Meet new Bucs kicker John Lunsford, good from 60
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said Monday there would be competition for Roberto Aguayo this season for Tampa Bay's kicking job, and that started Wednesday with the signing of kicker John Lunsford to a futures contract for 2017.
Lunsford played at Liberty in college and was in 49ers camp last summer, and he's intriguing as a foil to Aguayo, who did not make a field goal longer than 43 yards during his rookie season, improving on shorter kicks after a rocky start to the season.
Lunsford was nearly the opposite in his college career -- he's Division I-AA's career leader with 12 field goals of 50 yards or longer, including three from 57 yards and this 60-yarder at the end of regulation -- into the wind, even -- to force overtime against Richmond. He went 5-of-6 from 50 and longer as a junior in 2014 and made several I-AA All-America teams.
At the same time, he's strangely inaccurate on shorter kicks -- 8-of-23 at Liberty on kicks from 40 to 49 yards, which would seem to make him more likely to stick in the NFL as a strong-legged kickoff specialist who might handle longer kicks on that rare team willing to give two roster spots to kickers.
Kicker, perhaps more than any position, shouldn't be diminished for playing at a small school like Liberty -- the uprights and distances are the same, so success there carries more weight for a kicker than, say, an offensive or defensive player who goes up against lesser competition and can put up gaudy numbers more easily.
To that end, his signing is a lot like Pat Murray, who got no NFL looks in his first year out of I-AA Fordham, signed a futures contract with the Bucs in January 2014 and then won the kicking job, beating out veteran Connor Barth. Murray missed 2015 with an ACL injury and was cut by the Bucs right after Aguayo was drafted, but he won another kicking job in Cleveland before another season-ending injury.
Aguayo wasn't necessarily reliable in the 40s a a rookie, so as a challenger, Lunsford's leg and range will be interesting to watch -- given the choice between an inconsistent high draft pick and an unproven first-year player, many NFL teams that don't have an answer would simply sign the best veteran available after final cuts and take their chance with a more known commodity.