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Panthers' Punter Hekker leads early Pro Bowl voting

The 11-year veteran is the only player on the Carolina Panthers to be a top vote-getter.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Johnny Hekker's first season with the Carolina Panthers is going exceptionally well and he could soon be recognized for such a promising first impression.

The NFL released its first batch of Pro Bowl Games voting numbers on Monday. The list shows which players have received the most votes for each position in both conferences. Voting began on Nov. 15 and continues until Dec. 15.

There are some obvious players in the top spots, such as Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons, that highlight a strong cast of contenders to represent their conferences in the Pro Bowl Games events in February 2023. 

One of the players leading everyone else at his position in votes is Carolina Panthers punter Johnny Hekker. With over 40,000 votes as of Monday, Hekker is well above even the top AFC punter, who had around 24,000 votes, according to the NFL.

Hekker leads the league in punts inside the 20-yard line with 29. He is also seventh in the league, and third in the NFC, with 48.8 yards per punt.

Credit: AP
Carolina Panthers punter Johnny Hekker (10) punts against the New York Giants during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

If Hekker emerges to qualify for the Pro Bowl Games it wouldn't be much of a surprise. Hekker received Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors four times (2013, 2015-2017) during his 10 years with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams. 

Hekker was signed to the team in March and has quickly improved the Panthers' special teams, which ranked 30th in punting average in 2021. 

After signing to the team, Hekker told WCNC Charlotte he was excited to possibly throw some passes during a game on fake punt plays. Hekker completed a fake punt pass against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 4 but the play was called back due to a penalty.

Credit: AP
Carolina Panthers punter Johnny Hekker (10) passes the ball on a fake punt play against the Arizona Cardinals during an NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Hekker has attempted 23 passes in his career but hasn't had the chance to use his arm on a play that counts this season with the Panthers. Although, the team did convert a fake punt with a direct snap to a special teams player in Week 12 against Denver, so Hekker's passing hopes could be on the horizon.

Other Panthers players that could receive a Pro Bowl nod this year include defensive end Brian Burns, who is among the league's sack leaders, kicker Eddy Piñeiro, who is 22 of 24 on field goals, and rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu, who is emerging as one of the league's best blockers.

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