Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Bucs

Even the kicker was surprised Bucs took him in fifth round of NFL draft

Three years after the failed Roberto Aguayo pick, Tampa Bay takes its chances with Utah placekicker Matt Gay.
Utah placekicker Matt Gay (97), pictured during a game against Colorado in November in Boulder, Colo. [AP Photo/David Zalubowski]
Utah placekicker Matt Gay (97), pictured during a game against Colorado in November in Boulder, Colo. [AP Photo/David Zalubowski]
Published Apr. 27
Updated Apr. 27

TAMPA — Count Matt Gay among those shocked that the Bucs drafted a kicker in the fifth round Saturday afternoon.

Gay, a two-time All-American placekicker at Utah and former Lou Groza award winner, thought his named might be called in the sixth or seventh round on Saturday. He was also prepared to go undrafted and have to latch on with a team as a free agent.

So when he saw a Tampa area code calling his phone with the Bucs two picks away in the fifth round, he was surprised to say the least.

"No way, not right now," he recalled telling himself.

He's certainly not the only one to have that reaction. A peculiar draft selection to say the least -- especially given the wide net of needs Tampa Bay needed to address elsewhere on draft weekend -- the Bucs selected Gay with the 145th overall pick.

The Bucs already have two kickers under contract, including incumbent Cairo Santos, who already signed to receive a guaranteed $195,000 bonus.

Kickers are rarely drafted, and those selected before the seventh round are mostly unicorns, unless you're the Bucs, who made Gay the second kicker they've drafted in the past four years.

In 2016, general manager Jason Licht made the surprise pick of taking Roberto Aguayo out of FSU in the second round. Aguayo, another former Lou Groza winner, was a tremendous bust. He made just 22 of 33 field-goal attempt as a rookie and was cut the following preseason.

Other than Aguayo, only one other kicker has been drafted higher than Gay over the past 12 years. The Eagles selected Alex Henery in the fourth round with the 120th overall pick in 2011.

Licht said that shoring up the kicking game is important to new head coach Bruce Arians, which made using a draft pick on a kicker, especially one with Gay’s resume, worthwhile.

“I know he had a lot of interest,” Licht said of Gay. “To me and to us and to Bruce, it was a small price to pay to get a kicker. You wouldn’t say the same thing for a receiver if a receiver didn’t work out a couple years ago that you took in the second round. Would you be afraid to take a receiver in the fifth round? No. This is a very very important position.”

Related: RELATED: Former Bucs, FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo has a new job ... in golf

Gay was the first placekicker selected in the draft. He was the Lou Groza winner as the nation's top placekicker in 2017. Last season, he made 26-of-31 field goal attempts as a senior, including a school record stretch of 21 straight converted field goal attempts.

Santos joined the Bucs at midseason last year and added some stability to a position that was long unsteady since the team parted ways with longtime kicker Matt Bryant following the 2008 season. After converting 9 of 12 field goal attempts, the Bucs re-signed him last month.

In February, the Bucs signed Phillip Anderson, a Danish kicker who most recently played in the German Football League and performed well in the Michael Husted Kicking Pro Camp during Senior Bowl week.

“You take any position in the fifth round, you’re not saying he’s automatically made the team,” Licht said. “We want to bring in great competition for Cairo. We’ll let them kick it out in the preseason, and may the best man win.”

Regardless of who emerges from that competition, newly signed punter Bradley Pinion would likely handle kickoff duties, which Licht said would save wear and tear on the placekicker’s leg.

Gay was a perfect 16-for-16 on field goals from inside 40 yards last season, and his misses came at 56, 54 and 43 misses (three times). A two-time All-American kicker, Gay was a soccer player at Utah Valley, then transferred to Utah and initially joined the football team as a walk-on.

He has a big leg, making a school record eight field goals from 50 yards or longer, and his 86.1 field-goal percentage ranked second all-time at Utah.

“I think just being comfortable with my leg strength, being able to not have to stretch or put anything extra into those long field goals. I feel comfortable with my leg swing from those distances, so it’s almost like a normal leg swing. It’s not like I have to put any extra power behind it.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. There are signs that former first-round pick Breshad Perriman may be putting his early career struggles in Baltimore and early-season difficulty in Tampa Bay all behind him. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The veteran wide receiver is playing his best football down the stretch, and the Bucs will need him to continue that.
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Griffin (4) looks to pass against the Indianapolis Colts during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. [MARK LOMOGLIO  |  AP]
    After finally taking his first NFL snap on Sunday, Griffin was back out there Wednesday, quarterbacking the Bucs’ first-team offense, and not getting his hopes up.
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) warms up prior to an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken) [JASON BEHNKEN  |  AP]
    With 15.5 sacks, Barrett ties Simeon Rice’s 2002 total
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) celebrates getting the first down during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Sunday, December 8, 2019.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Bruce Arians to Bucs receivers: “Nobody’s going to be Mike. But just be yourself ... and catch the damn ball when it’s thrown to you."
  5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston had a cast on his injured thumb during the Famous Jameis Jamboree at Raymond James Stadium on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    While backup Ryan Griffin takes first-team snaps Wednesday, Bruce Arians shares what he expects for Winston Sunday in Detroit.
  6. Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre has the all-time NFL record for most interceptions thrown in a career. He led the league in interceptions three times. He said this year's interceptions leader, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, has "huge upside." [MATT LUDTKE  |  AP]
    The Pro Football Hall of Famer, and the NFL’s all-time interceptions leader, says Winston might be trying to do too much downfield. He knows from experience.
  7. The XFL isn't a developmental league, but it is a "league of opportunity," commissioner Oliver Luck said Tuesday. "Bust your butt, play hard, have a chance to get great game tape and you’ll get a shot in the NFL." [TED S. WARREN  |  Associated Press]
    In a wide-ranging interview, the commissioner discusses the state of the league. “Playing good football is our mandate,” he says. “We have to do that. We can’t be sloppy.”
  8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston smiles while greeting kids and posing for pictures during the Famous Jameis Jamboree at Raymond James stadium on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The quarterback hosts 2,500 kids Tuesday with bouncy houses and a chance to visit an NFL stadium.
  9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) is injured after scoring a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts this past Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    ESPN reports a hamstring injury will sideline the receiver. How will his absence impact the offense?
  10. In Sunday's win, Jameis Winston finished with four passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, three interceptions and more than 400 passing yards. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history to hit those marks in a single game. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  Associated Press]
    We’re talking about Tampa Bay’s grit and resilience but overlooking the reason why it fell behind in the first place: the quarterback.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement