — potentially.
“You’ve got to have at least three guys that can get after the quarterback because you win games with your fourth-quarter pass rush,” Gruden said. “You work 57 minutes to get a lead, and your fourth-quarter pass rush has to close the door down. So, we think Key can be one of those guys at the end of games.”
Wisdom Teeth: Experience matters greatly to Gruden. If he had his drudgers, Raider greats from the past would be on hand to regale the rooks on their legendary exploits in Silver & Black. “We’re going to try to get (Ted) Hendricks and a lot of the ex-Raider greats to come around,” Gruden said. “We had an outing a couple of weeks ago. We got to see Lester Hayes and Jim Plunkett, (Daryle) Lamonica, some of my favorite Raiders. It is very important, I think, for our young players.”