Brad Craddock took the long way to the NFL Draft. Coming from Adelaide, Australia, Craddock’s path to where he is today has had a number of turns, starting with the fact that he was never supposed to be a placekicker. Yet on the eve of the NFL Draft, Craddock is the last of my three kickers with draftable grades due to his rapid improvement and accurate leg, despite lacking top-end power.
Craddock was recruited by the Maryland Terrapins as a punter out of the OzPunt program, designed to provide a path for Australian athletes to play American football. After an injury to starting kicker Nick Ferrara, Craddock underwent a rapid assimilation to placekicking and was thrown into the fire as as freshman, connecting on just 10 of 16 field goals for 62.5% accuracy. New country, new position, and early struggles would have been enough to dissuade many people from continuing down that path.
But Craddock persevered, working with NFL veteran Matt Stover in the offseason to refine his technique heading into his sophomore campaign. The work paid off as Craddock went 21 for 25 in his 2013 campaign, good for 84.0% on the season. His improvement carried over into his stellar junior season, where he made 18 of 19 field goals (94.7% accuracy) and won the Lou Groza Award as the country’s top kicker. An injury-shortened senior campaign saw Craddock go 8 for 10 as he closed out his Maryland Career.
So what does the tape on Craddock show?
An Unorthodox Approach
The fundamental rule of kicking is that consistency and repeatability trump everything else. A kicker can bark like a dog as he approaches the ball or wave his hands like he is conducting an orchestra, but as long as he does the same thing on every approach to generate a consistent platform to strike from, it is acceptable. Often, barking and conducting tend to disrupt this consistency, so those are not common things to see, but the principle is to be open to unique variations in the motion so long as they happen on every kick.
With this in mind, it is safe to say that Craddock does not take a traditional approach to kicking.
Facing West Virginia in 2014, Craddock sets up from inside the left hash for a 41-yard attempt:
Craddock is consistent in his pre-kick alignment, pausing at the top of his three steps back to check himself with the center of the target before taking two horizontal steps to his left. This is where things get interesting.
He then performs a motion with his arms that is best compared to Optimus Prime revealing his weaponry just prior to destroying a Decepticon or three. Craddock starts with his hands near his hips, loops them up to his chin, and finally locks his elbows at a 90-degree angle just beyond shoulder width as he stares down his holder. Or, if you are more of a visual learner, it looks like this:
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Craddock does this on every kick and is remarkably consistent with the action and pace of this move. So despite the odd look, I return to the mantra that if it is the same every time and helps the kicker do his job, it is a non-issue.
He also has a second idiosyncrasy in his setup, this one more concerning to me. While Craddock’s body is angled at the holder, his left foot is pointing directly at the target, opening his hips slightly before he even starts his motion. While this alone is not a major issue, it causes some developments later on that could pose problems down the road for the specialist.
Craddock starts his motion with a jab step and good body lean as the holder takes the snap:
Unlike Roberto Aguayo, who has the most aggressive move towards the ball out of any prospect in recent history, Craddock has minimal body lean and less rotational torque as he makes contact:
His upper body is more vertically closed to the ball as well, preventing the free and easy motion we see from Aguayo, or Duke’s Ross Martin. The reduced torque and closed posture reduces Craddock’s maximum velocity off his foot, and as result, he does not have the top-end power of Aguayo or Martin. Craddock’s motion is theoretically more stable at impact due to this, but it comes at a cost of reduced distance.
Reduced Distance? But He Made A 57-Yarder
What does reduced distance actually mean? It does not imply that Craddock is a kicker who can only be used on kicks up to 45 yards. It does mean that while other NFL kickers can strike 52-57 yard kicks with enough power to clear the uprights midway-up, Craddock has little margin for error and is likely to be a kicker squeaking these kicks over the bar instead.
Lining up from 57 yards out against the Ohio State Buckeyes, Craddock starts in his familiar position with his arms locked out to the side:
However, the jab step here is larger, likely due to Craddock wanting to generate extra momentum heading into the kick. The downside to this is it can throw off the pacing and size of other steps, resulting in an inconsistent plant that has the potential to reduce power and accuracy.
But it is Craddock’s next step that poses the most questions in the long run. Remember that Craddock starts with his left foot facing the target, and continues that orientation through his jab step. Yet here, his right foot fires directly at the holder:
The change in orientation between these two steps has Craddock taking a somewhat-circuitous route to the ball that has the potential to be an issue down the road. While it works for him at this point, kickers are like watches in that the fewer moving parts you have, the less chance you have of something breaking. This extra motion could cause timing issues later in his career, and would be something critical for NFL teams to pay attention to. It is not a reason to avoid Craddock, but it is something to monitor over time.
Because he can get to the same place on a consistent basis, the wiggle is forgivable today. If he has issues down the road, it would be the first thing to go. Craddock makes this 57-yarder, the ball just barely clearing the crossbar as he puts Maryland on the board.
Facing the Penn State Nittany Lions, Craddock continues to show some areas of concern going forward. His jab step is once again inconsistent, this time smaller than what we saw earlier:
But there is also an interesting wrinkle on Craddock’s follow through. When humans walk, the arm opposite the leg striding swings forward to balance the body and provide resistance for muscles to work against. The same thing happens when running, but with greater force, and it also happens when kicking. A right-footed kicker’s left arm should cross the front of his body just after impact so he can continue in a straight line to the target and maintain his balance.
While it works for him today, it is something that has the potential to rob him of accuracy in the future, and is absolutely working against him in terms of power generation today.
Brad Craddock is a highly-accurate kicker with a number of unique actions throughout his pre-kick setup, approach, and follow through that work for him today, but are areas of concern for the future. There are two reasons why these are not bigger issues to me today. First, Craddock has shown the ability to control and work with these features and generate a consistent platform with no problems. Jim Furyk won 16 PGA Tour events and one U.S. Open with what is arguably the worst golf swing on tour. Second, Craddock has shown the ability to overcome adversity in his career and make significant improvements to get to this point. Much like Ross Martin overcoming a disappointing sophomore campaign, Craddock has shown mental toughness at a position that requires it in order to excel at the highest level. While Craddock does not have the raw leg strength to warrant a high selection in this draft, he is worthy of a sixth or seventh-round pick for a team needing a boost at kicker.