I was answering the final few questions from viewers on my weekly solo podcast, Steelers Friday Night Six Pack, last Friday night, when I got this one from Steelers Fan36 regarding BTSC senior editor, Jeff Hartman, and his opinion of punter Jordan Berry:
“Tony why is Jeff Hartman such a hater on Jordan Berry when he hasn’t ever played football in his life. Can you tell him he’s a loser jag***.”
Not the most coherent of comments from Steelers Fan36, my Friday night show doesn’t usually finish up until almost 10 p.m. EST—if you know what I mean. But he hit the nail on the head with regards to Jeff and his disdain for Berry, who has been the Steelers punter since 2015, save for his five-game hiatus from the team at the beginning of the 2020 season, when Dustin Colquitt failed miserably in his attempt to take Berry’s place.
Jeff doesn’t care much for Berry’s punting attributes. Then again, who does among Steelers fans? I think I started wondering when Berry would be relieved of his duties as far back as the 2016 training camp. I know a lot of fans who think Berry is the worst punter since sliced bread (and bread doesn’t even have legs).
Which 2021 draft pick are the faithful more excited about seeing this summer at training camp and the preseason: running back Najee Harris, the first-round pick from Alabama, or punter Pressley Harvin III, the seventh-round pick from Georgia Tech, the winner of the 2020 Ray Guy Award, the kid who will finally save Steelers fans from the worst punter in the league?
It’s probably Harris, but it’s close.
The only problem is, Berry isn’t the worst punter in the NFL. I did some research on Berry’s past few years, thanks to the site, The Football Database, and was actually a little surprised.
While Berry did struggle a bit in 2017 and 2018—he averaged a combined 43.4 gross yards per punt and 39.3 net yards per punt over those two seasons (ranking near the bottom of the league in both categories)—his next two seasons were actually much better.
In 2019, Berry averaged 45.5 gross yards per punt, which ranked 16th in the NFL, and 40.9 net yards per punt, a number that also placed him smack-dab in the middle of the pack. A season ago, Berry averaged 45.8 gross yards per punt, good enough for 15th in the league, and 40.5 net yards per punt, which was also the 15th best average in the NFL.
I was also pleasantly surprised with Berry’s ability to down punts inside the 20, at least a season ago, when he tied for the sixth-most in the league with 23—that number would likely have been even higher if he was employed by the Steelers for the entire season and not just the final 11 games.
So, what’s my point with all of this? Just that Berry isn’t a totally horrible punter. He’s not the worst one since sliced bread. Perhaps, our groupthink has gotten the best of us, and we’ve gone a bit overboard with our negative opinion of him.
Having said all that, however, middle of the road is not the best. Mediocre isn’t where you want to be at any position in the NFL. Sure, you might not notice mediocrity at punter as much as you would at, say, quarterback, but that doesn't mean you shouldn’t try to get better.
This is where Harvin and his 48-yard average a season ago could come into play if he proves to be the real deal and a superior punter to Mr. Berry. Special teams are often the forgotten third unit when talking about a team’s prospects for an upcoming season. But Steelers fans should know as well as anyone that a few breakdowns in coverage, punting or placekicking over the course of a season can often be the difference between a team making the playoffs and watching them from home.
In conclusion, while the negative opinions of Jordan Berry may be a bit irrational and over the top, this does not mean there isn’t room for improvement when it comes to who’s punting the football for the Pittsburgh Steelers.