Thursday, January 18, 2018
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
DeSean Jackson says Jameis Winston needs to stop trying to “impress the world,” and play his game

DeSean Jackson says Jameis Winston needs to stop trying to “impress the world,” and play his game

Receiver DeSean Jackson stopped short of saying he regretted his decision to sign a three-year, $33.5-million contract as a free agent with the Bucs last March. But he certainly is disappointed in his lack of chemistry with quarterback Jameis Winston...
Published: 01/17/18
Bucs LB Kwon Alexander headed to Pro Bowl

Bucs LB Kwon Alexander headed to Pro Bowl

Kwon Alexander is headed to the Pro Bowl.The third-year Bucs linebacker, who led the NFL in solo tackles a year ago, was announced Tuesday as an injury replacement for Seattle's Bobby Wagner.Alexander, 23, won't have to go far, as the game is back in...
Published: 01/16/18

Shrine Game journal: Homecoming for Utah OL Salesi Uhatafe; Quinton Flowers works on snaps

ST. PETERSBURG — Salesi Uhatafe is back in his hometown, and though he moved to Texas when he was still a baby, it’s very much a homecoming as the former Utah offensive lineman plays in Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field."I’ll probab...
Published: 01/15/18
Iowa State’s two-way star Joel Lanning practicing at linebacker for East-West Shrine Game

Iowa State’s two-way star Joel Lanning practicing at linebacker for East-West Shrine Game

ST. PETERSBURG — Joel Lanning has the unique distinction of being listed as an "LB/QB" on the West roster for Saturday’s East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field.And while the former Iowa State star spent the entire practice at middle linebacker Mond...
Published: 01/15/18
Bucs GM Jason Licht ‘cringed’ at expectations, optimistic about future

Bucs GM Jason Licht ‘cringed’ at expectations, optimistic about future

TAMPA — It was a brutal year. That’s how general manager Jason Licht views the Bucs’ 2017 season.Start with Hard Knocks and the surrounding expectations, some he embraced and others he "cringed at." They all went unfulfilled, mostly due to injuries, ...
Published: 01/15/18

NFL playoffs schedule

AFCCONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP• Jaguars at Patriots, 3 p.m. Sunday, CBSNFCCONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP•Vikings at Eagles, 6:40 p.m. Sunday, FoxSuper Bowl LIIJaguars or Patriots vs. Vikings or Eagles, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 4, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis TV: NBC...
Published: 01/15/18
Jason Licht addresses what went wrong for the Bucs in 2017 and how they plan to fix it

Jason Licht addresses what went wrong for the Bucs in 2017 and how they plan to fix it

It was a "brutal year." That's how general manager Jason Licht views the Bucs 2017 season.Expectations, many of them he said he "cringed at," nonetheless went unfulfilled due to injuries, particularly the right shoulder sprain suffered by quarterback...
Published: 01/15/18
Bucs search for a backup quarterback becomes paramount amid NFL’s probe into Winston

Bucs search for a backup quarterback becomes paramount amid NFL’s probe into Winston

With the NFL investigating allegations against Jameis Winston that potentially could result in a suspension, the Bucs will need to address the backup quarterback position again this off-season."That's another position I always want to do whatever we ...
Published: 01/15/18
Rick and Tom podcast: Who says you need a franchise QB in the playoffs?

Rick and Tom podcast: Who says you need a franchise QB in the playoffs?

The NFL’s final four teams are set, and the starting quarterbacks are Tom Brady, Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Nick Foles. In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones break down this past weekend’s games, including the Vikings’ miraculous fin...
Published: 01/15/18
Vikings stun Saints with 61-yard touchdown on last play

Vikings stun Saints with 61-yard touchdown on last play

MINNEAPOLIS — This doesn’t happen, not in the NFL, not in the playoffs, not when what is on the line are such things as legacies and franchise curses and — oh, my. All of it.The Vikings were dead, just as they have always been in the playoffs. Their ...
Published: 01/14/18