INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts had a huge void to fill when All-Pro punter Pat McAfee decided to retire following the 2016 season.
McAfee wasn't only one of the top punters in the league — often booming kicks that left opponents with less-than-ideal field position — but he was also a solid kickoff specialist and dependable holder for kicker Adam Vinatieri.
In May 2017, the team decided to take a chance on Rigoberto Sanchez, an undrafted punter out of the University of Hawaii. And in a matter of months, Sanchez had won over the coaching staff and earned the Colts' punter, kickoff specialist and holder jobs.
And two solid seasons later, he is being rewarded for his efforts.
The Colts today signed Sanchez to a contract extension. Terms of the deal were not immediately announced.
Sanchez, who will be 25 by the time the Colts open up the 2019 regular season, has competed in all 32 games in Indy the past two seasons, and totaled 141 punts for 6,393 yards for an average of 45.3 yards per punt, with a net average of 42.7.
Sanchez has also pinned 52 punts inside the 20-yard line, and has contributed 105 touchbacks on kickoffs.
He came out firing on all cylinders as a rookie in that 2017 season, when he punted the ball 84 times for 3,764 yards, both franchise rookie records. Sanchez averaged 44.8 yards per punt, and his 42.6 net punting average set an NFL rookie record. He was named to the 2017 Pro Football Writers of America's All-Rookie Team for his efforts.
Sanchez was just as solid in his second season in 2018. He had 57 punts for 2,629 yards (a 46.1 yards-per-punt average) and 24 of his punts were pinned inside the 20-yard line. Sanchez's 42.7 net punting average ranked third in the NFL, and his 59 kickoff touchbacks ranked fifth in the league.
Sanchez's right leg, coupled with some solid coverage, gave Indy's opponents tough starting field position all year in 2018. The Colts ranked first in the NFL in lowest punt return average allowed (4.4 yards) — they were just one of three teams to not allow a punt return of 20-plus yards on the year — and opponents averaged just 22 yards per kickoff return against Indy, the ninth-lowest figure in the league.
Colts head coach Frank Reich commended Sanchez not only for his consistency, but for delivering in the clutch down the stretch as the team turned around a 1-5 start into a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.
"You can't underestimate the importance of these big kicks he is making at big times," Reich told reporters on Dec. 31. "It is just clutch performance. I mean, late in games when we really need something he is coming up with a play that is massive. I mean, these are massive plays for our team and I just really think he is having a phenomenal year."