Oct 19, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Luke McCown (7) holds the ball as kicker Shayne Graham (3) kicks a field goal during the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
We pick up where we last left off in our series that addresses the glaring needs for the New Orleans Saints heading into the 2015 NFL Offseason. We started with cornerback, moved to linebacker, and now I take a massive detour to talk about another area that the Saints need some serious help in: Kicker.
Don’t laugh. By now you should know that kickers are essential to the success of NFL teams. Just ask the New Orleans Saints. However, they’re also regarded as one of the most turned over positions out there (just ask the Detroit Lions). When you find a kicker that is golden like many that exist currently, you do your best to hold on to them.
For the black and gold, I’d love to just say that we are in that position. Unfortunately, we’re not even in the same ballpark of having a situation that fortunate.
I’ll be as blunt as possible on the Saints’ kicking situation. The team must stop putting a band-aid on this position. The Saints need to either pay a proven talent, or draft/promote a younger player and let them work through the growing pains and evolve. Of course, when we just merely mention special teams, many might actually start by saying that the Saints need to part ways with current coach Greg McMahon.
Saints Free Agents: Shayne Graham (UFA)
Remaining Kickers: Dustin Hopkins (Practice Squad)
The Saints don’t necessarily have a kicker right now, and if you’re hopeful to have a player start from the practice squad next season, then I need a little bit of your optimism. So with an obvious hole, where do they go to find one?
Seasoned Kicker Veterans of Interest Available: Matt Bryant (39), Stephen Gostkowski (30), Mike Nugent (32), Ryan Succop (28), Jay Feely (38), Matt Prater (30)
Younger Kicker Experience Well Worth a Look: Kai Forbath (27), Justin Tucker (25)
Both Kai Forbath (Redskins) and Justin Tucker (Ravens) are restricted free agents in 2015, so even if the Saints would attempt to snag one of those said kickers, the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens ultimately have the final say on matching a deal.
Draft Prospects: Jared Roberts (Colorado State), Justin Manton (University of Louisiana-Monroe)
At an absolute best, Jared Roberts figures to be the only kicker taken in the draft, and he’s almost certain to be a Day 3 selection between Rounds 5-7. As for the rest? They are more than likely to be a part of the mass hysteria of undrafted rookie free agents frantically added post draft.
Dream Scenario Signing: Justin Tucker, Stephen Gostkowski
Personal Pick: Justin Tucker
Oct 18, 2014; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Sadly. my top choice for the Saints, Roberto Aguayo, is returning to Florida State in 2015. When Aguayo does enter the draft, he may be the highest kicker ever selected in ever.
Stephen Gostkowski tops my personal picks due to his experience in the elements. However, what’s not appealing is a $3.8 million salary cap figure with the New England Patriots this season. He shook off a very shaky preseason to finish 35 of 37 (94.6 percent). He went 13 of 14 outside of 40 yards. Through free agency or staying at home, Gostkowski will likely cash in on a large contract.
Justin Tucker is a huge personal favorite of mine. The Ravens will look to lock Tucker up to some type of long-term deal in the offseason, and he undoubtedly deserves it. Tucker may not have had as strong of a season this year in the long ball department, as he went 4 of 9 this year from 50+ yards. However, that’s the lone misses he’s had this season in 34 attempts. Prior to this season, Tucker was 10 of 11 from 50+ yards, and is 24 of 28 from 40-49 yards.
What about Dustin Hopkins, the lone kicker on the Saints current roster for 2015? The Buffalo Bills used their 177th overall pick in the 5th Round of the 2013 NFL Draft to take him. Hopkins won the starting job from then kicker Rian Lindell, but injuries knocked him out of the equation. Hopkins would get a shot to return as the lead kicker in 2014, but would be beat out by Dan Carpenter. Hopkins certainly had good comments from his NFL Draft Profile:
"Consistent, upright three-step approach on placements. Good trajectory on kicks, gets them up quickly with a strong downward strike on the ball. Misses are just outside of the uprights to the left or right, not major misfires. Flashes 55-yard range with NFL-caliber height on the kicks, not line-drives. Excellent strength and height on kickoffs, times well over 4.0 seconds consistently and gets the ball to the middle or front part of the end zone even with nice trajectory."
Could the Saints have their solution already? That remains to be seen.
The Saints will likely not turn to the NFL Draft to find a diamond in the rough at the kicker position. Sadly, I believe that the team had their answer at kicker already with Derek Dimke. However, he is now locked up on a reserve/future contract with Jacksonville.
During the season, we witnessed that more than a few times the contemplation of Sean Payton when it came to the field goal department. It wasn’t that Shayne Graham was terrible. In fact, he went a perfect 15 for 15 inside of 39 yards, but he was only 4 of 7 outside of 40 yards. When you aren’t confident in your kicker’s ability to drill the long ball, you settle for going for it on 4th & long situations inside of opponent territory.
In all honesty, Graham doesn’t figure to have much ‘long leg’ left in him. If I’m investing the league veteran minimum for kicker, I’d search elsewhere.
With Thomas Morstead handling kick off duties for the Saints (and being quite exceptional at it), a Saints kicker has one job: Making field goals.
What do you see the Saints best course of action for the kicker position? Should the team look to lock up a big name, young up and comer, or turn to the draft? Sound off below!
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