One of the highlights in the so-far disappointing season for the Denver Broncos has been 27-year-old rookie punter Corliss Waitman.

Waitman went from being the guy who had only appeared in two NFL games to beating out one of the league’s best punters for a starting job.

The season started out rocky for Waitman, who found himself ranking at the bottom of the league in punt average. However, he’s since been named an AFC Special Teams Player of the Week and has seen his numbers rise every week.

While some NFL players know from a young age that football was their dream, Waitman’s path started late and saw many curveballs.

Growing Up Overseas

Waitman was born in Ghent, Belgium in 1995 but spent this childhood in the Netherlands, where his dad played professional basketball. 

He grew up participating in soccer and ran track. When he was 15, his family moved to Milton, Florida, a city with just over 11,000 people living in it, where his dad had grown up. 

In the US, Waitman started playing football for the first time. His many years playing soccer made him a fantastic punter, especially since he was left-footed. He was named as an honorable mention on the inaugural All-American Punter high school team after recording 3,167 yards on 70 punts and securing a school record. 

Waitman’s father passed away in 2013, a few days shy of his 49th birthday and a few months before Corliss turned 18. 

He chose to attend his father’s alma mater, South Alabama, for college. Waitman played there for four years, but wasn’t the starter until his junior year. He transferred to Mississippi State, hoping to gain one more year of football eligibility but was denied by the NCAA.

Waitman went two years out of college without a professional punting job. As a 25-year-old undrafted rookie, Waitman signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. The COVID pandemic brought all sorts of obstacles for him as there was limited training camp and no preseason games. He was waived in early September before being re-signed to their practice squad.

Over the next year, he bounced on and off the Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots practice squads. He returned to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the end of 2021. The Steelers ultimately released him again when they drafted Pressley Harvin III in the 2021 NFL Draft.

When Harvin was out on bereavement leave, Pittsburgh called Waitman again. He made his NFL debut in Week 16 against the Kansas City Chiefs the day after he re-signed. He was waived three weeks later after Harvin returned.

Winning the Starting Job

The Denver Broncos immediately claimed Waitman off of waivers. 

General manager George Paton wanted to bring him in to compete with their incumbent punter Sam Martin, who was scheduled to make a non-guaranteed $2.25 million.

In May, the Edmonton Elks also drafted Waitman in the third round of the 2022 CFL Global Draft. At that point, he knew he had a backup option if the NFL didn’t work out.

Despite Waitman’s presence, the job was Martin’s to lose, and he was seen as the favorite to win the starting punting job. 

However, throughout the offseason, training camp, and preseason, Waitman continued to show improvement. Because of this, new special teams coordinator, Dwayne Stukes, started giving Waitman first-team special team reps.

In the second preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Martin suffered a sprained ankle in pregame warmups, which gave Waitman an entire game to demonstrate his abilities. 

Martin was able to return for the preseason finale against the Minnesota Vikings, but Waitman remained the starter.

Stukes notified Waitman that he had won the job on August 29, following Martin’s release. Martin was quickly signed to the Buffalo Bills.

Overcoming a Shaky Start

The season started rough for Waitman.

Martin was sitting near the top of the league statistically in the first two weeks of the season. Meanwhile, Waitman had only averaged 33.8 net yards, placing him dead-last in the NFL. Stukes did not hold back in his assessment of Waitman’s performance, bluntly saying, “It’s already concerned me. It’s sickening.”

However, Waitman was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 3 following an impressive performance in the Broncos’ 11-10 win over the 49ers.

He punted ten times in that game, averaging 47.6 gross yards per punt, and had six punts stop inside the 20-yard line. 

Those six punts downed inside the 20 were a Denver Broncos franchise single-game record.

Also, two of Waitman’s punts pinned the 49ers inside the 5-yard line. One of those punts led to a safety for the Broncos in the third quarter, which ultimately determined the game’s final outcome.

Waitman credits his late father for the success he’s finding in the NFL. 

In an interview with 9News, he said, “I always was talented, but I was insecure. My dad was hard on me, that really helped me to believe in myself. I was very insecure, wasn’t sure before games, and he used to light into me: ‘You can do it. You can do it!’ So that tough love really helped me. Because I was a little soft growing up.”

Many have debated whether or not the Broncos made a mistake in awarding Waitman the job over a proven vet. Nevertheless, he’s continuing to improve week to week and has seen an uptick in his average stats.

The Denver Broncos will need Waitman to continue playing at a high level when they visit the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday at 6:15 pm MST. And throughout the rest of the season, Denver’s punter will be crucial in flipping the field.