Pat McAfee will be a nearly impossible player to truly replace for the Indianapolis Colts. It’s hard to find a guy who can be the best punter in the NFL, the best kickoff specialist in the NFL, and a very good field goal holder, but the Colts did find the guy who will take McAfee’s spot.
They signed Jeff Locke yesterday, the first signing the team made after the start of the new league year. So will Locke be the guy to replace McAfee in all three of those areas? Let’s take a look.
Jeff Locke has been the Vikings’ punter for the last four seasons, and he has averaged 43.2 yards per punt on 290 punts, with a net average of 38.8 yards per punt. He has had 101 punts pinned inside the 20 yard line, 17 touchbacks, only one punt blocked, and only one punt returned for a touchdown. Last year, Locke was tied for fifth in the NFL in punts pinned inside the 20 (34), but he also ranked 29th in punting average (42.6) and 25th in net average (39.0). He had perhaps the best year of his career in 2016, but he hasn’t been a great punter in the NFL. Nonetheless, he’ll be the Colts punter.
Locke also handled the field goal holding duties for the Vikings, and he did a solid job. Many will point to the infamous Blair Walsh miss in the 2015 playoffs as at least partly the fault of Locke, but that’s not really a fair representation of him as a holder. For the most part, it seems that Locke has been a fine field goal holder. Of course, there’s no real statistical measurement about field goal holding (the closest is field goal percentage, though that’s not always directly the result of the holder), but Locke seems to be a solid field goal holder and has done it for the past four years. The Colts could probably find someone else on the roster to do it if they really wanted to (like Scott Tolzien), but I’d be surprised if Locke isn’t the holder for Adam Vinatieri.
Here’s the thing that really has led to questions amongst Colts fans: will Jeff Locke be the kickoff specialist? This question is prompted by the fact that Locke didn’t handle the kickoff duties in Minnesota, kicking off just six times in his four seasons with the Vikings and just twice since his rookie year. But if Locke doesn’t kickoff with the Colts, what other options do they have? 1) have Adam Vinatieri do it; 2) Change kickers (which means cutting Vinatieri); or 3) carry three kickers on the roster. All three of those options are extremely far-fetched, which means that it’s almost certainly going to be Jeff Locke kicking off for the Colts. He hasn’t handled the kickoff duties regularly since his collegiate days at UCLA, where he was the kickoff guy for four years. In his senior season (2012), however, he recorded touchbacks on 68 of 89 kickoffs (76.4%). That’s a fine number, if he can keep it up with the Colts. And honestly, he should be able to keep that up, as he just needs to be able to boot the ball far enough to routinely get touchbacks.
So basically, to answer the question posed at the beginning: Jeff Locke will probably be filling all three of Pat McAfee’s on-field roles with the Colts, punting, kicking off, and holding for field goals. He likely won’t be as good as McAfee in any of those three areas, but that just goes to show once again how good McAfee truly was. The Colts now have McAfee’s replacement in-house, however, and Locke will likely see the expansive role that his predecessor did.