What Is a Punt In Football? Complete Guide

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: December 29, 2023

Punting in football is quite common. Teams will often punt when they need to change field positions to give their defense a chance to stop the other team. A punter is one of the most critical positions in football. What is a punt in football?

A punt in football is when the kicker holds the ball with 2 hands, releases it, and kicks the ball right before it hits the ground. The purpose of punting is to change the field position.

This article will show you why punting is essential and why you should not overlook the punter.

Punt In Football

Punt in football explained

In football, the punter and punting team will come onto the field on fourth down. The goal is to punt the football as far as possible to the return team, in order to change field position.

The punt team will line up on the line of scrimmage in punt formation and when the ball is snapped to the punter, they will block before running downfield. Once the punter punts the football, the punt team will try to tackle the returner once the receiving team catches the football.

On the defense, the lone punt returner will wait for the football to be kicked. The punt returner can choose to return the kick or wave for a fair catch. They can either catch the ball in the air or pick it up if it hits the ground.

It’s the punter’s job to make sure the returner doesn’t get a good return. If the punter takes too long to kick the football, the punt team could be a victim of a blocked punt. This means the defense gets their hands on the football and the punter goes to kick it.

How To Punt In Football

Punt in football

An effective punter is an important asset to any football team. A punter is so effective that they help the offense by flipping the field position on the opposing team.

Teams in the NFL, College, and even high school will typically have one person they’re going to designate as their punter. This person is responsible for kicking the ball as high and as far as possible in the air.

To punt a football, hold the ball with two hands in front of your midsection. Take two steps, drop the football, point your toe, and try to kick the football as high and as far as possible.

Below is an example of how to punt a ball properly.

The average punt in the NFL is 45 yards. That means that when a team lines up to punt the football, the field position will automatically change by 45 yards if there’s no return.

This is important because the closest to the endzone team has a better opportunity to score points. Teams that start their drive farther away from the end zones have a slight chance and opportunity to score points.

Field goal kickers are typically accurate, kicking from 45 yards. The punter is effective because it allows teams to not get in field goal range or touchdown range.

Keeping the opponents out of field goal range and out of the end zone for a touchdown is the main focus for the punter.

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Why Teams Punt Instead Of Going For It On 4th Down

Field position. Teams will choose to kick the ball solely because of field position, even on 4th and 1.

For example, if the team has the ball at the 50-yard line and is 4th and 1, they may choose to punt it rather than go for it.

The reasoning is that they can punt the football and pin the other team in their zone. From here, they can play defense in hopes of keeping the opponents pinned in their zone.

Keeping the ball on their half of the field will often help the offense score points if it can get the ball in the opponents’ territory.

Can You Punt On Any Down?

Yes. Although it’s common to punt on 4th down, teams may elect to punt on any down if they choose.

The reason teams choose to punt on 4th down is that 4th down is the last chance the offense has to get 10 yards or turn the ball over to the other team.

It’s beneficial to punt the football to the other team on 4th down if you’re not in the opponent’s territory. From here, you’ll gain field position and allow your defense to get a turnover or force the other team to punt the ball back to you.

Fake Punt

The fake punt is popular for teams that want to surprise the other team. Normally on fourth down, the offense will come off the field and the punt team will come on the field.

Fake punts work great in both American and Canadian football when teams are at midfield. This allows teams to not sacrifice as much field position, as opposed to being backed up in their own end zone.

One or two players may be involved in the fake punt. Coaches might have the punter run the football, or throw it to another player. In both cases, the team is trying to get a first down rather than trying to change field position with a punt.

Types Of Punts In Football

To date, two main types of punts are common in football. The traditional punt is featured in every football game with a special team punting play.

Drop Punt

The drop punt is the most common punt in football. This is traditionally what you see from a punter, as they try to kick a spiral punt and get the ball downfield as far as they can.

A successful punt will not allow for any return from the punt return team.

The NFL record for the longest punt was a drop punt by Steve O’Neal from the New York Jets.

Rugby Punt

The second type of punt is the rugby punt. This requires the kicker to start running as if they are faking the punt and kicking the football.

The rugby punt is common for teams that want to get speedy players down the field to cover the punt. This punt requires a kicker who can run and kick the ball simultaneously. It takes a special talent to kick a rugby punt effectively.

You will often see the rugby punt during college and high school football games. it allows teams to kick the ball or to fake punt the ball and throw it to a receiver.

Keep Learning

Special teams play a crucial role in football. The kicking team needs to be on their game because they don’t have many chances. One bad punt from the kicking team can lead to extra points for the other team.

It’s important both team’s punters practice every aspect from the spiral punt to the rugby punt. Punts that hits in bounds and go out of bounds are also ideal for punters because they don’t allow the return team a chance.

If you liked learning about punters and how the punt team works, we recommend you learn more from our Beginners Guide To Football below. Instantly increase your football IQ!

More special teams articles to help you learn:

Onside Kick In Football: Everything You Need To Know

How To Install A Kick Return Team

Assembling An Effective Punt Team

The Fair Catch Rule Explained

Why Do Players Take A Knee On Kickoff?

Fair Catch On a Kickoff Explained

Punting in football is one of the most important special teams throughout a game. A good punter can flip the field position and force the offense to drive the field’s length to score points.

However, a poor punter can give the opposing offense a shorter distance toward the end zone and field goal posts. When an opponent gets closer to your end, there’s a higher probability that they will score points.

Special teams are one-third of the game. Many fans and even players think that a good offense and a good defense win football games. While this is true in some parts, having an effective kicking and punting game allows teams to determine field position.

Poor field position can often lead to points for the other team, no matter how good your defense is.

If you’re a player or a coach, take pride in your special teams and reinforce how important special teams are. Teams that stress the importance of special teams will often win the third of the game that other teams often overlook.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.