INDIANAPOLIS - Punters and kickers with hopes of playing in the NFL were the
first players to go through their workout drills at the Scouting Combine in
Indianapolis on Friday.
As I watched the workouts from inside the RCA Dome, the six kickers were put through their paces by showing their kickoff skills and attempting field goals from 30 yards to 50 yards out in 5-yard increments. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that none of them were really outstanding at kickoffs. Only one kickoff reached the goal line while most were in the range of the five-yard line.
The field goal drill that these kickers run through is not an easy feat. They don't use their own snappers and holders, and on more than one occasion the snap and the hold were less than ideal. Colorado kicker Mason Crosby experienced one where the snap and hold were just awful, clearly contributing to one of his misses.
After watching Friday's workouts, I would have to say that there are three kickers who have a real shot at
kicking in the league. And although I didn't put Crosby at the top of my
rankings based on today's performance, I would still say that Crosby will head
out of the Scouting Combine as number one, with Arizona's Nick Folk and UCLA's
Justin Medlock as a close second and third.
Crosby was the only kicker that made the top 100 in our Scout.com Draft Rankings, but I think both Folk and Medlock helped themselves, possibly boosting their chances to become a late-round pick. Most kickers don't get drafted, but all three should be happy with their performances today as they took a positive step in that direction.
Here are my observations on each kickers' workout:
Nick Folk (Arizona): He was the one who really impressed me, which was a bit of a surprise. Folk was the most accurate, hitting 13 of his 15 field goal attempts. The two he missed were 45-yard attempts. The ball came off his foot quickly and he got really good rise on the ball. He showed a real powerful leg out there.
Mason Crosby (Colorado): He came in considered to be the No. 1 kicker in the country and clearly had the strongest leg. He made a 58-yard kick in Miami, so his success in kicking long field goals isn't tied to the fact that he kicks in the high altitude in Colorado. He was 11 for 15 on the day during the Combine workouts, missing two from 45 yards out that he simply didn't get enough lift on. They were knocked down by a net that is set up for the drill to ensure proper height. Crosby also missed one from 50 yards out and another from 40 yards away.
Justin Medlock (UCLA): He was the smoothest of the three kickers. His overall operation and consistency to the ball was as good as anyone. He's left-footed, and got very quick lift and rise on the ball. But he didn't have the same explosiveness as the first two kickers. Like Crosby, he was 11 for 15 on the day, showing pretty good accuracy. Surprisingly, he may have been the best kickoff guy out there today.
Jesse Ainsworth (Arizona St.): He had a really difficult day, making only 7 of 15 field goals. Ainsworth missed one from 30, two from 35, two from 40, two from 45 and one from 50. Ironically, he made two of his three kicks from the 50-yard line. But I think he was pressing and that some of those missed kicks were mental mistakes. While I thought Ainsworth was disappointing, his kickoffs were pretty good.
Matt Clark (Auburn): He kicked well from the shorter distances, but finished the day making 9 out of 15 kicks. Clark missed three from 50-yard line, two out of three from 45, and one from 40. He showed that he didn't have quite the leg that the other three and his kickoffs were not good. They landed in a range between the 7-yard line to the 14-yard line. He got under the ball too much on his kickoffs and got too much rotation on his kicks.
Brandon Pace (Virginia Tech): He was 9 for 15, missing one at 50, twice at 45, one at 40, and twice at 35. Pace didn't hit the ball squarely at times. But he was particularly quick to the ball on kicks from 35 yards and in, really attacking the ball. But beyond that distance his operation was slower, so maybe he wasn't as confident from there.
It's not easy breaking into the league as a punter on your first try. The few that do land with a team many times go through two or three training camps before getting signed. While watching and evaluating punters, the key thing to look for is consistency in his mechanics.
The punters overall were an impressive group even though the long-snapping during the drills wasn't very good. Here's how I ranked the seven punters based on my observations of their workout at the Combine:
Adam Podlesh (Maryland): He was clearly the star of the day, making consistently good contact with the ball. Podlesh has a very long block-point because he does something unusual in his mechanics. On the catch, he takes a step backwards before coming forward to kick, which creates more space between him and defenders rushing in to try to block a punt. Most punters take a short step forward when they catch the ball and make their adjustments. Podlesh got the tightest and most consistent spiral on his punts and he was the most effective as a directional kicker. He also showed good success at killing the ball inside the 10-yard line. I think he has the greatest chance of getting signed at the next level more quickly than the typical punter.
Daniel Sepulveda (Baylor): He's a tall, rangy guy with big hands and showed good ability to catch the ball outside of his frame. Sepulveda made consistent contact as well, just not quite to the level of Podlesh during these workouts. But he showed the mechanics that indicate he's got good potential to land a job in this league.
Kody Bliss (Auburn): He doesn't quite have the size of some of the others in this group, and ideally you want your punter to have those long levers for a long pendulum swing. He has a strong leg and he was a very good directional kicker.
Alex Reyes (Texas Tech): He was a bit too inconsistent with his contact even though he has a big leg. If he gets an opportunity to work in some camps and get some coaching at the pro level, he still has some potential.
Brendan Carney (Syracuse) and Adam Graessle (Pittsburgh): Both of
these players are big guys who catch the ball high and make long drops to the
foot. And the longer that drop, the more chance you have of something going
wrong with your kick. While it can help your distance as a punter, on Thursday
it contributed to some problems in consistency for both of these punters.
Brandon Fields (Michigan State): Fairly unremarkable performance. On this day, I just didn't see the consistency in mechanics that would convince people that he'll be successful at the next level.
Nic Schmitt (Virginia Tech): He just simply didn't have a very good day. He shanked some balls and struggled out there in a number of areas.