49ers roster 2021: Mitch Wishnowsky must make his do
By Peter Panacy
The first specialist taken in the 2019 NFL Draft, 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky, should be under a lot of pressure to deliver in a big way in 2021.
It’s rare for a punter to receive a lot of attention and focus during any given season, and perhaps the San Francisco 49ers are still feeling a bit spoiled from the long-ago efforts from perennial Pro Bowler Andy Lee.
Yet the hope was they’d be getting another with Australian-born punter Mitch Wishnowsky when he ended up being the first specialist taken off the NFL Draft board back in 2019, going in Round 4 at No. 110 overall.
The Niners justified the selection back then, saying there’s no way the No. 1-ranked punter would survive into Round 5, and the team certainly had a need.
Two full years after being drafted, though, Wishnowsky has developed into a good punter, but not much more. It’s been a far cry from being considered one of the NFL’s elite.
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Also serving as San Francisco’s kickoff specialist and holder, Wishnowsky has still primarily cut his teeth as a punter and occasional special teams tackler, although that’s probably not a role his coordinator, Richard Hightower, wants him to retain.
Wishnowsky’s 46.9 yards-per-punt average stood at ninth best last season, although that can be a difficult stat to measure as pure success. After all, it’s not always about booming punts — and the 46.9 mark is good if not exemplary — when there’s a short field or punting/coverage units are merely looking to pin opponents inside the 20-yard line.
In this regard, Wishnowsky might be able to flash some improvement.
How Mitch Wishnowsky can improve with 49ers in 2021
Watching the 2021 Hall of Fame game and Pittsburgh Steelers punter Pressley Harvin’s punt inside the Dallas Cowboys‘ 1-yard line probably made some 49ers fans wish Wishnowsky could do that sort of thing on a regular basis.
Granted, frequently hitting those kinds of high-arc, dead-ball shots is the unicorn of all punting attempts, but Wishnowsky’s 25 punts inside opponents’ 20-yard lines last year was ninth best among all punters last year.
Good, not great.
True, a lot of this is going to be situational. Longer punts don’t always have the luxury of landing and staying on a dime, yet one of the elements of Wishnowsky’s collegiate game at Utah was his ability to hit those kicks with a dead-stop on the other end.
Perhaps this aspect begins to enter the fray in 2021.
Why Mitch Wishnowsky remains a good, not-great 49ers punter in 2021
Now 29 years old, it’s not the case where Wishnowsky is still growing into his body. Few care about this with regards to punters, but the average leg strength shouldn’t be expected to increase here.
Still, it’s important to acknowledge the technique has to be honed in a bit, particularly for Wishnowsky’s efforts at pinning return specialists deep in their own territory.
So far, Wishnowsky has been good at this. But it might never be the case where he’s regularly a league leader in this category.
Entering year three of his four-year rookie deal, Wishnowsky is clearly safe on the Niners roster and has done nothing to warrant an immediate replacement. Some could still fairly question whether or not San Francisco wasted a draft pick on a position that could have been just as adequately addressed in undrafted free agency back in 2019, but the reality of the matter is Wishnowsky is here for the time being.
And if he winds up showing that improvement, it’s possible the 49ers’ original selection of him winds up being wholly justified.