Draft features decorated kickers/punters, but they are late-round picks, at best

Florida’s Caleb Sturgis (pictured) hopes the success of the Vikings’ Blair Walsh will make more NFL teams more willing to draft a kicker.
Florida’s Caleb Sturgis (pictured) hopes the success of the Vikings’ Blair Walsh will make more NFL teams more willing to draft a kicker.
Photo by University of Florida Athletics
| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 11:25 p.m.

Numerous NFL teams will be looking for the next Blair Walsh in the NFL Draft.

Except they won't want to pay too much for him, and that means anything other than a late-round pick.

If that.

Arguably, kickers can single-handedly influence a game more than any other player except for the quarterback. Former Steelers kicker Gary Anderson once went a whole season without missing only to cost the Vikings a chance to reach the Super Bowl by mishitting his last attempt of the season.

Yet as impactful as kickers and, at times, punters can be, they're almost never taken early in a draft. Sebastian Janikowski of the Raiders was the third, and certainly the last, kicker to be drafted in the first round, in 2000.

A year ago, the Jaguars went against the traditional way of thinking and drafted punter Bryan Anger in the third round. Anger had a strong season (47.8 average) yet his selection — and a 2-14 record, of course — was believed to be partly responsible for general manager Gene Smith's firing.

The Vikings followed the more common path by waiting to draft kicker Blair Walsh of Georgia in the sixth round. He rewarded them by being selected as the all-league kicker as a rookie after making 35 of 38 attempts and all 10 tries from 50 yards or longer.

Caleb Sturgis of Florida is one of the best kickers available in the 2013 draft, and he is hoping Walsh's success will make teams more willing to draft a kicker, if only because they understand they can get immediate results.

“It does a lot, because in the past, I think it's taken guys a few years to really get in (the NFL),” Sturgis said. “And I think him and (Greg) Zuerlein and (Justin) Tucker all came in and did a good job, so that just shows you the young guys are ready.”

The Steelers almost certainly will bring in a punter to challenge Drew Butler, also a rookie last year and Walsh's former college teammate. But, like Butler, that punter is likely to be an undrafted free agent.

As Sturgis said, there are many, many qualified kickers and punters without jobs.

“The margin for error is small,” he said. “There are only 32 teams that need your position. There's 32 guys that are already on teams and probably 20 guys that are veterans who are trying to get back in. You're definitely trying to prove yourself any time you step out in front of somebody.”

Sturgis, the kicker who is the most reminiscent of Walsh, has an exceptionally strong leg and good mechanics. Dustin Hopkins of Florida State is a long-range kicker who has proven clutch in big games. The most decorated punter is Ryan Allen, a two-time Ray Guy Award winner from Louisiana Tech who has shown he can kick in variable weather conditions.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribwb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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