The case for drafting a kicker in the second round
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded up to the 59th pick of the draft and took … a kicker, the football Twitter wise guys had a good laugh. The analysts on TV had a chuckle, too. It’s all good. We’re prisoners of the moment, and in that moment, it’s easy to just write off something we see so infrequently.
Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo became just the ninth kicker to be selected in the first two rounds since 1967.
It’s not done often, so it must be wrong. Right?
Well, about that.
Drafting Aguayo was in the Buccaneers’ plans all along. Tampa Bay lost a pair of early season games — one in Houston, one against Carolina at home — in which missed field goals did them in. They went through two kickers in 2015 and had two others in 2014. They won a combined eight games those two years.
When the Buccaneers selected Noah Spence 39th overall, they satisfied a need at pass rusher. They then kept an eye on the teams picking after them. The wait until their next selection, the 74th pick, seemed so long. As pick by pick went in the second round, the individuals in the Buccaneers war room sweated over the chance of missing out on Aguayo.
But in trading back in the first round from ninth to 11th to get Vernon Hargreaves III — the player they hoped to take anyway — the Bucs scooped up an extra fourth-rounder from Chicago.
Finally, it became too much. Buccaneers GM Jason Licht made a few calls to see what deals could be done, and found a partner in Kansas City. He gave up the team’s third-round pick (74th overall) and the pick from the Hargreaves trade (104th overall). And he did it all to get his man.
But, a kicker?
Well, this isn’t any kicker. This was a kicker that the Bucs’ brass views as the greatest kicker in college football history. Aguayo made 69 of 78 field goals and all 198 extra points from 2013 to 2015. He was the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, nailing a 96 percent conversion rate (267 of 276) on all kicks attempted.
"We had him targeted all along," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said afterward. "If you really think about what happened, we really just picked the kicker in the third round. The extra pick we got in the fourth, we gave it back up, used that same third-round pick we were going to use in the first place to take the kicker. That’s exactly what happened."
On paper, yes. But that’ll all get lost in the rubble. When it’s analyzed for years to come, the headline will not be what they gave up, but that they took a kicker in the second round. And they’ll have to live with that every time Aguayo misses a chippy, boots one wide left or boggles a kickoff in the rain.
I’m fine with it. They had a major need and they got a guy they viewed as the top player on their board. And what’s the 59th pick, anyway? If you go down the list of some recent 59th overall picks — Aaron Dobson (2013), Greg Little (2011), Montario Hardesty (2010), Sherrod Martin (2009) — it’s not exactly a Mount Rushmore or who’s who of National Football League History. But those guys weren’t kickers. They didn’t wear single digit jerseys. They didn’t kick extra points.
If there’s any player who knows the pressure (or notoriety) of being a special teams player drafted on Day 2, it’s Tampa Bay’s current punter Bryan Anger. Selected 70th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012, Anger’s had a fine four-year NFL career. You wouldn’t know it, though, because he’s known for something else.
Yes, he was the punter selected four picks ahead of Russell Wilson. He could punt 30 years in the league and that’s what he’ll be known for. The Buccaneers now have a punter and a kicker who were both taken on Day 2 of the NFL Draft. No more excuses, there.
As for Aguayo? Tampa Bay didn’t need a quarterback in this draft. The Bucs have one, and no matter how good the next QB taken is (Jets QB Christian Hackenberg), there are few scenarios in which the Bucs would be blamed for using the 59th pick on a kicker instead of a signal caller. But picks 60 (Patriots cornerback Cyrus Jones), 61 (Saints safety Von Bell), and 62 (Panthers cornerback James Bradberry) were all defensive backs, another area of need for Tampa Bay. If one of them ends up being Ed Reed or Darrelle Revis, the Bucs will hear about it … forever.
That’s something both the player and GM Jason Licht will have to live with. It’s not enough for Aguayo to be the earliest kicker picked in a draft since the Jets took Mike Nugent 47th overall in 2005. He needs to be great and he needs to be great from the start.
"I didn’t want to risk it. I wanted to take him," Licht said on Friday. "I have a lot of confidence in him. I like the way that he’s wired. I like the body of work that he has put out there, obviously. A great kicker can be the difference in several games."
The Buccaneers needed a kicker. They got one that they view as the best one ever to ever play college football. We praise "outside the box" thinking all the time in sports. Moneyball, analytics, pitchers batting eighth … you name it.
Well, the Bucs — a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008 and who’s special teams have been among the very worst in the league the past few seasons — took a kicker in the second round.
If that warrants a snarky tweet or two, that’s fine. That’s the cost of doing business. Games aren’t won or lost on Twitter.
And the Bucs are hoping they’re the ones who have the last laugh.