GREEN BAY – JK Scott might not have the name recognition of Davante Adams or Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith, but the Packers’ second-year punter stands among his peers as it relates to the impact he’s made at his respective position this season.
Scott, the fifth-youngest player on Green Bay’s 53-man roster, entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick out of Alabama last year due to his leg strength and buildable 6-foot-6 frame.
However, the defining trait often overlooked in favor of his prototypical measurables is the moxie Scott has showcased this season, enabling him to harness his natural ability and get off to one of the best starts for a punter in franchise history.
On the strength of several critical punts this year, Scott currently ranks inside the top 10 in gross average (48.3 yards per punt), net average (44.1) and punts inside the 20-yard line (12). His 10 fair catches are second only to New England’s Jake Bailey (11), who already played a sixth game Thursday night.
The fast start has Scott on pace to shatter Tim Masthay’s eight-year-old franchise record for gross yards (45.6) and Justin Vogel’s mark for net average (41.6) from 2017.
While Scott humbly points to preparation and process as the keys to his success, those around the 22-year-old punter appreciate how vital he’s been to controlling field position and maintaining momentum during the Packers’ 4-1 start.
“JK is a weapon,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “I think he’s one of the underrated players on our football team that people don’t give enough credit for. For him to do what he does and to pin people back … it’s extremely important and vital.”
Scott has averaged at least 47.6 gross yards and 42.0 net in all four Green Bay victories this year, which have included several timely punts late in games.
In Week 1, with the Packers clinging to a 10-3 lead over Chicago, Scott pinned the Bears back at their own 14 with a soaring 63-yard punt with 1 minute, 33 seconds remaining.
The Packers’ defense used the field position to clamp down on Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on a four-and-out capped by a Preston Smith 11-yard sack.
The following week, Scott helped preserve a 21-16 win over Minnesota with three fourth-quarter punts between 47 and 59 yards. Late last Sunday, he boomed a 58-yarder against the Cowboys to push Dallas back to its own 17, down 10 with 3:33 remaining.
Scott currently has the third highest grade among punters, according to Pro Football Focus, with his 4.69-second average hang time, second only to Buffalo’s Corey Bojorquez.
“He’s been fantastic,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He’s had some very, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he’s had some clutch punts this season so far. When we’ve had to flip the field and he’s had to boom one and he’s had to get hang time, he’s done it and I think he deserves a lot of credit for the success we’ve had in the special-teams game.”
Scott was renowned for his leg strength and natural striking motion coming out of Alabama, but he’s taken his directional punting to another level in his second season with the Packers.
Against the Cowboys, Scott averaged 49.5 yards with a 46.5 net on six punts with his first being a perfect combination of hang time, placement and a fast-closing gunner with Will Redmond dropping Tavon Austin on impact for a 1-yard loss.
By successfully navigating the sidelines, Scott can close off half the field for his coverage team. It was one of the biggest areas of emphasis new special-teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga preached with Scott this offseason.
“He’s really growing as a professional,” Mennenga said. “He really takes what he does very seriously and he’s very professional about it in his preparation every day. Even in the off days he’s taking care of his body and preparing his mind. I think his technique is really coming along. He goes out there and each punt is important. You never know when that punt just happens to be (key).”
The job doesn’t get any easier for Scott as the temperatures start to dip over the next two months, including perhaps this Monday night against the Detroit Lions.
At the same time, the Packers’ front-heavy home schedule also means Scott likely won’t be performing in as many cold-weather games as Green Bay punters typically do. Scott’s leg strength does give him a chance to stay ahead of the curve, though.
“JK, I’ve seen him make (balls) hit the ceiling in AT&T Stadium,” said cornerback Tony Brown, who played on the punt coverage units with Scott at Alabama. “I’ve seen him do that for dang-near six years, so I’m used to it. But I sure am glad he’s here, helping us move the field and change the field with every punt we have.”
Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s two previous stints before coming to Green Bay came on teams that possessed All-Pro punters – Johnny Hekker with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and Brett Kern in Tennessee a year ago.
He can attest to the significant difference it makes when a team wins the weekly battle for field position, and through the first five games of the season, Scott has given Green Bay that edge.
“I think it’s huge,” LaFleur said. “He’s just able to flip the field. You look at the big punt that he had late in the game last week, he’s been a true difference-maker in regards to special teams.”