The New York Jets are in dire need of some kicking help. Teams prefer to avoid drafting specialists, but the Jets may have no choice.
For the second straight year, the New York Jets are set to have kicking woes. After letting Jason Myers walk in free agency, the Jets struggled to find any consistency at kicker.
Sam Ficken was the kicker for the majority of the season and he struggled, to say the least. Ficken’s 70.4% field goal rate was fourth-worst in the NFL. He wasn’t any better on extra points as his 88.5% extra point rate was third-worst in the NFL.
Yet, Ficken’s contract was extended. The Jets also signed former Dallas Cowboys’ kicker Brett Maher as competition for Ficken. The only problem with that is Maher was worse than Ficken was in 2019.
Maher made just 66.7% of his field goals, though he was one of only four kickers who didn’t miss an extra point. Maher is best known for his strong leg. He’s the only kicker in NFL history to have made three field goals of 60-plus yards. It’s an impressive feat, but his 50% from 50-plus yards in 2019 is much less impressive.
Neither kicker should be a team’s answer, but the Jets’ lack of action has left them little choice.
They have a similar situation at punter. Despite ranking fourth in punt coverage DVOA in 2019, the Jets will not bring back longtime punter Lac Edwards. The only punter left on the roster is Ian Berryman, who has never punted in an NFL game.
Berryman never had punt average of even 45 yards at Western Carolina. His career-best 44.5 average would have been 25th in the NFL in 2019.
Brant Boyer has been fantastic in his role as special teams coordinator, but even he needs some talent to make things work. Right now, he doesn’t have any. With all the experienced or capable players already signed, the only way to fix this issue through the draft.
Braden Mann, P, Texas A&M
If there was ever a punter to draft it was Braden Mann. He is a near guarantee to be drafted, a huge accomplishment for a punter.
Mann won the Ray Guy award in 2018, the best punter in the NCAA. He did so by setting the NCAA record for punt average at 51 yards per punt. That would have ranked first in the NFL by nearly two full yards last year.
Even in a down year in 2019, Mann averaged 47.2, which would have been fourth in the NFL. Over 53% of his punts in his career have been 50-plus yards, including an 82-yard punt against Clemson in 2018.
He also has strong ability as a directional punter and with killing the ball inside the 20. Those aren’t his biggest strengths, but he does them at an above-average rate. Mann has all the tools to be an elite punter in the NFL.
The only question about him is his hangtime. Mann routinely outkicked his coverage unit at Texas A&M leading to mixed net averages. He had 44.7 net yards in 2018 and 41.2 in 2019. Those would have ranked first and 20th in the NFL respectively.
The hope is that with more athletic gunners chasing down returners Mann wouldn’t have that issue in the NFL. Still, the lack of hang-time is a real concern. NFL returners feast on punters who outkick their coverage. If Mann can’t figure out his one issue, he could be out of the league as quickly as he came in.
Mann is likely going to take a sizeable investment from a team. He’s projected to be taken in the fifth round by most draft experts. Is a punter, even one as talented as Mann, worth a high day three pick?
Sterling Hofrichter, P, Syracuse
Hofrichter is the only other punter who could be selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. He doesn’t have Mann’s power or Mann’s ability to pin teams inside the 20, but he does beat Mann in hangtime.
Hofrichter doesn’t have the strongest leg, as he was below 44 yards per punt in every year of his college career. However, his impressive hangtime makes him a dangerous weapon.
Hofrichter’s 43.9 yards per punt would have been 29th in the NFL in 2019, but his 43-yard net average would have been 10th in the NFL.
At the end of the day, net average is what counts. Net average shows what’s actually happening on punts, and Hofrichter has proven to be able to suppress returns. In 2019, only 10 of Hofricther’s 69 punts were returned and they gained a combined 17 yards.
If Hofrichter can carry that ability into the NFL he could have a long career as a punter. However, he has a few issues to work on.
His power is incredibly lacking as noted, and that won’t stand in the NFL. Hofrichter has also had issues pinning opponents inside the 20. He only pinned 36% of punts inside the 20 in his career and that would have been 20th in the NFL in 2019. Hofrichter showed improvement in 2019 pinning 42% of punts inside the 20, he’ll need to maintain that average to have a shot in the NFL.
The good thing about Hofrichter is that he’ll likely only cost a sixth or seventh-round pick. He may even be available as a UDFA. Unlike Mann, Hofrichter won’t cost a potential high day three pick.
Rodrigo Blankenship, K, Georgia
NFL teams have been eyeing Rodrigo Blankenship for a few years now. The Georgia native has been one of the best kickers in the NCAA for years now.
He’s hit 82.5% of his kicks at Georgia. That would have been 16th in the NFL in 2019. It also would have been a 12% increase on Sam Ficken.
Blankenship is nearly perfect inside of 40 yards hitting 92.7% on those kicks. His struggles begin at 40 yards out where he’s just 70%. That would have been 24th in the NFL in 2019, however it would have been substantially better than both Sam Ficken’s 63.6% and Brett Maher’s 20%.
Things get even better from 50 yards out. Blankenship is 66.7% from 50-plus yards in his college career. That would have been 15th in the NFL in 2019.
Blankenship is also a touchback machine on kickoffs.
Blankenship would likely take a late-round selection, but might be had as a UDFA. Is he a big enough improvement over Ficken and Maher to invest a draft pick on?
Dominik Eberle, K, Utah State
Dominik Eberle came out of nowhere to get on NFL team’s radars in 2019. Coming into 2019, Eberle hadn’t had a single season with an 80% field goal rate. Out of nowhere, he hit 87% of his kick in 2019.
Eberle missed just three kicks in 2019 and all of them were 40 yards or longer. Eberle has struggled from that distance in his career. He’s only 68% from 40-49 over his four-year career, however, he’s 82.4% from that range in the past two seasons.
Eberle’s not great from 50-plus. He’s only made 58% of his kicks from that range, which would have been 19th in the NFL in 2019. He’s hit 50% of those kicks in the last two seasons.
Eberle also struggles on kickoffs. He’s doesn’t have the strongest leg and it shows when he struggles to get touchbacks.
Things aren’t much rosier from inside 40 yards. Eberle made 89.1% of kicks from in close. While that may seem good, it’s not to NFL standards. That would have put Eberle at 25th in the NFL in 2019.
Eberle will likely be had as a UDFA with the potential to be an NFL kicker. The fact he’s improved every year of his career should give fans optimism. However, Eberle is a work in progress and likely wouldn’t be a major upgrade, if he’s one at all, over Sam Ficken and Brett Maher in his rookie year.