Raiders punter AJ Cole putting together historic start to career

Las Vegas Raiders punter AJ Cole is the next in a long line of elite punters for the franchise.

New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders
New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders / Michael Owens/GettyImages
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Cole earns the starting job as a rookie

So back to young rookie AJ Cole, in a two-man fight for one spot on the 2019 Oakland Raiders roster. He’d get his first full speed NFL action during the preseason opener at the Oakland Coliseum that August.

I mentioned Shane Lechler. I mentioned Marquette King. After the game, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden did too, comparing the inexperienced 24-year-old to those two booming legs of Raiders past.

"I think Townsend has got his hands full with A.J. Cole," Gruden said. "It's going to be interesting down the stretch. Cole proved he could kick off, which adds to his versatility. He downed them inside the 20, I think, a couple of times. He put on a display the other day against the Rams. We haven't seen kicks like that since Lechler was here, or King.”

Three days later, the Raiders would cut Townsend, giving rookie AJ Cole the opportunity of a lifetime.

In August 2013, Cole punted in a football game for the first time. Fast forward exactly 6 years to August 2019, he is the starting punter for an NFL team.

But Cole didn’t celebrate like many rookies might have. Rather he knew his work was just getting started.

“Just because I’m the only punter here doesn’t mean I’m the only punter,” Cole said. “There are 20 really good players that don’t have contracts right now and I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t think the mentality will ever be really different.”

In his first year in the NFL, AJ Cole’s stats were mostly in the middle of the pack, ranking 13th in yards per punt and 19th in total yards. But what really stuck out was that nearly half his punts pinned opponents inside their 20-yard line which was 4th best in the entire league. Additionally, he had a 74-yard punt which was the 3rd longest in the league that year. So, right out of the gate, the rookie was already an average NFL punter, with noticeable signs for higher potential.