Picking through the wreckage of a once-promising 7-9 season is never enjoyable.
Nonetheless, as I’ve had a few days to ponder the 2018 Washington Redskins, I’ve unearthed one additional, glaring indignity. And I’m not even talking about the awful non-call that almost certainly cost the Redskins the Texans game. Instead, I mean the injustice of the postseason honors snub for Redskins punter Tress Way.
This year, Way led the NFL with 41 punts inside the 20 (PITT). While leading the league in that category is worth some small measure of celebration on its own, even more impressive is the fact that Way pulled this off without a single touchback all season.
The NFL has been tracking PITT and touchbacks since 1991. Tress Way is the only player in NFL history to lead the league in punts inside the 20 without having a single touchback all season. In fact, no punter has ever finished in the top five in PITT and gone through a season touchback-free, much less led the league.
The only player who really came close was the Rams’ Johnny Hekker in 2016. Not only did Hekker log an NFL-record 51 PITT, but he only had one touchback all season. Even that is an outlier, though: Of the previous eleven years’ worth of PITT leaders prior to Way, including Hekker twice, the average number of touchbacks was a robust 6.2. Only Hekker had fewer than three.
The difference is that Hekker—rightfully—earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro accolades for his amazing season.
Not so for Way, whose greatness went unrecognized. He didn’t even make second-team All-Pro. He won’t be going to the Pro Bowl, either. This, despite the fact that he did something that has eluded every NFL punter in recorded history.
Michael Dickson (Seahawks) and Brett Kern (Titans) are this year’s Pro Bowl picks. Dickson was the AP’s first-team All-Pro, while Hekker was second-team. By way of comparison, here are the key stats for Way, Dickson, Kern, and Hekker:
Way - 41.5 NetAvg / 41 PITT / 0 TB
Dickson - 42.5 / 28 / 5
Kern - 41.7 / 39 / 3
Hekker - 43.0 / 21 / 2
The only statistical advantage these other players have over Way is a slight edge in net average. But even Hekker, the best of the four, was only 1.5 yards better than Way. First-team All-Pro Dickson beat Way by one little yard, and was far short of Way in the other categories. And it wasn’t as if Way were bad in this regard: His 41.5 average was still good for ninth in the league this season.
I know what you’re thinking. “Ah, but what about the [fairly meaningless] gross average figure? I bet Dickson and company blow Way out of the water.”
Not really. None of them led the league. Andy Lee of the Cardinals—who got a lot of practice this year—took that title. Way was only a yard behind Hekker and 1.8 behind Kern. Again, though, this category isn’t as relevant as the others mentioned above.
The fact that Way topped the NFL in PITT while also having no touchbacks means he, with help from his Redskins’ punt coverage teammates, was the most effective punter in the league, which is what should matter most.
Unfortunately, Way’s unprecedented achievement wasn’t enough to overcome the reputational value of his peers.
He deserved better.