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Buccaneers whiffing on recent kicker picks serves as reminder: Don't draft kickers!

Eric Edholm

This is not a dump-on-the-Tampa Bay Buccaneers post, we swear.

But they’ve sort of become the poster boys for an NFL draft axiom we’ve long held:

Drafting kickers, by and large, is just a bad idea.

Although we’ve not done the work relative to every other position, it would be shocking not to find out that the hit rate on kickers in the draft is perhaps the lowest of any other spot on the field. Lower than even punters (or long snappers!) we think.

The Buccaneers just axed Matt Gay, the 2019 fifth-round kicker they hoped would replace bust Roberto Aguyao ... their 2016 second-round kicker.

It’s almost never fair to play this game, but among the players the Bucs could have had with the Aguayo pick include Dak Prescott, Yannick Ngakoue, Joe Thuney, Kevin Byard and Joe Schoebert. The Gay pick could have netted Gardner Minshew, Dre Greenlaw or Darius Slayton, among others.

The Bucs have finished 22nd or lower each of the past four seasons in field-goal percentage. Gay’s three missed kicks in a loss to the Giants last year likely cost them a victory in what should have been a .500 season.

Put another way: Tampa Bay could have been 8-6 heading into the final two games of last season, with a shot at a 10-win campaign. Gay also missed a FG attempt in the three-point loss to Houston in Week 16 and all three of his tries in the six-point loss to Atlanta in Week 17.

Matt Gay, a fifth-round pick of the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/tampa-bay/" data-ylk="slk:Tampa Bay Buccaneers">Tampa Bay Buccaneers</a>, is the latest kicker draft pick to strike out with the team that selected him. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Matt Gay, a fifth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is the latest kicker draft pick to strike out with the team that selected him. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

It’s not just the Buccaneers, though

Really, drafting kickers hasn’t worked out for many teams in recent seasons.

There have been 20 kickers drafted in the league since 2011. Only six of those remain with the teams that drafted them — and three of those kickers were 2020 draft picks.

One of those 2020 draft picks is Sam Sloman, a seventh-rounder picked by the Los Angeles Rams, and though he’s still battling for a job, he appears to be the likely winner. He’s trying to replace Greg Zuerlein, who was one of the other three non-2020 kickers on that list that was still with his original draft team until he left for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason.

Tyler Bass is another 2020 pick, by the Buffalo Bills. He’s won the kicking job up there, and kudos to him. He was also our top-rated kicker coming out this year. But if he turns into the next Steve Christie, it would be the exception to the rule.

The other 2020 kicker pick is the PatriotsJustin Rohrwasser, who was embroiled in a post-draft tattoo controversy before he ever took the practice field for New England.

And despite Bill Belichick saying Friday that it’s a pretty close competition between Rohrwasser and veteran Nick Folk, the local media are saying that Folk clearly has outkicked the rookie head to head. (We asked two special-teams coaches this spring before the draft for their top five kicker prospects in the draft class, and neither of them had Rohrwasser, a fifth-round pick, on their list.)

It’s likely that at least one of the three kickers drafted this year will have to make it on other teams. If they make it at all.

Most of the best kickers go undrafted

Over the past five seasons, the 20 leading point scorers among kickers included only six who were drafted: Stephen Gostkowski, Greg Zuerlein, Mason Crosby, Dustin Hopkins, Ryan Succop and Harrison Butker.

Gostkowski, Zuerlein and Crosby all hold up as excellent picks. Despite each enduring some shaky stretches along the way, it’s easily defendable to say those players met — and likely surpassed their draft statuses.

But Hopkins, Succop and Butker were all drafted by teams for whom they never actually kicked. The same is true for the Eagles’ Jake Elliott, who was a Bengals pick originally.

To date, Austin Seibert and Jason Sanders both appear to be solid draft choices by the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, respectively. But time and time again, kickers will have a good season or two and then fade into obscurity.

It feels more worthy to wait for the next Justin Tucker, Robbie Gould, Matt Prater or Wil Lutz — all of them undrafted — than to use a pick on a kicker, from our vantage point.

Justin Tucker is arguably one of the greatest kickers in NFL history. But he wasn't even drafted. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Justin Tucker is arguably one of the greatest kickers in NFL history. But he wasn't even drafted. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Granted, most kicker picks are Day 3 selections, which tend to be dart throws anyway. Other than Aguayo, there have been only three other kickers drafted since 2000 in Rounds 1 through 3, and they all had respectable, lengthy careers: Mike Nugent, Nate Kaeding and Sebastian Janikowski.

It’s also fair to say that the lifespan of Day 3 non-kickers isn’t that high. But relatively speaking, their hit rate is far more impressive, just in terms of sheer longevity anyway.

There have been 470 non-kickers (or punters) drafted in Round 4 or later since the year 2000 who ended up logging 80-plus games played. And by our count, there were a total 2,149 players picked between Rounds 4 and 7 in the years 2000 to 2013 (we picked 2013 because no player drafted in 2015 or later could realistically have played more than 96 regular-season games).

So that means you had about a 22 percent chance to draft a non-kicker — after Round 4 — between those years who would go on to have 80-plus games played, which feels like a pretty respectable career length.

And in that same span, only seven of the 28 kickers — 25 percent — who were drafted in that range went on to appear in 50 or more games with the team that drafted them. Ten of those 28 kickers (35.7 percent) appeared in 16 or fewer career games.

We’ll take our chances on drafting a gunner or long snapper over a kicker after seeing those numbers. Every day of the week.

Kickers do matter in the NFL. They’re tasked to make high-pressure conversions in key moments. But the high bust rate on drafted kickers just feels like too high a risk in our minds to spend anything but a late flier on one.

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