Chuck Zodda’s top three draft-eligible kickers this year are Roberto Aguayo, Ross Martin, and Brad Craddock. In fact, they are the only three kickers he assigned draftable grades. A kicker being skipped over in the draft but finding a way into the NFL is incredibly common – only 11 out of the 32 current starters were drafted. The laws of supply and demand are heavily tilted toward NFL teams, with only 32 jobs and relatively low turnover, meaning many qualified kickers find themselves not employed by an NFL franchise. While there are a number of large-school prospects, who typically fill these ranks, Anthony Pistelli out of Samford University could see himself missing out on draft day in 2016, but finding his way onto an NFL roster as training camp begins.
Samford University is not to be confused with Stanford University. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, the program operates at the FCS level, with a 6,700 seat stadium that first opened in 1958. Make no mistake, Pistelli is an NFL-caliber talent, though there are enough questions that he does not warrant a team using draft capital on him at this point. The biggest questions are not related to technique or mechanics, but rather the adjustment he faces coming from a small-school environment to kicking in front of 60,000 or more people on Sundays – as well as his long-distance accuracy in games, as this aspect of his talent has not been consistently tested to this point.
Pistelli began his career in 2013 at NCAA Division II Valdosta State, where he went 4 for 8 on field goals after transitioning from soccer. He saw tremendous improvement in his 2014 campaign, going 23 for 27, good for 85.1% accuracy, as well as making a 52-yard attempt. He transferred to Samford to pursue a Master’s degree, and his final year at the Alabama school saw him make 20 of 23 kicks, an 86.9% hit rate. Over the past two seasons, six of Pistelli’s seven misses came on kicks of 40 yards or greater, with only one miss from short distance. With the NFL moving to 33-yard extra points last season, this short-distance accuracy is a positive for Pistelli.
However, his 1 for 3 performance on kicks longer than 50 yards does raise some questions, though it is such a small sample size that not much can be gleaned from this information. Working without pads, Pistelli has shown the ability to hit on kicks up to 65 yards, though there is traditionally a 2-4 yard decrease because of pads. This still shows a strong leg that should be able to hit any kick demanded by any NFL team, but the lack of data is the main reason why this question will likely prevent Pistelli from being drafted.
A Clean and Efficient Motion
Pistelli has one of the cleanest and most effortless approaches out of any kicker in this year’s class. It is compact and direct to the ball, with great control of his body rotation that is reminiscent of New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
Both feet point directly at the holder as he waits for the snap. His arms are relaxed and by his sides, and he shows little variation from kick to kick in terms of his positioning and placement.
At the snap, Pistelli rolls gently into a jab step with his left foot:
His jab step starts a gradual and controlled acceleration that builds until contact. Pistelli has arguably the smoothest approach out of any kicker in this class, and it is deceptive in the amount of power it creates because it appears so easy for him:
He uses his jab step to create momentum toward his eventual plant step, driving off his left foot as he drops his shoulders at the top of his approach. There is no wasted lateral motion, with everything flowing in a straight line to his plant:
Pistelli begins to open his upper body on his second step, clearing the way for his hips to rotate and provide power through the ball. The timing of this move is incredibly consistent from kick to kick, providing a solid entrance into his plant step:
Pistelli plants his left foot as he looks to strike the ball. His momentum is traveling directly through the uprights at this point, with a strong platform that is repeated in similar fashion on nearly every kick. His initial follow-through shows this momentum continuing just after he strikes the ball:
Right-hash kicks are typically the most difficult to execute for right-footed kickers, as the rotational force generated by the swing will often bring a kicker’s momentum outside the hash and upright. Pistelli initially keeps his balance through the follow-through, but does show a slightly off-balance finish as he goes through his skip step:
The lack of balance here is an issue Pistelli will have to work on, but his mechanics are so clean through the kick that this is more of a minor issue than anything else.
Different End Zone, Same Result
One of the downsides of playing at the FCS level is that kickers will often have blocking that is subpar because of the quality of athletes on the field-goal unit. In this case, Pistelli faces strong pressure from the left side, but keeps his head down and maintains his technique through the kick, not letting the close shave from the edge rattle him:
Pistelli makes the kick despite the pressure, showing nearly identical mechanics to the earlier kick.
Pistelli is an intriguing candidate to be brought into camp as an undrafted free agent. While the lack of data on longer field goals and lack of track record in front of big crowds are impediments to his being drafted, a team would be wise to bring him in for camp competition, even if only to push a veteran throughout the summer and see how Pistelli handles his duties at the NFL level. Pistelli would likely benefit from the experience as well, getting to compete against a higher caliber of competition than he has seen previously, and understanding the work needed to succeed at this level in the future. Pistelli may not see immediate success in the NFL because of a lack of job openings and the need for some seasoning, but he could follow a career path similar to Seattle’s Steven Hauschka, who bounced between practice squads for several years before becoming a reliable – and Super Bowl winning – kicker for the Seahawks. Despite his small-school pedigree, Pistelli has the mechanics and leg needed to compete at the NFL level, and it may just be a matter of finding the right fit after some additional experience.