The 2016 season for the Los Angeles Rams has been filled with new beginnings, controversies, quarterback changes and disappointment. However, there have been a few positives to take away from a rebuilding franchise. The run defense of the Rams remains one of the best in the NFL and the special teams have contributed in a major way.
The relocation to Los Angeles surely involved a lot of hoopla from the media, as a NFL team returned to the city for the first time in 21 seasons. With former head coach Jeff Fisher under center, the organization and the city expected positive results.
Alas, the Rams would go on to lose eight of their last nine games after starting the season 3-1, which ultimately cost Fisher his job and forced management to move on into a new situation. Although the offense hasn’t played up to par, the performance of the special teams has been a keen takeaway.
Punter Johnny Hekker has turned into one of the best punters this season, as the numbers would vouch for his performance. Coming into Week 15, Hekker was on path to set a NFL record in the contest on Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Through 13 games this season, Hekker had landed 40 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. While that might not stand out, the NFL record for that category was 46, by former Arizona Cardinals’ punter Dave Zastudil.
When asked about possibly surpassing the record, Hekker stated that the record snuck up on him even though he was aware of his production, via Myles Simmons of TheRams.com:
“I’ve said it before, but it really did creep up on us,” Hekker said Tuesday. “We didn’t really think about it. We definitely stay up to date on the numbers on the net [average] and everything, but the inside-the-20 thing was kind of a surprise when we looked at it and saw, ‘Oh damn, we’re at 40.’ And then notched another six on Sunday.”
After getting six in the performance in Week 14, Hekker had an opportunity to surpass the record during their contest at CenturyLink field, against the Seahawks. Fortunately for Hekker, that happened to be in his home state.
With his family in attendance, Hekker had an opportunity to pass the record, but was unfortunately able to do so. The offense wasn’t able to get many offensive drives going, which meant the 26-year-old wasn’t able to down one of his four punts that afternoon inside the 20-yard line.
Zastudil set the current record of 46 during the 2012 season. It should be noted that Zastudil led the NFL in punts that season, with 112 in total.
Of those 112, the 41.1 percent of punts were converted inside the 20-yard line. This season, Hekker has made 83 punts, with 46 falling inside the 20-yard line (55.4 percent).
Although the punter was looking forward to doing it in front of his family in Seattle, he couldn’t convert on his few opportunities.
With two games remaining in the NFL season, Hekker certainly seems on point to surpass the NFL record, with an improved percentage of conversions.
Week 16 has the Rams slated at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the San Francisco 49ers, so watch out for Hekker and his record-setting punt.