Mitch Wishnowsky is the latest Australian to enter the NFL, and much like last year’s rookie sensation Michael Dickson, has landed in the perfect place.
It should come as no surprise that a league run by old, white men is largely scared of change.
Of the 32 NFL franchises, you could probably count on one hand the amount of head coaches willing to allow their punter the freedom to do something different.
One is Pete Carroll at the Seattle Seahawks, and we saw how that helped Dickson establish himself as one of the elite legs, and special teams difference makers in the league.
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Kyle Shanahan and co. were paying attention to their NFC West rival, because the San Francisco 49ers wasted no time taking Wishnowsky, out of Utah, with a fourth-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
Wishnowsky going with the 110th overall pick — the highest a punter had gone in seven years — was a statement of intent from an organisation who are looking to be proactive in dealing with a position that deserves more attention than many teams are willing to give it.
“We thought Mitch Wishnowsky was a big-time prospect,” general manager John Lynch told reporters. “Kyle (Shanahan) and I studied punters this year more than we ever will. Hopefully, he’s the long-term answer. We’re talking like a 10-year guy. … we felt like had we not taken him there, he would have been taken.”
Lynch added: “People saw last year with Dickson up there in Seattle — it really benefited their team. And we felt like this guy was that type of prospect.”
Wishnowsky is 6-foot-2, 218-pounds and ran a 4.63 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February. He’s a serious athlete; the kind that unlocks the playbook for an aggressive, creative shot caller who is open to fake punts, or kicks on the move.
“You can be as progressive as a coach allows you to be,” Nathan Chapman of Prokick Australia told foxsports.com.au.
Prokick took Wishnowsky in after he gave up on footy due to injuries, and knew immediately he had everything he needed to succeed.
“You get someone who is talented, set them on the right path, and then they work hard; opportunities will flow after that. He always wanted to get better,” Chapman said.
In Chapman’s eyes, Aussie punters can revolutionise the league if given the chance.
“What he [Wishnowsky] was given from Coach Whit [Kyle Whittingham] at Utah was, ‘Hey, this is where we want the ball, now you tell us how you’re going to get it there,’” Chapman explained.
Not all coaches are willing to give their punters that green light, though.
“They [Aussie punters] can all do it. It’s the system you go into,” Chapman said.
“Dicko [Dickson] last year was just allowed to express himself and Coach Carroll gave him the freedom to do so. And what happens? It allows him to get the best out of himself.
“The 49ers played Dicko twice in a year, so they’re going, ‘Well, let’s get us one of those.’”
Dickson figured out how to make punting exciting in his first season in Seattle, and even steal the limelight from his superstar quarterback at times. With Wishnowsky, the 49ers could have their game-changing Aussie for years to come.
And a NFC West rivalry between the two Aussies could open the door for more change.
“Teams now have a visual of what can be done because … of what we saw from Dicko,” Chapman explained.
The casual fan might be upset at their organisation reaching into the fourth round for a punter, but according to Chapman, the 27-year-old was worth it.
“My thoughts were that he was worth getting late in the third,” Chapman said.
Wishnowsky was a star in Utah, averaging 45.7 yards on 175 punts in his college career.
The first 2019 pick to put pen to paper on an NFL contract, Wishnowsky — tied down for the next four years — will replace Bradley Pinion in San Francisco.
“It’s now [on] him,” Chapman said.
“He’ll be given everything he needs, they love him, so now it’s up to him to start the new journey and set out to still become better.”