Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Why changing NFL could make kicker Aguayo a Day 2 pick

TALLAHASSEE — With teams shrouding themselves in secrecy and smokescreens as Thursday's NFL draft approaches, you can tell the soaring stock of Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo by the relative silence surrounding him.

"Everybody's trying to be quiet about it," NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said.

And that makes one of the draft's biggest unknowns even more intriguing.

Aguayo left the Seminoles as the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, and his early entry into the professional ranks comes after recent NFL rule changes to extra points and kickoffs put a greater premium on a once-dispensable position.

The combination of the two might be enough to make Aguayo the first kicker chosen in the top three rounds since former Buc Mike Nugent was drafted in the 2005 second round by the Jets.

"He's going to be invaluable," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

He certainly was for the Seminoles.

The 2013 Lou Groza Award winner as college football's top kicker made all 198 of his extra points in college and all 46 of his field goals inside 40 yards. His kickoffs helped the 'Noles rank seventh nationally in opponents' starting field position, according to Football Outsiders.

While those feats are impressive on their own, they're magnified as the NFL evolves.

"I think the value of the kicker is going through the roof," said Billy Miller, a former Bucs special teams assistant who is coaching Aguayo at Bradenton's IMG Academy.

Especially compared to where it was a year ago.

The NFL considered eliminating extra points last offseason because kickers were too automatic; they missed only eight attempts during all of 2014.

The league ultimately pushed point-after tries back 13 yards, from 20 yards to 33, and the resulting 94.2 PAT percentage was the lowest since 1979.

The second key rule change came last month when the league voted to bring touchbacks out to the 25-yard line, not the 20. That difference might seem small, but it drastically changes how offenses call plays.

Those extra five yards were so valuable that Fisher overhauled his kicking philosophy. He didn't want Aguayo to blast the ball out of the end zone. Instead, Aguayo tried to boot the ball in the corners of the field and in a four-yard window centered on the goal line. If his kick could hang in the air for at least four seconds, his speedy FSU teammates could prevent a deep return.

"With our athletes, 90 percent of the time we're going to tackle you inside the 20-yard line," Fisher said. "So if we gain six, eight, 10 yards of field position on every play, why would we not do that?"

And that was what Aguayo did. Opponents failed to return the ball past the 20-yard line on 16 of his kickoffs in the fall, and started beyond the 30 only nine times.

NFL teams seem likely to adopt a similar strategy. Aguayo started his draft training by trying to blast kickoffs out of the end zone — the method that resulted in touchbacks on more than half of last year's NFL kickoffs. At a workout a week after the rule change, an NFL coach told Aguayo to start popping them up near the goal line.

"It's the same thing I've done here, so I know what to do," Aguayo said. "I think it works out in my favor."

What that means for this week's draft remains a mystery. Bucs general manager Jason Licht said teams still don't have much of a sample size to figure out the new rules' long-term effects.

"It's going to be interesting how it plays out this year," Licht said. "You still want a kicker that can make all the field goals and kick it into the end zone. Right now, we still haven't changed."

But NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said that change is coming.

Stephen Gostkowski's missed PAT doomed the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and reaffirmed the value of a reliable kicker such as Aguayo. Add in his history of sky kicks that NFL teams are likely to soon employ, and Jeremiah believes Aguayo could sneak into the second round.

"You got someone that's automatic on extra points, that can give you points and field goals and can also affect the field position in kickoffs," Jeremiah said. "That player has a chance to have a dramatic impact on you, especially when you think how many games are won by three points or less on a weekly basis."

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Comments
Explosives? On 40-yard plays, Bucs among NFL’s worst

Explosives? On 40-yard plays, Bucs among NFL’s worst

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has key statistics that he puts great value in, finding a close correlation between success in those areas and success on the scoreboard. Winning the takeaway battle is always first among those priorities, but he and his staff...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rick and Tom podcast: Do Jameis Winston and Dirk Koetter get along?

Rick and Tom podcast: Do Jameis Winston and Dirk Koetter get along?

The Bucs guarantee another losing season after turning the ball over five times in a 24-21 loss to the Lions. In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones talk about how the Bucs stayed in the game until the end despite a non-existent pass rush...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
The Jameis Winston-Dirk Koetter relationship: It’s complicated

The Jameis Winston-Dirk Koetter relationship: It’s complicated

  TAMPA — There are lies, damn lies and statistics, none of which are working in favor of Jameis Winston and Dirk Koetter avoiding a split in the near future. Even before the Bucs turned the football over five times and lost to the Detroit Li...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Report: Jameis Winston-Dirk Koetter relationship ‘is not in a good place’

Report: Jameis Winston-Dirk Koetter relationship ‘is not in a good place’

Jameis Winston is displeased with how coach Dirk Koetter has handled Winston's shoulder injury and the Bucs offense, according to an NFL Network report Sunday. “The relationship between quarterback Jameis Winston and Koetter is not in a good p...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jones: Why Bucs coach Dirk Koetter won’t survive this

Jones: Why Bucs coach Dirk Koetter won’t survive this

  TAMPA — Dirk Koetter isn’t going to return as coach of the Bucs next season. That’s not official. No announcement has been made. No press conference is scheduled. It’s not an absolute fact. Not yet. And this isn’t a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
NFL Week 14: What we learned

NFL Week 14: What we learned

Aaron Rodgers is ready to return, but is he needed in Green Bay? Backup QB Brett Hundley is 2-0 in OT; Rodgers is 1-7. The Pack has its Mr. Clutch, right? Yeah, right. Its 27-21 OT win at Cleveland keeps it alive for a wild-card spot. Mr. Rodgers, yo...
Published: 12/10/17
Bucs-Lions journal: Backup lineman was most unlikely of targets

Bucs-Lions journal: Backup lineman was most unlikely of targets

TAMPA — The Bucs’ unlikely comeback to erase a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter was capped by the most unlikely of targets. Tampa Bay tied the game when Jameis Winston threw a 2-yard pass to 305-pound Leonard Wester, a backup lineman who lined ...
Published: 12/10/17
Gerald McCoy leaves game with shoulder/bicep injury

Gerald McCoy leaves game with shoulder/bicep injury

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy left Sunday's  game against the Lions in the second quarter with an injury to his shoulder/biceps muscle. The team says his return is doubtful.The Bucs were tied 7-7 with the Lions when McCoy was sidelined. He'...
Published: 12/10/17
Fennelly: Gerald McCoy’s lost season may be over

Fennelly: Gerald McCoy’s lost season may be over

TAMPA — It was the face of a losing season.Gerald McCoy’s tearful, contorted face.Up there on the video boards at Raymond James Stadium. On your TV screen. Everywhere."I’m not a quitter," McCoy said. "I don’t play to lose."The Bucs lost their ninth g...
Published: 12/10/17
Bucs-Lions: Grading Tampa Bay’s 24-21 loss to Detroit

Bucs-Lions: Grading Tampa Bay’s 24-21 loss to Detroit

TAMPA — It was football weather, cool, crisp, a day for the Bucs and their fans. That explains the crowd. Stow the zinc oxide. Where’s my muff?Oh, and break out the record book.For the 28th time in their 42-year history, the Bucs are losers. They sec...
Published: 12/10/17