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Why NFL teams don’t turn to the draft for kickers

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With the recent signing of former Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski the Seattle Seahawks raised the eyebrows of some fans, with some wondering why the team doesn’t just draft a kicker to replace the Blair Walsh experiment. The answer, surprisingly, is that in spite of the fact that there are 253 college football programs just between FBS and FCS, there is a shortage of kicking talent available to NFL teams through the draft.

That may seem ludicrous, but rather than stumble over myself as I attempt to explain this, it will be easier to simply use the stats to prove my point. To start with, let me simply take the top twenty kickers by field goal percentage in the FBS from last season and add to the list the top five kickers from FCS. For each of these 25 kickers, this table includes several other important items.

25 of the best college kickers from 2017 (FBS and FCS)

Kicker 2017 FG Conversion Rate Year of School 2017 Long Career Long Career 50+ Makes Career 50+ Conversion Rate
Kicker 2017 FG Conversion Rate Year of School 2017 Long Career Long Career 50+ Makes Career 50+ Conversion Rate
Eddy Pineiro 94.4 Junior 50 54 5 100.0%
Griffin Oakes 94.1 Senior 51 58 3 37.5%
Chase Vinatieri** 92.9 Sophomore 55 55 2 100.0%
Gunnar Raborn** 92.3 Junior 52 52* 1 100.0%
Trevor Moore 90.9 Senior 48 51 1 50.0%
Rafael Gaglianone 88.9 Junior 52 52 3 42.9%
Tucker McCann 88.2 Sophomore 43 46 0 0.0%
Matt Gay 88.2 Senior 56 56 5 83.3%
Brandon Purdy** 88.2 Junior 47 47* 0 N/A
Rodrigo Blankenship 87.0 Sophomore 49 49 0 0.0%
Logan Laurent 86.7 Senior 48 48 0 N/A
Jared Sackett 86.4 Freshman 44 44 0 N/A
Trey Tuttle** 86.4 Sophomore 48 48* 0 N/A
Jace Christman 85.7 Freshman 45 45 0 N/A
Daniel LaCamera 85.7 Junior 52 52 1 25.0%
Drew Brown 85.7 Senior 44 51 2 40.0%
Ricky Aguayo 85.7 Sophomore 51 51 1 50.0%
Trevor Smith** 85.7 Senior 42* 42* 0 N/A
Parker Shaunfield 85.0 Junior 51 51 1 100.0%
Gabriel Rui 85.0 Senior 50 50 1 100.0%
Blanton Creque 85.0 Sophomore 48 48 0 N/A
Miguel Recinos 84.6 Junior 48 48 0 0.0%
Gavin Patterson 84.2 Junior 47 47 0 N/A
Mike Weaver 84.0 Senior 43 50 1 14.3%
Emilio Nadelman 84.0 Senior 51 51 1 50.0%
**FCS kicker

With that rather large set of potential kickers, the first step would seem to be to narrow it down. Obviously, the most important question is how many of the listed kickers will be available in the draft or as UDFAs, so eliminating all of those who are not Seniors leaves just nine names. In addition, University of Florida Junior Eddy Pineiro declared for the draft after a coaching change for the Gators, so that puts the group at ten names.

From those ten names, obviously any drafted kicker should have the ability to hit from 50 yards with some kind of consistency, so eliminating those who did not hit multiple kicks from 50 or more yards in their college careers narrows the group down to just four names. Those four are

  • Eddy Pineiro (University of Florida),
  • Griffin Oakes (Indiana University),
  • Matt Gay (University of Utah) and
  • Drew Brown (Nebraska Cornhuskers).

And that’s it. Out of the more than 250 combined FBS and FCS schools, that’s the list of kickers who had a 2017 field goal conversion rate that was at or better than NFL average, hit multiple 50 yard field goals during their careers and were seniors or an early entrant for the draft. Looking further into the data, every one of those players has a reason why a team might avoid drafting them.

Starting at the bottom of the list, Brown was just four of six from 30-39 yards in 2017, which is important since that is the range in which the NFL kicks its extra points. In addition he was just six of eight from beyond 40 in the last two seasons combined. It’s not a glaring no, but it certainly does not instill confidence in his abilities.

Next up is Matt Gay. Gay jumps off the chart for the fact that he kicked five field goals of 50+ yards at Utah, including a 56 yarder. However, it is important to keep in mind that Gay played his home college football games at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City at 4,637 feet above sea level. That gives a bit of extra leg to any of his kicks and certainly helps explain why all five of his field goals from 50 or further came in a home game. He didn’t even attempt a field goal from 50 or further in any of the six road games Utah played. Gay has only a single season of college kicking stats because he was a soccer player at Utah Valley University which doesn’t have a football team prior to transferring to Utah.

Moving right along to Oakes, there are two things that make me wary right off the bat. First of all, during his four years kicking at Indiana he had a field goal conversion rate of 76.7%, which is simply not all that exciting to me. Further, Oakes was not good on extra point attempts during his college career, converting the shorter old extra points at just 95.5% during his college career. That conversion rate is likely to only go down at the next level where the point afters would come from nearly double the distance.

And that brings us to the last name in the list, Eddy Pineiro. Pineiro certainly has the leg and career success to warrant consideration, but has one drawback similar to several other kickers over the years. Pineiro is a native of Florida who played his college football in Florida and who has never even attempted a field goal in a game from more than fifty yards in any state other than Florida. That’s a very similar story to guys like Walsh, Roberto Aguayo and a host of other kickers through the years.

The reason that is an issue is that a southern climate, such as Florida, is warm and humid, which is the ideal climate for kicking. I’m not sure if it’s any kind of relation or not, but in the last decade there have been nineteen kickers drafted, with ten of those nineteen

having played their college football in the South. Here is a table for those interested in the specifics.

Kickers drafted since 2008 who played college football in the South

Kicker College Year Drafted Drafted by Draft Position
Kicker College Year Drafted Drafted by Draft Position
Brandon Coutu Georgia 2008 Seattle 7.235
Ryan Succop South Carolina 2009 Kansas City 7.256
Matt Bosher Miami 2011 Atlanta 6.192
Blair Walsh Georgia 2012 Minnesota 6.175
Dustin Hopkins Florida State 2013 Buffalo 6.177
Caleb Sturgis Florida 2013 Miami 5.166
Zach Hocker Arkansas 2014 Washington 7.228
Roberto Aguayo Florida State 2016 Tampa Bay 2.59
Jake Elliott Memphis 2017 Cincinnati 5.153
Harrison Butker Georgia Tech 2017 Carolina 7.233

Obviously having played college football in the South is not a non-starter, as kickers such as Ryan Succop, Matt Bosher and Stephen Gostkowski show, but it is simply another data point that must be considered. It’s a whole lot easier to kick in warm, humid weather than it is in the cold, dry of the upper Midwest, and it simply requires digging deeper.

So, that is not to say that there are no kickers worthy of being drafted in 2017, but the simple fact is that the reason the Seahawks have signed castoffs like Janikowski and Jason Myers is that it is very hard to find a kicker in the draft that even has the requisite skills and abilities to kick in the NFL.