Why a kicker would need to be the NFL's Steph Curry to merit a second-round pick
Every April during the NFL draft, countless columns are published , all featuring a disclaimer that players can’t accurately be judged until several years into the future after they have time to develop as professionals. But there are some exceptions. Roberto Aguayo, for example. It’s been just 15 months since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent a second-round pick on the placekicker and it’s not too soon to say they missed as badly as the worst Aguayo field goal attempt.
after he missed an extra point and a field goal in the team’s preseason opener, exactly more of the same after a rookie season in which he missed nine of 31 field goal attempts and two extra point tries.
This is all a long way from what the Bucs were saying about Aguayo in the spring of 2016 when they not only drafted him in the second-round, but traded up to do so – dealing third- and fourth-round picks to nab him.
“This guy can kick it out of the end zone when he wants to,” Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter said a year ago. “This guy has never missed a kick inside of 40 yards and he’s got range up to 60. You look at the number of games decided by one score or less. We’ll want to see it with our own eyes in practice, but we like to say when we get to a certain yard line that we’ve got three in the bank. The best kicker in college football history doesn’t come around very often. It’s a situation we know is going to be criticized, but it’s going to play out over time. It’s no different than picking Jameis [Winston] first last year. We were going to sink or swim with that guy. We chose to swim.”
The Bucs chose to grab onto a life raft in veteran kicker Nick Folk on Saturday. But while Aguayo’s inability to make kicks certainly proved all the naysayers right – and there were plenty of those who said “nay” over his selection last year – picking a kicker in the second-round was a poor decision even if Aguayo had lived up to the hype and led the league in accuracy. It’s rare for the world of fantasy football to have any relevant insight to provide to actual football, but there is one rule that the millions of fake GMs could teach the 32 real GMs: never select a kicker before the final round of the draft.
The difference between the most accurate kicker in the NFL last year, Baltimore’s Justin Tucker and the least accurate kicker in the NFL, Aguayo, was 26.4%. Tucker hit on 97.4% of his field goal tries to Aguayo’s 71%. That seems like a huge difference. But if Aguayo had also hit on 97% of his field goals last year, that would have meant eight more made kicks, resulting in the Bucs getting 24 more points on the season. That’s an extra 1.5 points per game. Just 1.5 points per game between the NFL’s best kicker and its worst.
The Bears got 1,600 total yards and 7 TDs (2.6 ppg) from Jordan Howard last year, picked three rounds after Aguayo. Chiefs’ fifth-rounder Tyreek Hill produced 11 TDs (4.1 ppg) and the Cowboys saw Dak Prescott, their fourth-rounder, produce 29 TDs (10.8 ppg) at the most important position in the sport. Granted, field goal attempts often come in late-game, high-leverage situations, but even the best kickers in the game are easily replaceable, low-impact players on an NFL roster.
Tucker was picked up by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012, the same path that got Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri into the league. Last year’s second-most accurate kicker, 42 year-old Matt Bryant of the Atlanta Falcons, was also undrafted coming out of college in 1999 and worked in a pawn shop before getting jobs with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena League and then two gigs with teams in the now defunct NFL Europe. Those entry-level positions led to a job with the New York Giants for two years, followed by stops with the Cowboys, Colts, Dolphins, Buccaneers, the Florida Tuskers of the also-defunct UFL and now the Falcons. So even one of the best kickers in the NFL is so valuable he’s bounced around to 10 teams in three leagues and two countries. There aren’t top players at other NFL positions, truly valued positions, with that kind of resume. Aaron Rodgers never had to look for work in the UFL.
Of course, Aguayo was not the first kicker taken with an early draft pick. Four kickers have gone in the first two rounds in the past 25 years: Jason Hanson to the Lions in 1992 with the 56th selection, Sebastian Janikowski to the Raiders with the 17th overall pick in 2000, and Mike Nugent to the Jets in 2005 with the 47th pick of the draft. Hanson had a good, and very long, 21-year career in the NFL. Janikowski and Nugent are still kicking, too. Yet none of them made any sort of impact on their team that wouldn’t have been far exceeded by hitting on a “real” football player with the same pick. Simply the teams these kickers played for tells you that. The Lions, the Raiders and the Jets. All have spent much of the past 25 years as football punchlines, field goal accuracy be damned.
And while Aguayo may scare some teams off from picking a kicker high for a few years, a GM will come along to do it again. The history of early kicker picks has been 1992, 2000, 2005 and 2016, which means the next NFL team to take a placekicker in the first two rounds should get up the courage/stupidity to do so around 2024 or so. That pick will be a waste, too. That is, unless some kind of super-kicker comes along. A man who can hit on a Tuckeresque 97% of his kicks – and do it from very long-range, knocking down kicks from 65 and 70 yards with ease. A Steph Curry of kickers, if you will. A kicker who has a booming leg, an accurate leg, and a mind that can perfectly diagnose and solve swirling, late-season winds when the playoffs are on the line. That kicker would provide a team with some real value that couldn’t be found with a random undrafted free agent. That kicker would mean that every drive that got to midfield would end with at least three points. That kicker, if he ever comes along, would be worth a draft pick. But probably not anywhere earlier than the sixth-round.
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