34-year-old punter Andy Lee has been a Carolina Panther for all of two games, and it is safe to say without hyperbole that he has already proven to be a million times better than Ray Guy and Reggie Roby combined.
Lee has launched seven punts in two weeks and his 53.6 yards per punt leads the NFL, per ESPN.
He also has the league’s longest punt with the 76-yarder be blasted in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos.
Of the seven punts Lee has attempted, three landed inside the 20, two were touchbacks, and two were fair caught. Only two of Lee’s punts have been returned, yielding 26 return yards.
Some things, like elite punters and beef jerky, only get better with age.
Lee's impressive raw stats are one thing, but let’s look deeper at how Carolina's new punter has influenced the Panthers games thus far.
Week 1 Loss at Denver
Lee punted four times against the Broncos and averaged a ridiculous 63.0 yards per punt.
The biggest impact punt came with 9:10 left in the third quarter with the Panthers leading 17-7. Carolina’s offense was held to a three-and-out and was forced to punt from their own 11, with Lee standing in the end zone.
Lee blasted a 76-yard punt (yes, there’s a punting highlight video at NFL.com!) over the head of return man Jordan Norwood and the ball bounced at the Denver 13. Norwood picked up the ball off the bounce and returned it for 11 yards, but the return was negated by a Denver holding penalty.
In the end, the Panthers punted from their own end zone and Denver took possession at their own 14 yard line. The Broncos went three-and-out and were then forced to punt from their own 15, and Lee’s huge punt flipped field position.
The Panthers may have lost this game, but flipping field position like this can and will put the Panthers defense in position to win throughout the year.
Week 2 Win vs San Francisco
One of the biggest plays of the game that I was unfortunately not able to recognize in my "Plays to Love, Plays to Hate" column was Lee’s clutch punt at the end of the first half.
With 1:13 left in the second quarter, the Panthers led 14-10 and their sluggish offense was forced to punt from the Carolina 49.
San Francisco’s offense had been building some momentum, and it was reasonable to assume they could tack on a field goal to close the half with a successful two-minute drill.
But Andy Lee’s golden leg prevented that from happening.
Lee dropped a beautiful kick that landed near the goal line and bounced straight up in the air. Daryl Worley covered the punt and easily caught the ball at the 2 yard line.
Instead of running a two-minute offense, the 49ers were pinned at their own end zone and went with three straight running plays that gained a total of four yards. Carolina had all three timeouts remaining and stopped the clock after each run. The 49ers were forced to punt from their own end zone with 53 seconds remaining.
Carolina’s offense got good field position and put together a quick drive that resulted in a field goal to end the half, pushing their lead to 17-10.
The field goal never happens without Andy Lee’s perfect punt.
What the Panthers Gave Up to Get Andy Lee
True, Carolina gave up a fourth round pick to the Cleveland Browns to acquire the three-time Pro Bowl punter, but so far Lee has been more than worth it.
Fourth round picks are hit-or-miss players who don’t normally impact games on a week-to-week basis like Lee will be able to do.
Over the last six years the Panthers have drafted seven players in the fourth round, and only Tre Boston is a regular contributor:
Panthers Fourth Round Picks, 2010-2015
2015 – Daryl Williams
2014 – Tre Boston
2013 – Edmund Kugbila
2012 – Frank Alexander, Joe Adams
2011 – Brandon Hogan
2010 – Eric Norwood
So far the Andy Lee trade is looking like a great value for the Panthers. Lee is 34 years old and signed through 2018, so Carolina should have this key special teams position locked up for at least the next three years.
Someone tell the Hall of Fame to clear some space next to the bust of Ray Guy.
Based on two games in Carolina, he’s going to Canton!