The punter position has been successfully manned for the Cincinnati Bengals since drafting Kevin Huber out of University of Cincinnati in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. However, Huber had somewhat of a down year in 2016 with the least hang time among all NFL punters and is heading into a contract year in 2017. Huber is headed into his eighth year as the Bengals’ undisputed punter, but a significant challenge from a younger talent could change that streak.
In the week’s leading up to the NFL Draft, the Bengals met with Ohio State punter Cam Johnston, according to NFL Draft Diamonds. Johnston is one of the upcoming draft class’ top punter prospects. He has also met with the Eagles, Bills, Packers and Chargers. While he’s not expected to be drafted, Johnston will be a priority college free agent for teams in need of an upgrade or competition at punter.
Here are some of his 2016 accomplishments at OSU:
- Eddleman-Fields Big Ten Punter of the Year
- First Team All-Big Ten
- Ray Guy award finalist
- Second Team All-America by the Associated Press, Walter Camp, USA Today and The Sporting News
- Ohio State positioned 5th nationally and 1st in Big Ten in net punting
- Ohio State ranked 5th nationally and 1st in the Big Ten at 46.2 yards per punt
Trained in the art of Australian Rules Football, Johnston isn’t a traditional punter, but he put up solid performance after solid performance as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes. In college, he averaged 44.9 yards per punt (46.7 in 2016) and placed 109 punts within the 20-yard line, as opposed to only 14 touchbacks. His 86 career forced fair catches made it difficult for opponents to put together any semblance of a punt return attack.
While Johnston does have experience as a traditional punter, he will need to prove that he can consistently succeed in that style at the NFL level. He has performed so well to this point that he is still being considered one of the top punting prospects, but teams will be taking a bit of a risk on his style. In fact, his hang time, which never averaged more than four seconds in the last three seasons, is of particular concern. It is, therefore, strange the Bengals are looking at him to potentially compete with Huber, whose main issue in 2016 was hang time.
That said, Johnston performed well at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, backing up many teams’ belief that he can and will translate to the NFL level. If the Bengals were to pick him up, he would likely be brought in, as an undrafted free agent, to train with the team in the offseason and spend the 2017 season on the practice squad. It wouldn’t be until 2018 that he would have a legitimate chance at making the roster, and that’s if Huber isn’t re-signed before (or after) he hits free agency in March 2018.
Then again, Huber has had a solid run as the Bengals’ punter. Arguably, the only two punters who could be considered better, all time, are Lee Johnson and Pat McInally. Johnson was with the team for 11 years, while McInally was with the team for 10. Comparatively, if Huber were to be replaced after eight years, it would still be a solid career for one of the Bengals’ best punters throughout the history of the franchise. It is hard to say whether or not an unconventional punter like Johnston would be able to unseat Huber, especially if he returns to his Pro Bowl form in 2017 (he made the Pro Bowl in 2015).
It’s hard to see the Bengals moving on from Huber in the near future; that said, fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes will likely tell you if anyone can unseat him, it’s their guy.