As a former soccer player, I have an admitted soft spot for kickers, and probably pay more attention to them than they warrant. I sympathize with the Blair Walsh’s of the world, and get excited for the Adam Vinatieri’s of the world. I also take notice of the fact that pretty much every consistently successful NFL team has a quality kicker on its roster. This is primarily because the margin of victory in the NFL is extremely small, and wins and losses are often determined by a missed or made kick.
In past years the Bucs have had some pretty reliable kickers, but recent history has not been up to par. The 2015 Bucs saw first-hand what a bad kicking game can cost them, and find themselves currently at a crossroads with the position.
Patrick Murray was good in his one year stint as Bucs kicker, but after a poor preseason the team opted to go with the recently acquired Kyle Brindza for the 2015 season. However, Brindza melted down in back to back games versus Houston and Carolina, so the Bucs cut-bait and turned to a familiar face, in Connor Barth. But Barth 2.0 was far less consistent from deep range than the pre-injury version of himself, and wasn’t able to adequately handle kick-off duties. This turmoil ruined drives and killed momentum throughout the season.
Put simply, the 2015 year for Buccaneer kickers, and the special teams unit as a whole, was not nearly good enough for sustained winning. Without drastic improvement in the offseason this problem will seriously damper their playoff chances in 2016. Thankfully for the Bucs (and those of us that enjoy quality kicking), the first major step towards fixing this broken special teams unit is readily available in the upcoming draft. His name is Roberto Aguayo, from Florida State.
Even without considering Tampa Bay’s poor kicking situation last year, the case for Aguayo is an easy one to make.
Aguayo is among college footballs’ most decorated kickers ever. He’s won every kicking award under the sun, and was beloved by his teammates at FSU. He has a leg that is big enough to kick from any reasonable distance on the field, and has the ability to pin teams with accurately placed mortar-shots on kickoffs. Beyond the accolades and physical abilities, Aguayo has the one trait absolutely needed in a kicker: mental toughness. Thanks to the school he played at, Aguayo has kicked in numerous big games and came through in the clutch countless times. There won’t be a stage in the NFL that is too big for Roberto Aguayo to kick on, and fans will never have to worry about the pressure getting to their kicker. How nice would that be?
Another reason a kicker like Aguayo has underrated value in the draft is the current climate of the NFL. Last year saw a drastic increase in missed extra points because of a rule change that made teams kick from the 15-yard line, instead of the 2-yard line. Overnight, the need for a reliable kicker skyrocketed for teams without them.
As I said, it doesn’t take much convincing to sell people on Aguayo’s abilities as a kicker. So, naturally, the next question is: “What round do you draft him in?”
I would argue that the fifth round is just about right, and I wouldn’t complain about the fourth. A pretty hot take, I know.
Realistically, the Bucs would use their first three or four picks on some combination of the defensive line, secondary and offensive line, all in arguably bigger and more valuable demands than kicking.
But beyond that, why not? How high is too high for the unequivocal safest player in the entire draft? How many players going in the fourth or fifth round can you confidently say will not only start from day one, but probably still be playing for the team five years down the road? Drafting a kicker high is a leap of faith for no other reason than the atypical occurrence of it, and is the safest leap of faith a team could take in the mid rounds.
Roberto Aguayo is the sitting king of the kicking world, and the Bucs would be wise to relocate his throne from Tallahassee to Tampa Bay, even if the cost is steep.