In most NFL cities, the punter is not a common household name, nor do many fans even know his name. And for most NFL teams, their punter wouldn't even come close to appearing on a list like this one that ranks the most important players for the upcoming season, much less crack the top ten of that list.
The Colts don't have just any punter, however, they have arguably the league's best, and Pat McAfee is a very important part of the Colts' success - an argument could even be made that he should be higher on this list, not lower.
McAfee has done a good job for the Colts over his first five years, but 2014 was a whole new level. McAfee made the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro at punter, being perhaps the best special teams player in football last year. In addition to breaking his own franchise record by pinning 30 punts inside the 20-yard line and setting his personal-best with 42.8 net average yards per punt, McAfee also led the NFL in touchbacks on kickoffs and led the league with three successful onside kick attempts - even recovering one himself. He notched three special teams tackles, and he also held for Adam Vinatieri's field goals and extra points - during a season in which Vinatieri also made the Pro Bowl and was named a first-team All-Pro. There's really no other way to say it but this: McAfee was as good and as valuable to his team as any special teams player in the NFL last year.
But why does he belong on this list counting down the 15 most important players for the Colts' 2015 season? After all, McAfee doesn't play as much as those who play offense or defense, and the punter is a player that you really don't want on the field as much. So why is McAfee really the tenth-most valuable player on our list?
While you don't want to see the punter on the field, the reality is that the punter will be on the field. Even the best batters in baseball are in the .300 range (or if they're really good, they might crack .400), and similarly in football even the best offenses don't score every time down the field. So you need a good punter, and McAfee is as good as there is in the NFL. Head coach Chuck Pagano will tell you that when a defense consistently has to go 80-yards down the field to score, the percentages are pretty low. McAfee brings that to the Colts. With his kickoffs, his consistent touchbacks mean that opposing teams start at the 20-yard line often, and he pinned 30 punts inside the 20-yard line last year. When opposing offenses take the field against the Colts' defense, they routinely have to travel further and that really helps the defense out significantly.
Furthermore, McAfee is as versatile as a special teams player can be. He can punt, he can kickoff, he can tackle, he can kick onside kicks, he can hold for field goals, he can kick field goals (though he hasn't tried yet in a regular season game), and he can even throw the ball (though his only attempt last year was dropped). McAfee is very involved and helps the Colts out in so many roles that, if he were to be injured, it would have a significant impact on the team.
In short, Pat McAfee is absolutely deserving of a spot on this list of the most important Colts players for the 2015 season, and if he keeps up his high level of play this season it will be huge for a team with huge expectations.
Past rankings on this list: 14th (2014), 10th (2013)
Check out our list counting down the 15 most important players to the Colts' success in 2015:
15. Jerrell Freeman, ILB
14. Greg Toler, CB
10. Pat McAfee, P