In American football and Canadian football, the term long snapper refers to a center whose duty is to snap the football over a longer distance, typically around 15 yards during punts, and 7–8 yards during field goals and extra point attempts.
During field goals and point after touchdown, the snap is received by the holder typically 7–8 yards away. During punt plays the snap is delivered to the punter from 13–15 yards away. Following a punt snap the snapper often executes a blocking assignment and then must cover the kick by running downfield and attempting to stop the opposing team's punt returner from advancing the ball in the opposite direction. If the punt goes uncaught it is the snapper's responsibility to make sure the ball does not enter the endzone or bounce backward resulting in loss of yards. The majority of snappers at the highest levels of competition are specialized, meaning that they uniquely play the position of snapper, or have limited responsibilities elsewhere.
A good punt snap should hit the target (namely the punter's hands at the abdomen or waistline) between .65 to .80 seconds and with a tight spiral for easy handling. A "bad snap" is an off-target snap which causes the delay or failure of a kick and/or forces the punter into a potentially compromising situation.
Long snapper Wikipedia
College rules are such that any of the 11 players on the punting team are allowed to proceed downfield at any time once the play has begun (unlike the NFL where only 2 players, the left and right gunner, are allowed to pass the line of scrimmage before the ball has been kicked). This results in many teams employing a "spread punt" or "rugby-style" scheme designed to maximize downfield coverage and limit returners from making larger gains the other way after receiving the ball.
Before specialization, the long snapper was often a player who primarily played another position, mostly assumed to be backup centers because they perform snap duties to quarterbacks, and further out in a shotgun formation anyway, but a recent example would be Allen Aldridge, who started at linebacker for the Detroit Lions and also served as the team's long snapper. This allowed the team to dress another non-specialist player. Now, every team in the NFL has a specialized long snapper. Long snappers are usually amongst the least known players in the NFL, because of their highly specialized and relatively invisible role on the field. They are also in general not drafted and normally are acquired as undrafted free agents, with a few exceptions:Dan O'Leary was selected in the sixth round (195th overall) of the 2001 NFL Draft.
Ryan Pontbriand was drafted in the fifth round (142nd overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, although he was drafted as an offensive center.
Zak DeOssie, long snapper for the New York Giants, was drafted in the fourth round (116th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft; however at the time he was drafted as a linebacker.
Todd Thomas was selected in the fifth round (124th overall) of the 1981 NFL Draft, for his long snapping abilities, by the Kansas City Chiefs. At the time draft records listed him as a tackle, but he served as the long snapper for the Chiefs during the 1981 season.
The first pure long snapper to have been picked in the draft was Tyler Schmitt, a sixth round pick (189th overall) in 2008, selected by the Seattle Seahawks.
Joe Cardona was drafted as a long snapper by the New England Patriots in the fifth round (166th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Several other players who went on to be their team's long snapper the following season have been selected but were listed at different positions during the draft. For example, Brad St. Louis was listed as a tight end in the 2000 NFL Draft and Jake Ingram was listed as a center in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Despite their anonymity, a team lacking a skilled long snapper can be seriously undermined. A famous example of this was on January 5, 2003 during the 2002 wild card playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants. During the regular season, the Giants suffered missed field goals due to the lack of an experienced long snapper, and signed Trey Junkin out of retirement to be the snapper for the playoff game. Junkin botched a snap on a field goal attempt that could have won the game for the Giants, who had led 38–14 at one point in the game. Brad St. Louis of the Cincinnati Bengals was another long snapper who, besides having already botched two snaps in clutch situations in 2005 (wild card play-off game against the eventual champions Pittsburgh Steelers) and 2006, gained even bigger notoriety in 2009, when he delivered five bad snaps on either field goal or extra point attempts (leading to missed, aborted or blocked kicks) in the first five games of the season, which led to the then ten-year veteran being released from the team.
In 2008, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers that had long snapper problems. During the October 26, 2008 game against the New York Giants, the team's regular long snapper Greg Warren was injured with what was eventually revealed to be a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament. Linebacker James Harrison, who had served in 2003 as the long snapper for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, volunteered to replace Warren. In the fourth quarter, Harrison's first and only snap sailed over punter Mitch Berger's head and through the end zone for a safety. This tied the score and gave the Giants good field position on the ensuing kick, resulting in the go-ahead touchdown late in the game. Warren sustained a second ACL tear in December 2009, though this occurred on the last play of the December 20 game against the Green Bay Packers, giving the Steelers adequate time to sign replacement Jared Retkofsky, who had also been signed to replace Warren after his injury in 2008.
In 2012, Raiders' long snapper Jon Condo was injured and was backed up by Travis Goethel, a linebacker for a game against the San Diego Chargers. On two occasions during the game, punter Shane Lechler was unable to handle snaps that had bounced prior to reaching him. On another attempt, Lechler took his position much closer to the line of scrimmage than is normal for a punter so as to decrease the distance Goethel needed to accurately snap the ball. Though the snap was adequate, the decreased distance resulted in a block.
On December 11, 2016, when Jon Dorenbos was injured, Philadelphia Eagles put tight end Brett Celek to fill in, but after his poor performance as a long snapper, and his injury, Eagles was forced to go for it on fourth down.