Entering his junior season, Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo was the top-rated kicker in the NCAA. There was talk he would be the first kicker since Mike Nugent (2005) selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft if he declared in 2016. However, after posting a field goal accuracy of 95.5% in his freshman year and 90.0% in his sophomore year, Aguayo saw his rate dip in his junior year, but still declared for the draft. Where does he fall on Chuck Zodda’s list of draft-eligible kickers? Here are the details.
Aguayo is the best kicking prospect since Sebastian Janikowski was taken in the first round by the Oakland Raiders in 2000. He possesses every tool necessary to be an upper-echelon kicker early in his career, with only minor questions concerning some of his mechanics. While his senior season did see a drop in accuracy, kickers are notoriously volatile from year to year, and even the best kickers will see seasons similar to the one Aguayo most recently experienced.
From a purely statistical perspective, Aguayo is already capable of stepping in on day one and being an above-average kicker in the NFL. Over his three seasons in Tallahassee, Aguayo connected on 88.5% of field goals. Among NFL kickers with field goals in at least 40 games over that time span, Aguayo would have ranked sixth in the NFL in accuracy. Aguayo has also never missed from under 40 yards, including 17 kicks between 30 and 39 yards in his college career. This statistic takes on new importance with the NFL making the longer extra point introduced in 2015 a permanent feature going forward. Lastly, Aguayo produced touchbacks on over 50% of his kickoffs in both 2014 and 2015, making him a viable weapon to reduce an opposing team’s return game as well.
So why is Aguayo so good?
It’s All In The Hips
The kicking motion is divided into five segments – pre-kick, approach, plant step, swing plane, and follow-through. Aguayo’s excellence starts in the same place where many great athletes begin: before the ball is snapped.
Setting up from 30 yards out against South Florida last season, Aguayo lines up from the left hash:
His body is square to the holder in his pre-kick setup, with a slight lean forward and to his right. This body lean is present in all of his kicks, and gives him an easy way to transition into his approach from his initial position. He effectively falls forward slightly to start his motion as he takes a jab step with his right foot:
His right foot fires a six to eight inch jab step as he builds momentum. Aguayo skillfully keeps his hips pointed straight at his plant through his approach and doesn’t open his hips too soon, which allows him to build power heading into the kick. Picture a rubber band stretching between your thumb and index finger as you try to shoot it at someone. If you move your thumb forward prior to releasing the rubber band, the power is lost. A kicker’s hips function the same way, as a kicker wants to build that tension until the last possible moment before unleashing it into the ball.
This gives him space to clear his hips as he fires them towards the target and creates a massive amount of rotational energy and torque in the process. Aguayo has one of the most aggressive moves through the ball I have ever seen. It is a quick whipping motion that moves directly to the point of contact and provides a stable swing plane. It is also a near-perfect balance between horizontal and vertical forces. Unlike many current NFL kickers with big windups who come through with a flatter swing plane, Aguayo is much more controlled and compact moving through the kicking zone.
The timing of this move is impeccable in this still, with everything firing in sync. Aguayo’s aggressiveness in his move carries over to his follow through, as he takes a massive skip-step to his left that can carry him close to a yard in that direction in some cases:
This skip-step allows him to clear his hips while remaining square to the target, as it absorbs much of the rotational energy created by his kick. This gives him tremendous power, but also better-than-expected control given the force generated during his swing as he remains square to the target after the ball is away. He is fully committed to every kick, and shows tremendous confidence with his mechanics.
If there is one flaw that could cause issues in Aguayo’s game, it is his skip-step. While it is a tremendous asset, it also presents a question mark because of its timing and violence.
Facing Syracuse in 2015, Aguayo once again sets up on the left hash for a 41-yard attempt:
The same jab step is present as he begins a controlled runup to the ball, and his plant foot maintains consistent distance from what he displayed on earlier kicks:
This is the one problem that was apparent with a number of Aguayo’s misses from the 2015 season. As opposed to many right-footed kickers, who tend to struggle from the right hash and miss off the right upright due to lagging hips, Aguayo’s move is so aggressive and confident that he has the opposite problem. Many of his misses are outside the left upright due to improper timing of his skip-step and too much hip clearance, as it brings him too far in this direction too quickly.
Watch Aguayo in the video below, slowed down to one-quarter speed on a kick against Boston College that was also missed to the left:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/AguayoSkipStep.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/AguayoSkipStepStill.png”]
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/CraddockSkipStep.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/CraddockSkipStepStill.png”]
As opposed to Aguayo, Craddock’s plant foot absorbs torque at impact, but holds its release until later in his motion, providing him additional stability prior to his skip step.
The flaw above is nitpicking based on recent performance more than anything else. Aguayo has demonstrated the ability to control his skip-step properly throughout his career, but it is the one thing that would concern me if I were looking to add him to my team. Aguayo’s ability to come in and be an above-average kicker on his first day presents significant value for a team that has struggled with the position in recent years. He represents a 30-point improvement over a bottom-tier NFL kicker. If picked up on a cheap rookie deal, this production would allow a team to save between $500,000 and $2,000,000 compared to a similar veteran, allowing those resources to be spent elsewhere. Despite that, there is better value to be found at other positions in the early rounds of the draft that can have a greater impact on a team’s fortunes. For those reasons, I give Aguayo a third-round grade as my top-rated kicker in the 2015 draft class.