Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: Bucs roll dice with Robert Aguayo pick

TAMPA — Trading up to the second round of the NFL draft and using two picks to take Florida State kicker Robert Aguayo was either the dumbest thing the Bucs have ever done or a move that will bring them pots of gold, Super Bowl rings and limousines.

Never mind that Aguayo is the most accurate kicker in college football history or that he never missed a field goal inside of 40 yards and was perfect on all 198 extra points.

Detractors will tell you the second round is where you draft a football player, not a Rockette.

Before rolling the dice on Aguayo, the Bucs went all in on Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence, who got kicked out of Ohio State after multiple failed drug tests and an appetite for parties and ecstasy pills.

Heck, not everyone was on board with the Bucs using their first-round pick on Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in the first round, noting he's undersized at 5 feet 10.

So this shaped up to be a feast-or-famine draft for general manager Jason Licht.

"Talk about raising eyebrows," ESPN wrote.

"Yup, the Bucs drafted a kicker in the second round," read a headline in the Washington Post.

"Don't worry, we weren't going to draft a long-snapper and a holder, too," Licht said.

But where you see risk, Licht only is focused on reward.

At the end of the draft Saturday, Licht was convinced the Bucs had added the best "pure cover corner," the best "pure pass rusher" and an "invaluable" kicker.

"We needed to be bold there, and we were," Licht said of Aguayo. "If you love a player, you have to go up and get him."

By far, the most scrutinized pick by any team in the draft was Aguayo. It's the highest any kicker was taken since 2005, when the Jets used a second-rounder on Mike Nugent out of Ohio State, who flamed out after four seasons in New York and four games in Tampa Bay but has been a mainstay the past six years for the Bengals. "A great kicker can be the difference in several games," Licht said. "I've been around some great ones: Adam Vinatieri, (Stephen) Gostkowski. Those guys are invaluable.

"I'm probably not surprised (at the reaction), but that will all go away when the games start. It's just so hard to find a great kicker. They come around once in a decade, guys like this, in my opinion. We could do what we had to do, or we could wait another decade. I'd rather do it now."

The importance of a kicker has been heightened in the NFL. The PAT is now 33 yards, and the new kickoff rule means the ball is spotted at the 25-yard line after a touchback, not the 20.

"The typical days of the kicker are long gone," said former Bucs assistant special teams coach Billy Miller, who trained Aguayo at IMG Academy. Last season, 59 regular-season games (23 percent) were decided by three or fewer points. "If you look at how many games come down to three points or less … a 90 percent kicker now is about the norm. That means the Bucs just made Roberto a 15-year vet in the league."

Licht maneuvered well in the draft. That's what a good GM does. He began the draft Thursday by moving down two spots in a trade with the Bears and still got his man, Hargreaves, at No. 11. He used that fourth-round pick from the Bears and flipped it to the Chiefs to jump up 15 places and grab Aguayo. On Saturday, he found a potential safety in Ryan Smith from tiny North Carolina Central. He plucked a right tackle who can also play guard from UCLA in Caleb Benenoch. The sixth round netted Oklahoma linebacker Devante Bond and Northwestern fullback Dan Vitale.

"Dirk (Koetter) and I talk about it, we've talked about it's like him on game day calling plays," Licht said of the new Bucs coach. "You have a script, you have things that you want to try to do, different scenarios for different players, you value different players differently — these are players that we would move up for, these are players we think we can sit and wait on … so you have to have a feel."

It wasn't a perfect draft. The Bucs did not add a defensive tackle, despite a surplus in the draft at that position. They didn't add a receiver, as they hoped.

Was it as good as 2015, when the Bucs drafted four starters, including Jameis Winston?

"I have the same feeling right now that I did last year," Licht said. "I think we have an excellent chance to be a good football team."

Bet on it.

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