Kicking Specialist Draft Preview 2002

BBWC resident draftnik Ceri Dovey gives readers his take on the Giants Draft needs. And right now, the Giants are a team without a proven kicker...

Right now the Giants are a team without a proven kicker, Morten Andersen a free agent thought unlikely to return and back-up Owen Pochman unable to earn a regular game-day roster spot because his kick-off's were shorter than Andersen's and his field goal kicking not as accurate. I don't believe Pochman will be with us for a 2nd year. Free agent veterans are a lot more expensive than a late round rookie draft choice and I expect them to go latter route though they may take a kicking prospect who could actually kick the ball into the end-zone but who needs some work on accuracy and pair him with a veteran (though maybe not Morten).

Punter Rodney Williams started off the season like a house on fire, punting his way to ST player of the month honours in September. However, a car crash, a broken wrist making a tackle on a punt return and some really dumb decisions when running the ball may have shaken his confidence. He certainly wasn't very good after October, shanking the ball and kicking low line drives in crucial games. Consistency has never been his thing – I saw him for two years in NFL Europe remember – and I don't see why he should improve now. I'd like him replaced but he's cheap and with every cap dollar really meaning a lot, I think we may keep him around and cross our fingers hoping that the injuries played the major part in his form at the end of the year.

I didn't have to look around very long to find both the kicker and punter I wanted. Unfortunately, Damon Duval (Auburn), would be my choice for both of those roles and he is unavailable this year as he's only a junior but he'd have been great!

I'm not one who will even pretend to understand about the mechanics of kicking so won't BS you by suggesting otherwise. I have no way of knowing whether a miss was wide left, right or otherwise or whether the snap/hold were good unless I saw the game so can only go by the FG statistics to say who is or isn't a prospect! What I expect from a kicker is someone who can reach the end-zone consistently on kick-off's, has the range for the long FG's and is accurate pretty much every time under 40 yards. XP's I take as a prerequisite of the job description. I also want to know that the kicker has a pair of real ‘brass cajones' and has won or tied ball-games at the death in big games. We don't want another John Markham type of mistake do we?

From a punter I want a guy with the ability to drive the ball 55 yards downfield, the shadows of his own goalpost behind him. However, low line drives mean big returns so that's a no-no. I don't want to see any shanks and I want them to be able to direct the ball near to the sidelines inside the 20 and by that I mean nearer the 10 than the 19! Ok, so I want a Pro bowler! Realistically, I'd settle for a ‘hang-time' directional punter who gets decent distance –a 42 yard average would suffice – and either pins his opponents to the sideline or forces a fair catch to limit the potential for abhorrent coverage and lousy tackling that is unfortunately a trait of the Giants ST's play.

Is size important? Not at these positions. It's all about technique and leg strength - it's taken for granted that the vast majority of kickers and punters couldn't make a tackle to save their lives so their size is not an issue!

There are rarely more than a couple of kicking specialists drafted overall but the better ones will make their way into a camp and more than one veteran has been replaced by an upstart undrafted rookie over the years. As such, there is no guarantee that if we don't draft one that we are going to give either Pochman or Williams another year. A few days after the draft when all the remaining talent is signed for camps, we'll find out but not necessarily before then...

Kickers

The top dog is widely thought to be Jeff Chandler (Florida) but he makes me nervous. You know when you see a guy do something early in their career and it sticks in your mind no matter what follows? Well, I remember against Alabama a few years ago (when Shaun Alexander scored 4 TD's!) how he shanked the extra points and FG's and to an extent lost his team the game! That's his sophomore year though and a lot has happened since then and this year he had an excellent season as a senior, making 19 of 22 and also doing well on kick-off's where he gets the ball inside the 5 regularly. However, his longest FG attempt was just 50 yards (made) and he missed three times from 40 or inside early in the season. I'm sure he'll be drafted and it wouldn't be surprising to see him in Washington along with all the other ex-Gators!

Tim Duncan (Oklahoma) wasn't consistent as a junior (13 of 21) and this year finished 20 of 28. Though he kicked his last 12, none were over 42 yards so he wasn't really tested from long distance to keep that streak going. What excites scouts is his pure leg strength – over half of his career kick-off's went for touchbacks – so he should have the range for long FG's if the coaching staff can help him with his accuracy. I don't believe he's draftable but you never know.

