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2013 Draft Preview: Special Teams

Posted Apr 17, 2013

One Gator and one Seminole are two of the top kickers in the class.



There is no shortage of players from the University of Florida and Florida State in this year’s NFL Draft – 23 to be exact. Two of those Sunshine State stars just happen to be kickers – Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins and Florida’s Caleb Sturgis – and they are being looked at as the cream of the crop and perhaps worthy of being taken in the later rounds.

Nebraska kicker Brett Maher hopes to give Hopkins and Sturgis a run for their money and hear his name called before the end of the day on that Saturday, April 27th. UCLA punter Jeff Locke, however, stands to be the highest specialist drafted next week, while Quinn Sharp of Oklahoma State is a dual threat as a punter and a kicker.

BREAKING DOWN TOP KICKER/PUNTER PROSPECTS
(In Alphabetical Order)


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Dustin Hopkins ended his career with the Seminoles as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer at the FBS level with 459 points and his senior year was his best, earning him 2012 AP All-American second-team honors. He was 25-of-30 on field goals, including 4-for-5 against the University of Miami, and 65-of-66 on extra points. Hopkins’ strength is getting good trajectory on his kicks and can get height on the ball quickly so as to avoid potential blocks. Even though athleticism is not a primary trait for kickers, he opened some eyes at the NFL Scouting Combine with his 4.74 in the 40-yard dash, a 33.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 9 feet, 7 inches. Hopkins has a strong enough leg to convert from beyond 55 yards and forced 137 touchbacks for FSU, so he appears to be the entire package.

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Field position is so important at the NFL level, as the Miami Dolphins have learned by having one of the league’s punters in Brandon Fields. Jeff Locke is that type of game changer as a left-footed punter, having booted an 81-yarder as a freshman for the Bruins and a 70-yarder as a junior. He averaged 43.3 yards per punt as a senior, but that is a bit misleading, as he did a lot of directional punting. Locke also handled kickoffs for UCLA and put 77 percent of them into the end zone, so his value has only risen as the draft fast approaches.

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Brett Maher took over the kicking duties for the Cornhuskers as a junior in 2011 and became automatic on extra points, making 102-of-103 in two seasons. He represented himself well in Indianapolis by making 14-of-15 field goals and then did even better last month at his Pro Day, hitting on all 10 of his attempts, but he wasn’t quite as accurate as a senior, missing seven of his 20 attempts. Maher was just 7-of-12 from beyond 40 yards, with a long of 54, so that could hurt his stock, especially with Hopkins and Sturgis ahead of him.

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It’s been a long time since one NFL player served as punter and kicker for a team, but if anyone’s capable of doing it now it’s Quinn Sharp. He earned All-American honors each of the past two seasons as a kicker and also as a punter back in 2010 and has averaged more than 46 yards per punt for the last three seasons. Sharp forced touchbacks on 70 percent of his kicks in 2012, while converting 82 percent of his field goals (28-of-34) and was the Big 12’s Special Teams Player of the Year last year and in 2011. Most scouts see him as more of a kickoff specialist initially because of his leg strength, but with improved accuracy he could transition to a regular kicker or a punter.

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Caleb Sturgis burst on the scene for the Gators as a redshirt freshman in 2009 by making 22-of-30 field goals, including a 56-yarder, and 44-of-47 extra points, but a back injury suffered early in his sophomore year cost him the last nine games of the season. He bounced back as a junior to be named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award and followed that up with a strong senior campaign (24-of-28 on field goals and 34-of-35 on extra points). Sturgis was an All-American in each of the last two seasons, but the one knock on him is his leg strength as his kickoffs had trouble reaching the end zone, but his mental toughness is a major plus. That Florida-FSU rivalry will now expand onto the draft board between him and Hopkins.

OTHER TOP KICKER/PUNTER PROSPECTS AT A GLANCE

Ryan Allen 
Punter
6-1, 229
Louisiana Tech

Brett Baer  
Kicker
5-11, 194
Louisiana-Lafayette

Anthony Cantele
Kicker 
5-10, 180
Kansas State

Brandon McManus
Kicker
6-4, 201
Temple

Brad Wing
Punter
6-2, 205 
Louisiana State

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