I want to preface this article by saying I am in no way a statistician, merely a curious football fan.
In the middle of a game, an injured long snapper can spell out ‘doomsday’ in bold letters more so than an injured quarterback can. The reason being that snapping a football 15 yards is such a specialized talent that it deserves its own roster spot, but is also so simultaneously unimportant that teams never carry a backup. Weird, isn’t it?
Well, that train of thought led to the question, “Does an injured long snapper effect the performance of special teams as well?” And determining that answer is a lot more convoluted than one might think.
First, ‘long snapper’ is not treated like a position on most statistical databases, who are more likely to list them as a center, tight end, or linebacker. So to find a long snapper, you would have to search those positions for players that play in all 16 games, never started, and never accumulated any stats, and then, double check. Luckily, Pro-football-reference.com has a search engine that makes that much easier.
Second, you have to find instances where the long snapper was with the team for at least three years with the injured year lying in the middle. That way you have the sample you’re looking at, a base and end to see whether or not poor performance is regression.
Third, you have to look at the punters. They rack up the majority of the stats and their performance is normally very reflective of the special teams in general.
Fourth and final, you have to consider all the possible variables and realize there’s no possible way to say whether or not an injured long snapper hurts a team with 100 percent certainty. There’s everything from weather to punters purposefully kicking shorter punts because their coverage team sucks that could have an effect on the statistics that can’t really be accounted for.
Now that all that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at three instances of a long snapper getting hurt.
Our first occurrence comes in 2002 in the form of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ punter Josh Miller and long snapper Mike Schneck. Schneck missed four games between Week 2 and Week 8 (Steelers had a bye during Week 3). These are Miller’s stats in his three-year period.
|Josh Miller||Punts||Avg||Yards||Touchbacks||Inside the 20||Return Att||Return Yards||Avg||Net|
|2002 During Injury||12||43.3||519||1||1||9||91||10.1||35.7|
|2002 No Injury||43||41.5||1784||4||14||19||255||13.4||35.6|
The only difference that can be seen is that Miller had a harder time pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line during Schneck’s injury, but that could be easily explained by him having to punt from deeper in his own territory a great deal. And unless you read through the play-by-play for all of those games, that in of itself is hard to state.
For this next one, I may have violated my own set of rules, but that’s just because of how hard it is to find when long snappers who have been hurt. So, I went with Dustin Colquitt’s rookie year when Chiefs’ long snapper Kendall Gammon went down after Week 10.
|Dustin Colquitt||Punts||Avg||Yards||Touchbacks||Inside the 20||Return Att||Yards||Avg||Net|
|2005 Before Injury||43||40.5||1743||4||18||16||160||10||36.8|
|2005 After Injury||22||37.3||821||1||9||7||19||2.7||36.5|
Colquitt’s average punt distance dropped slightly, but that’s pretty negligible. What is interesting, however, is how much the return yardage dropped off after the injury. More of a situational anomaly, I’m sure, but it’s worth pointing out.
|Sam Koch||Punts||Avg||Yards||Touchbacks||Inside the 20||Return Att||Yards||Avg||Net|
|2014 Before Injury||21||47.5||998||2||10||9||78||8.7||43.8|
|2014 After Injury||39||47.3||1843||2||16||14||88||6.3||45|
Here, we see something we saw earlier with Miller. Koch seems to have a harder time pinning punts inside the 20-yard line after Cox got hurt. But it’s also the same counter-argument as Miller, he could just be punting deeper inside his own territory. Other than that, nothing noticeable seems to change.
Based on the surface data, one could conclude that a hurt long snapper might have some effect on directional punting. But this is a very small sample of data to say for sure. More information could be found from analyzing game film than statistics. There are too many variables that statistics can’t account for or measure like a bad snap or weather conditions. But there is one thing you can say about a long snapper getting injured, it doesn’t affect anything so egregiously that it shows up in the statistics of special teams.