Taylor Northrop (Princeton) played in the East-West Shrine game and was said to have shown a stronger leg and better mechanics than Chandler in the sessions there. Was 13 of 18 this year on FG's. While he's only kicked two FG's of over 50 yards including a school record 52 yarder, he hit the crossbar on a 57 yard attempt this past season so must have a strong enough leg to do the job in the NFL. The lower level of competition worries me and I have no idea whether he's ever had to do the job in crunch-time. I guess that's what the pro's will have to find out. Again, I don't think he'll be drafted.

Punters

Like former Giant Brad Maynard, another MAC punter who has wowed the NFL scouts and appears certain to get drafted is Dave Zastudil (Ohio University). He averaged 45.6 yards this past season and is said to have impressed at both the Senior Bowl and Combine a the best punter in attendance, getting good hang-time and distance on his punts. He could go as high as the 4th round if a team really wants a punter desperately but more likely will be nabbed in the 5th round.

Jeff Ferguson (Oklahoma) made a name for himself when the Sooners beat Florida State in the National Championship game two years ago, pinning the Seminoles inside their own 10 four times and getting good hang-time on most of his efforts. He's a consistent guy – has averaged 44 yards per kick each of the last two years – who specialises in hang-time and directional kicking (21 inside the 20, more than half of which were inside the 10) and he can also put in the long driving kick over the returner's head when needed too. I think he'll be drafted too though probably not until late on.

Casey Roussel (Tulane) averaged just over 43 yards this past season and also has a reputation as a good hang-time and ball placement punter. Reports from the Senior Bowl suggested he was definitely less powerful than Zastudil but that he got good hang-time and above average distance. His stats at college suggest otherwise – how else can you explain more touchbacks than kicks inside the 20 and an average return of over 14 yards despite none being returned more than 50? Who knows, maybe he worked with the Giants cover units!

Dual Potential

The man with the strongest leg in the entire draft has to be Travis Dorsch (Purdue) who performed both roles in college with varying success. He'll drive the ball to the end-zone repeatedly and I've even seen him pepper the crowd with his kick-off's! However, consistency isn't his thing and he has a real hook in his swing at times (when he misses, it's rarely close!). Certainly, extra points can be somewhat exciting with more than a few shanks and some quacking ducks falling over the crossbar (20 of 25 this season!)! Could we be the first team EVER to employ a kicker just to kick PAT's? (Just kidding?) On FG's, he's actually more acurate and as you'd expect distance isn't a problem for him. He has had problems with blocks – doesn't get the height when driving longer kicks – but improved on that this season.. This year he hit on 22 of 27 FG's – missed just once inside the 50 – and two of his misses were from 57 & 59 yards so it's a bit unfair to count those against him. He has some experience under pressure too, kicking a few game-winners in his time but partly because he'd put his team in a hole with his extra point gaffes!

He won the Ray Guy award for his punting (averaged 48.1 yards per kick) but is very overrated in that regard as a prospect. He takes too long to get the ball off (2 blocked) and he is solely a distance punter – Purdue had another guy do all the pooch punting – booming everything deep and often making the return man chase back for the ball. He'd be able to be the ‘relief' punter standing with his feet in the end-zone and do the job better than most NFL punters but isn't likely to ever be capable of finesse ball placement.

He could be worth drafting just for the field position he'd create on kick-off's but if we do so our ST coach will really have to earn his corn to iron out his technique on field goals. The Giants didn't interview him at the Combine though so he might not be in our thinking..

Another who performed both roles in college is Haywood Epstein (Michigan) but coming from my Wolverines I have seen plenty of him and it's not always been good! As a junior, he actually lost his kicking job during the season when a series of shanked and blocked kicks – doesn't get the ball that high – had the coaches lose confidence in him (made just 8-14 on a free-scoring offense, his replacement getting 6 attempts). This year, he got the job full-time, finishing the year 13 of 20 but every miss was inside of 50 yards (2 were blocked, one definitely was down to the line not blocking). However, he booted a 52 yarder and a monster 57 yarder against Michigan State this year. He also has kicked a few game winners in his time and that should stand him in good stead with the scouts too. Kickoff's have always been good from him and he normally gets the ball to the goal-line or into the end-zone.

As a punter he averaged 39.3 yards per kick and his expertise in hanging the ball up and angling to the sidelines (forced 17 fair catches and also had 17 punts inside the 20) were put to good use. Scouts though believe he has a better shot at being a kicker in the NFL as he doesn't often get great distance despite his leg strength and does line drive more than a few.

Knowing that the Giants have a fascination with Michigan players there is the possibility that Epstein may be the one we go after in the late rounds. I'm not sure how I'd feel about that to be honest but will cross my fingers and hope if we pick him that he's worth the investment of a draft choice that John Markham most definitely was not.


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