The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked the NFL on Friday, trading the 74th and 106th picks to move up to the 59th slot to grab the kicker out of Florida State. The internet instantly became filled with kicking experts, with everyone choosing a side in the Aguayo War, a smaller side conflict loosely connected to World War Wentz, which had been roaring for the past three months and still continues post-draft. Reporting from the front lines of the Aguayo War, Chuck Zodda cuts through the fog and separates fact from fiction in this battle.
The past five days have seen numerous claims regarding Roberto Aguayo and his future in the NFL. The two primary issues with most of the claims are that few people have a kicking background or know how kicking actually works, and that Twitter is generally a terrible platform for any type of nuanced discussion about where a player may actually fit in the NFL. With that in mind, here are some of the key ideas that have been discussed since Aguayo was drafted by the Buccaneers on Friday and whether or not those concepts have merit.
Claim: No kicker should ever be taken with a second-round pick.
Verdict: Fact. Kickers are not worth second round picks. This is not because kickers lack value or are not important, but instead because there is a surplus of good kickers beyond what we see in the NFL on Sundays. Unlike the quarterback position, which currently features a dearth of talent that makes teams overpay for mediocrity and spend obscene amounts of draft capital in the hope of finding a franchise quarterback, there are more good kickers than there are available spots on NFL rosters. The difference between an elite NFL kicker and a bottom-tier one is between 20 and 30 points over the course of a season, which shows there is value in acquiring elite talent. However, the difference between a top-end kicker and an average kicker is only 7-15 points over the course of the season. With other positions seeing greater scarcity and drop-off from high-end talent, it makes more sense to select players from other positions prior to the third round. The highest grade I will ever give a kicker is a third-round selection – and Aguayo received a third-round grade from me.
Claim: Roberto Aguayo is not good enough from long-distance to warrant being the first kicker selected.
Verdict: Fiction. Over the course of Aguayo’s college career, he was 18 for 24 from 40-49 yards and 5-8 from 50+ yards, good for 71.9% over his career. The NFL average on kicks from 40+ yards last season was 72.0% according to Pro Football Reference. Thus, the argument has been made that Aguayo is a below-average kicker from distance. On the direct claim, Aguayo is exactly average from long distance. Further and more importantly, the reality is that kickers typically see their leg strength and accuracy from distance grow over the first several years of their career. Stephen Gostkowski went 3 for 5 (60%) from 40+ yards in each of his first two seasons, as well as 7 for 10 (60%) from 30-39 yards in his rookie season. Dan Bailey was 12-16 (75%) from 40+ yards in his rookie season. Justin Tucker went 8 for 13 (61.5%) on kicks of 40+ yards in his third season and 14-21 (66%) from this distance in his fourth season. Even Adam Vinatieri, the greatest kicker of all-time, was 9 for 16 (56.3%) from 40+ yards in his rookie season. Kickers inherently go through struggles during their early years and have a development curve they have to follow. Aguayo went 9 for 10 from 40+ yards as a freshman before regressing in his last two seasons. The talent is there. The consistency, as it is with nearly all kickers, will take time to develop.
Claim: Aguayo’s track record in cold climates should have given teams pause about drafting him.
Verdict: Fiction. Seeing kickers in cold-weather situations is important, and in fact one of the main reasons I downgraded UCLA K Ka’imi Fairbairn, as he struggled in cold weather during Senior Bowl practices. However, Aguayo has a whopping three kicks in cooler climates longer than 30 yards over the course of his career, going 1 for 3 on them. This is too small of a sample size to make judgments in either direction, as there is simply not enough of a track record to make a reliable evaluation.
Claim: Aguayo does not represent a big enough improvement on Connor Barth to justify his selection here.
Verdict: Fact. Barth clocks in as a slightly above-average kicker, connecting on 84.8% of his kicks overall, and 73.8% of his field goals from 40+ yards. The type of team that would see the maximum benefit from drafting Aguayo would be one with a bottom-tier kicker looking for an easy way to pick up an additional 20-30 points over the course of the year. In this case, Aguayo may not represent any improvement over Barth during his first season. This is not because of any problems with Aguayo’s game, but rather the fact that Barth is a very capable kicker throughout his NFL career. The Buccaneers spent draft capital in a place where it was not necessary.
Claim: Aguayo’s perfect track record under 40 yards has additional value in today’s NFL with longer extra points.
Verdict: Fact. Aguayo never missed a field goal in a game from under 40 yards throughout his college career. With the NFL moving to longer extra points in the 2015 season, the value of kickers who are accurate from short-distance has never been higher. Aguayo’s accuracy from the 33-yard distance likely represents a 2-3 point premium over an average NFL kicker. While this may sound like a minor upgrade, the fact is that an extra point in a close game has a tremendous amount of value and can be the difference between winning and losing. As we saw with Gostkowski against the Denver Broncos in the playoffs, a missed extra point can dramatically affect the shape of a game. While Aguayo will obviously miss an extra point and likely more than that over the course of his career, his short game does have more value in today’s NFL than back in 2014 with the shorter extra point.
Claim: The trade for and use of the second-round pick is a potential impediment to Aguayo’s growth.
Verdict: Fact. Aguayo now has the most unrealistic expectations of any kicker in recent history. It is not just the fact that he was drafted in the second round. It is the fact that Tampa Bay traded two picks to make the selection, meaning that every player between the 59th and 106th pick will be analyzed for the next decade to see if they would have been a better pick than Aguayo. Beyond that, the expectations for Aguayo are now astronomical. Imagine the reaction the first time Aguayo misses an extra point or a chip shot field goal. And make no mistake about it, he will. Every kicker misses easy kicks at some point. But the standard Aguayo will be held to is nearly impossible for him to live up to, and may in fact stunt his development. Kickers miss. In fact, kickers need opportunities to miss, because it is only by going through that process and working through failure that errors are corrected and kickers develop into the Vinatieris and Baileys of the league. Short of winning an MVP award (Mark Moseley is the only kicker to ever do so in the strike-shortened 1982 season), Aguayo cannot live up to the ridiculous expectations of him due to the way in which he was acquired. I fear that he will not have ample opportunity to fail, and will be held to such a high standard that he is not able to go through a normal development curve.
The key in this process is to separate the player from the pick. Aguayo is likely to be an above-average kicker early in his NFL career. But that does not justify the pick from Tampa Bay, who had no need at the position, will see minimal cap savings, and potentially put their second-round pick in a no-win situation due to the manner in which they drafted him. While I love Aguayo as a player and think he has the talent to be a difference-maker at the NFL level, I do not believe this is an ideal situation for him due to the reasons outlined above. But if Aguayo is what the Buccaneers believe he is, he will perform, as do all the great ones in this game.