What Is A Punt In Football? Terminology

A punt in football is a play in which a player drop kicks the ball down the field in order to force the opposing team to start with the ball on their end of the field.

Punts usually take place on fourth down, this is because a failed fourth-down attempt results in the opposing team assuming possession of the ball at your location.

When a team fails to get a single first down and punts the ball this is called a three and out.

By punting the ball down the field the punting team can ensure the opposing team will start their possession much further from the endzone. This makes it considerably more difficult for the opposing team to score.

What Does A Punt Look Like?

Okay now we know what a punt is let’s break down what a punting play looks like in football.

To start the punting play the ball will be snapped by the long snapper into the punter’s hands. The punter will then drop kick the ball down the field. The purpose of this kick is to push the opposing team as far back into their side of the field as they can.

The punt receiving team will have a designated punt returner waiting for the punt.

This player will attempt to catch the ball and return it back to the punting team. It is up to the punting team to tackle the punt returner to stop his progression.

As we stated earlier the point of this play is to worsen the receiving teams starting point for their next drive. In other words, you want the opposing team to have to drive as many yards as possible before they score.

There are four ways in which the location of the team’s next drive is determined by a punt.

Punting Out Of Bounds

If a punted ball goes out of bounds the receiving team will have no chance to return the ball. Wherever the ball crosses the sideline is where the receiving team will start their next drive.

This can be seen as a negative or a positive depending on where the ball goes out of bounds. Punting out of bounds within the opponent’s five-yard line is an incredible feat and is referred to as a coffin corner.

Punting out of bounds by accident on a short punt is considered very costly and does not benefit your team very much. Though a punt out of bounds will always ensure the returner does not have a chance to make a big play.

When a team has a great punt you may see Pat McAfee use the term for the brand to complement the punter.

Tackling The Returner

The second way in which the ball is downed on a punt is by tackling the returner. If the return man catches the ball and begins running towards the kicking team’s endzone the gunners will have to bring him down.

Wherever the punt returner is tackled or runs out of bounds is where the opponent will start their next drive.

Additionally, if the punt returner knows he is going to be tackled right away he has the opportunity to call for a fair catch. This means the opponents will start from the position the returner catches the ball.

A fair catch is signalled by the player waiving his hand in the air and will ensure that he does not receive a dangerous hit. Essentially the player will wave his hand to say “I am going to get tackled let’s stop the play”.

Punt Team Downing The Ball

On top of tackling the punter the team which punted the ball is able to catch the ball as well. Unfortunately catching your own punt does not mean you get the ball back.

Instead wherever the kicking team gets possession of the ball is where the opposing team starts. This allows players on the kicking team to grab the ball and down it before it reaches the end zone for a touchback.


A touchback is the final way in which a punt can be downed. A touchback occurs when a punt makes its way into or through the endzone. When a touchback occurs the receiving team will start with the ball at the twenty-yard line.

This is usually seen as a negative because if a punter places the ball in the endzone that means he could have placed it somewhere within the twenty-yard line. This is why punts inside the twenty yard line are a statistic kept for punters.

Why Teams Punt Instead Of Going For It?

The reason teams punt the ball instead of going for it on fourth down is because of field position. Often times fourth downs will take place on your side of the field. This means the opposing team has to get at most fifteen yards to be in field goal range.

In these sorts of situations, it is better to simply kick the ball down the field. As this forces your opponent to move the ball a much further distance if they want to score.

Do Punters Have Any Other Duties?

Though punters spend the vast majority of their time on the field punting the ball they do sometimes have some other jobs.

One job that is often done by punters is holding kicks and extra points. The player which catches the snap on field goals and holds it for the kicker is almost always the backup quarterback or the punter.

On some occasions, punters will also act as the kicker during kickoffs. Sometimes when a kicker gets older they are still able to make field goals yet do not have the power to consistently kick quality kick offs.

In these situations, the punter’s leg strength is used in order to take over this role and boot the ball down the field.

Punters also may be used on play fakes and will run or pass the ball on some occasions.

That is all on punts in football learn more with our article on pooch punting or the rules of blocked punts.

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