1. Andy Phillips, Utah – Chicago Bears
I love nearly everything about Andy Phillips’ game. He falls off a little more to the right than is ideal, but it is a relatively minor balance issue compared to what many undrafted prospects show coming out of college. He was 4-for-4 in his career from 50+ yards, which is a smaller than ideal sample size, but also shows that he has stepped up when the stage demanded it. Phillips strikes a nice balance between the sidewinding style of Cairo Santos and the more vertically-oriented swing of kickers like Dan Bailey, and I think he could prove to be one of the best kickers in the 2017 class, including those that were drafted.
2. Conrad Ukropina, Stanford – San Francisco 49ers
Ukropina earned a reputation as a clutch kicker with a 45-yard make against Notre Dame in 2015. The lanky kicker does not have the easiest swing, with a max-effort motion that sometimes looks as if he is going to swing right out of his cleats. However, the results are undeniable – 40 makes in 47 attempts over the past two seasons, including 3-for-3 from over 50 yards. Ukropina also made all 101 extra point attempts over that same time span, with his only miss at the college level occurring back in the fall of 2013 during his freshman year. Ukropina might not step in as an above-average kicker right away, but he can provide a cheap improvement over some of the weaker kickers in the NFL, and has the talent to develop into an NFL regular rapidly.
3. Rigoberto Sanchez, Hawai’i – Indianapolis Colts
Let’s get this out of the way up front – Sanchez will not be replacing Adam Vinatieri, the best undrafted kicker of all time, any time in 2017. But with Vinatieri turning 44 this year and in the last year of his contract, the Colts may know something we don’t, and could be looking for a 2018 replacement. Sanchez is listed at 6’1”, but looks taller than that, featuring a lanky build that should be able to generate good leg speed. He also handled punting duties for Hawai’i in 2016, taking advantage of this frame. His mechanics are somewhat stiff on the front side, but he clears his hips through the ball well, in particular from the right hash, which can be a trouble spot for right-footed kickers. It is not an easy and free-flowing motion, but it works for Sanchez, and he may just need additional reps to improve his fluidity.
4. Younghoe Koo, Georgia Southern – Los Angeles Chargers
Koo is about as off-the-radar as you can get for a prospect – I did not even initially scout him this year, as he had only attempted 15 field goals heading into his senior season. He put up outstanding numbers in his final campaign, making 19-of-20 field goals, with his only miss coming from over 50 yards. Koo is a little raw, and has some back-end wiggle to him as he completes his follow-through, occasionally falling off to his leg-side, which suggests he needs to square away some balance problems before fully realizing his potential. I’d also like to see a little more skip-step drive from him, which could help to work this out, as he stops somewhat abruptly after striking the ball. Koo might not see an NFL field this year, but he is an intriguing prospect with a two- to three-year development track.
5. Nick Weiler, North Carolina – Jacksonville Jaguars
For me, Weiler’s profile has always surpassed his actual talent. While the former Tar Heel will never have to buy a drink in the state of North Carolina after his 54-yard make against Florida State in 2016 (and rightly so), his overall college performance is unremarkable aside from his junior year, where he notched 87% accuracy, though he was just 4-for-6 from 40 to 49 yards during that campaign. In his career, he is just 8-for-12 from that distance, and 3-for-5 from 50+ yards, indicating that the bulk of his superior performance during that junior season came on a greater-than-expected number of attempts from short distance. Weiler is worthy of a camp invite, but the consistency required to be an NFL kicker likely appears out of his reach at this point, but his leg strength makes him a potential developmental candidate.
6. Bobby Puyol, Connecticut – Baltimore Ravens
Puyol is not an NFL-caliber kicker at this point in his career, though he did flash pro potential in his junior year, posting 88.9% accuracy during that season. However, that is sandwiched by a 64.3% number he put up during his sophomore campaign, as well as 72.2% accuracy on field goals throughout his senior season. Puyol’s struggles stem from balance issues, as the back end of his motion is frequently off-balance and not driving directly through the target. He does possess a compact motion with little wasted effort throughout the initial stages of his swing, but with only average leg strength, the accuracy issues are likely too great to allow him to succeed at the next level in the short term. He is a project, and likely a few years away from being an NFL kicker, though that future is still very uncertain.
7. Jay Mattox, UTEP – San Francisco 49ers
Mattox is a small-framed lefty who likely faces an uphill battle just because of the fact that he kicks with the wrong foot. I say this as a small-framed lefty who kicks with the wrong foot, so I know something about it. Lefty kickers have a tough time breaking into the NFL, because the battery has to learn to how to produce NFL precision when snapping to a holder on the other side of the ball. The long snapper has a slightly different release point, and the holder has to learn the mechanics with his opposite hand – and then it all has to be reversed if the kicker is ever injured. Mattox is a good but not great college kicker, with consistent mechanics that finish a little too abruptly at this point. He also has seen limited testing of his range, but the biggest thing holding him back will be that he is a southpaw, which means that unless you are a prodigious talent, your chances of making an NFL roster are very slim.
8. Ben Grogan, Oklahoma State – New Orleans Saints
The Saints struck gold with Wil Lutz last year, and while Lutz appears to be the future for them, it is never a bad idea to build in backup plans. Enter Grogan, who just finished up as a four-year starter for Oklahoma State. Grogan has a somewhat harsh motion, with an abrupt finish that has likely led to accuracy problems throughout his college career. His best mark on field goals was 80% accuracy in 2015, but he also missed three extra points during that season as well from the shorter college distance. Grogan also never made a kick from over 50 yards in his college career, attempting just one, so while the Saints are obviously doing their due diligence here, he seems unlikely to make an impact at the NFL level at this point.
9. Chris Blewitt, Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh Steelers
Blewitt heading to minicamp with the Steelers seems slightly unusual, as Blewitt’s stats declined every year and he has not displayed the accuracy necessary to be an NFL kicker throughout his career. After posting 77.8% accuracy on field goals in his freshman year, he dropped to 76.2% in his sophomore year, 65.2% during his junior campaign, and 58.8% in his senior season. Blewitt also missed six extra points in his four seasons, and with the NFL extra point now at 33 yards, he seems unlikely to be able to handle the rigors of the position at the next level
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.