The best player at his position in NFL history just retired and here’s why he’s bound for Canton

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One of the most decorated punters in NFL history, Shane Lechler, made his retirement official Friday. Former Colt Pat McAfee, the NFL’s punting champ in 2016, on what he learned from the man he calls the greatest punter of all time, Lechler:

“In college, at West Virginia, I basically was a rugby-style punter. That’s where you catch the snap, run to my right, punt it, and hope you get a good roll. It’s basically a rollout punt. The GM of the Colts, Bill Polian, thought I could be a standard NFL punter—he said I was athletic enough to figure it out—and so I worked at that. At the start of my second year, 2010, I got an iPad, and I started studying Shane. He was the best. [Lechler had led the league in average punting for five of the previous seven season.] I asked for film of him, and I studied every one of his punts. Every week, that’s the first thing I’d want to see.

“His form and technique were pitch-perfect every single time. The ability to be that great for that long, 18 years, is not just a physical gift. You’ve got to work at it. So consistent. Great every year. Never hurt. In this game, it’s the work you do when no one is watching—the cerebral work too. You could tell how much of that Shane did.

“He was a bomb-hitter. He was Big Papi. He was Babe Ruth. I heard he liked to drink beer, too, and I liked that. I figured, ‘This is probably the guy I should try to be.’ It was like year four, and it clicked for me. Like a pitcher finding a pitch. I’d see him before games when he got to Houston [in 2013], and I told him how I’d studied him. His film, really, was an asset I could craft my career out of. Him and Thomas Morstead—they’re the two guys I ended up learning the most from.

“Late in his career, Shane told me one time in warmups, ‘It’s your league now. I’m old now.’ Just a throwaway comment for him, but for me it was huge. It’s something I never forgot. Without him, I don’t know where my career would have been.”

I believe Shane Lechler is a Hall of Fame player, and not just because his 47.6-yard average over 18 seasons is the best yards-per-punt average in NFL history. What always impressed me about Lechler was his incredible consistency. To illustrate that, compare the six seasons in his twenties to his 10 seasons in his thirties to his two seasons in his forties.

Always ascending.

• Lechler’s punting average in his twenties: 45.78 yards per punt.
• Lechler’s punting average in his thirties: 48.31.
• Lechler’s punting average in his forties: 48.35.