What is a Punt in Football?

what is a punt in football

HA football punt typically occurs during the 4th down for the offense. This punt happens because the offense could not get a first down (or score) in their first three downs, and they are too far away to attempt a field goal kick. While teams can attempt a first down (or score) on 4th down, it is risky, so teams instead punt the ball far away from the line of scrimmage. The idea behind the punt is to place the ball far away from their endzone for the opposing team to start that drive at. A successful punt is one that lands as close to the other endzone, like the one-yard line.


So, why do punts occur during a football game? Who kicks the punt on the football team? What happens when the punt hits the ground? What does special teams do during the punt? Finally, is there any strategy behind kicking the punt?


Here is the complete breakdown to what a punt is in football.


Why Does a Punt Occur in Football?

Why Does a Punt Occur in Football

A football punt typically occurs during the 4th down for the offense when they could not achieve a first down on their first three attempts and are out of field goal range for their kicker. However, a team can technically punt the ball on any down, but that wouldn’t make sense.


For example, a team might be on their 35-yard line and need to get to the 45-yard line to achieve a first down since they need 10 yards. After the third down, the offense has only moved up four yards, so they need another six yards to get the first down. If the offense attempts to go for the six yards and doesn’t make it, the defense now takes over on offense with excellent field position close to the touchdown area on the field.


Who Kicks the Ball on a Football Team?

who kicks the ball on a football team

The punter is the person on the team whose job it is to kick the ball down the field to the receiving team. During this fourth-down formation at the line of scrimmage, the punter stands 15 yards back (if possible) to receive the ball from the long snapper and kicks it down the field. However, there are times where the kicker can’t stand 15 yards back.


An example of when a punter can’t stand 15 yards back from the long snapper is if the offense is close to their own end zone. For instance, special teams on their own three-yard line don’t have much space to work with via a snap and kick, so the punter can only go back as far as the out-of-bounds line.


What Happens When the Ball Hits the Ground from a Punt?

What Happens When the Ball Hits the Ground from a Punt

When the ball hits the ground, the punt play is still active. However, if the ball hits the ground in the end zone, then it is an automatic touchback. If the ball bounces on the ground and rolls out of bounds, the refs need to place the ball roughly where it rolled out of bounds for the offensive team to take over.


If the punting team touches the ball first, then that is where the offense will start their offense drive. That is why you will see special teams players on defense allow the ball to roll as close to the end zone before touching it.


What Can the Special Teams Do When They Kick?

what can the special teams do when they kick

The team kicking the ball has three main objectives to complete:


  1. They need to snap the ball perfectly to the kicker and hold back the defensive football players trying to get to the punter to block the kick.
  2. The punter needs to catch the ball and kick it down the field to the receiving team.
  3. The line needs to crash the receiver to stop them from returning the ball for a touchdown. If the line can create a fumble via a hard hit and recovers it, the kicking team goes back on offense.


What Can the Special Teams Defense Do When They Receive the Kick?

what can the special teams defense do when they receive the kick

The defense has three things to worry about during a punt:


  1. They want to block the punt from the punting team to give their offense excellent field possession or return the blocked punt for a touchdown.
  2. The defense needs to have someone in the backfield ready to catch and run with the ball downfield if there is an open lane.
  3. Teams need to have a good field perception of where the football is going and know when to call a fair catch or let the ball bounce on the ground before touching it.


Why Does Field Perception Matter for the Receiving Team?

Field perception is something casual fans might overlook, but there are instances where a returning team will elect not to catch the football from a punt. For example, a ball might hit the ground and start rolling towards the end zone. If the returning team can let that ball get into the end zone without touching it, they start their offense on the 25-yard line via a touchback.

​What is the Punt Returners Role?

what is the punt returners role

The punt returner’s role is to catch (or not catch the ball if it makes sense) and return the ball to gain as much yardage as possible to set their offense up with better field position. A punt returner can also elect a fair catch if they sense the opposing team will hit them hard the moment they catch the ball. If a receiver wants to elect a fair catch, they need to wave their hand to signal not running the ball back.


Is there Strategy Behind the Football Punt?

Is there Strategy Behind the Football Punt

Good punters focus on hang time and placement when they kick the ball. For hang time, punters will attempt to kick the ball high in the air to give their defense a chance to run down the field and force a fair catch from the receiver. The kicking team does not want the punt returner to catch the ball and run it back to the end zone for a touchdown, so getting the receiver to call a fair catch would be a win.


Placement is also critical for any punter on a football team. Kicking the football far down the field is not always the best option since that can result in a touchback. Instead, punters try and get the ball as close to their opponent’s end zone / goal-line without going into the end zone to give the new offense team terrible field position.


What is the Longest Hang Time for a Punt?

The longest hang time for a punt came from Pat McAfee.


What is the Longest Punt in NFL History?

The longest NFL punt took place in 1969 with the New York Jets vs. the Denver Broncos. The Jet’s kicker, Steve O’Neal, launched the kick 98 yards with the help of a bounce towards the opponent’s end zone.


What is the Longest Punt in College Football?

The longest punt in college football history came in 1950 by Pat Brady at 99 yards.


Are there Any Punters in the NFL Hall of Fame?

There is only one punter in the hall of fame, and that is Ray Guy. Ray Guy was an Oakland Raider punter his entire career and got into the hall of fame in 2014.


Can you Run a Fake Punt Play?

Football teams can run a fake punt play, which is rare. You might see the kicker getting ready to kick the ball during a fake punt play, but then make a run for the first down marker. Since teams assume that a kick is going to occur, some defenders might start running back to protect their punt returner, which will create a lane for the punter to run.


Other times, you might see the snap go to a different player than the kicker, which throws off the receiving team. The Kansas City Chiefs ultimately tricked the Atlanta Falcons on this play, which resulted in a touchdown. Talk about a complete momentum swing in a matter of a few seconds.


What is a Dropkick in Football?

What is a Dropkick in Football

A dropkick in football is incredibly rare, but it did happen with the New England Patriots in 2006. After a touchdown, Doug Flutie made a successful dropkick through the field goal posts, which gave the Patriots one point.


Conclusion: What is a Punt in Football?

In summary, a punt in football is a strategic move to send the football far away from your end zone. A good point either has a long hang time, or it lands as close to the other endzone as possible. 


While a team can run a fake punt play to deceive the returning team, most won’t. 


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