The 2nd round is no PLACE for a KICKER

by Warren Sharp

First let me say I hope I’m wrong.  I hope place kicker Roberto Aguayo has a tremendous NFL career.  I hope this move isn’t the one for which Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Jason Licht is infamously remembered.  But when you break the full scope of the move down, as I do below, the nicest way to possibly put a trade up to the 2nd round to draft a kicker ahead of teams that would never contemplate drafting a kicker in the 2nd round, is highly questionable.

The Buccaneers traded the 74th and 106th selections to the Chiefs in exchange for the 59th selection.  From this perspective alone, the trade was a value-loser for the Bucs according to the AV-based model from Football Perspective.

But this move was bad from so many different perspectives:

Trading into the 2nd round moved them ahead of teams who know how to draft and know what to do with valuable picks, such as the Patriots, Panthers and Broncos.  Do we really think that those teams would have drafted a kicker?  For the Patriots, the team the Bucs jumped directly in front of, it was their first pick in the entire draft due to losing their first round pick for Deflategate.  It would be a cold day in hell before Bill Belichick used his first pick in a NFL draft to draft a kicker.

If one were attempting to defend this move, one of the best pieces of evidence that they could present would be a run on kickers getting drafted in the 3rd round, and that Tampa Bay’s move got them the best of the bunch.  But there was no run on kickers in the 3rd round.  Or the 4th round.  Or the 5th round.  Or the 6th round.  Or the 7th round.  In fact, Roberto Aguayo was the ONLY kicker drafted in the entire draft.  I’m certainly not proposing by that logic that a team could have drafted him in the 7th round.  But to trade up to the 2nd round ahead of teams who would never draft a kicker that early is laughable.

Additionally, what this tells you without a doubt is that the Buccaneers could have used a 6th round pick (they had two) to take the 2nd best kicker in the draft if they really needed a kicker (more on that later).  With an increased focus on accuracy from a kicker, are we to believe that the 2nd or 3rd best kicker in this year’s class is so steep a drop from the best kicker to warrant a 5 round gap (from 2 to 7)?

As an example, Ross Martin from Duke went 4-4 on kicks of 50+ yards this year, and the last 2 years, hit 81% (13/16), on kicks 40+ yards.  Roberto Aguayo hit 1-3 kicks of 50+ yards this year, and the last 2 years, hit 64% (14/22) on kick 40+ yards.  Both hit 100% of their extra point attempts.  Yet Martin went undrafted and the Buccaneers took Aguayo in the 2nd round after trading up. [Ross Martin signed with the Jets as an Undrafted Free Agent, costing the Jets nothing]

Next, let’s introduce some of the reasoning that is more analytics based, and let’s begin with a geographical fact that Tampa Bay is in Florida.  Being in Florida, the weather is warmer than most other NFL cities.  Per a description of the weather in the city:

Tampa, like the other two Florida teams, basically is in an atmospheric dome. The weather there is consistently nice, and the winter becomes a sort of dry season for them. They don’t average much rainfall, and their temperatures don’t drop below the 70s at all during the season.  That is basically dream weather.

TampaMTMPThe reason why weather is an important key is that it’s easier to kick field goals in warmer weather.  According to a study done by Brian Burke, field goal success rate increases as the temperature increases.  Meaning, on average, it’s easier for ALL kickers to perform in Florida than it is in Buffalo or New England.  Which is why having a great kicker in a warm climate is LESS a weapon than it would be in a cold weather city.  So in terms of winning games and having a kicking advantage, the fact that the last 5 years, the Patriots Stephen Gostkowski is banging 88% of 40-53 yard FGs in New England, while opponents they host are hitting only 68%, it is a solid edge.  But when opponents are capable of kicking the NFL average in Tampa Bay (75%), that edge per game is not as large.  Additionally, playing in the NFC South means games played in domes (ATL, NO) and in Charlotte, North Carolina, so it’s not even as if the Buccaneers can bring this weapon to get a surprising edge in a cold weather game that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

In a minute, we will cover Roberto Aguayo’s stats in detail.  But another related consideration is the vast majority of his stats are skewed to an extent because he has gained an edge virtually his whole career due to playing games in the warm Southern climate.  In fact, despite kicking for 3 years, there are only 4 games Aguayo played outdoors north of the North Carolina state line.

Field goals attempted of 30+ yards in said games:

  • @ Boston College (9/18/15) – 0/1 (missed 42 yd FG)
  • @ Louisville (10/30/14) – 0/1 (missed 41 yd FG)
  • @ Pittsburgh (9/2/13) – 0/0
  • @ Boston College (9/28/13) – 1/1 (made 40 yd FG)

This extremely small sample size over 3 years doesn’t give us much to work with, but it certainly doesn’t provide reassurance.  Aguayo has attempted just 3 FGs longer than 30 yards when outside the friendly confines of warm climates in his entire college career, and he missed two of them.  Both were less than 45 yard kicks (41, 42).  Neither were in November, December or January.  And as those from Pittsburgh, Louisville or Boston may attest to, generally September and October are pretty nice.

Of course, as I mentioned previously, Aguayo won’t have to kick in cold weather often in his career, so it may not be an issue.  But saying that he’s “been tested” in those conditions would be false, and his performance from the few games he played before the end of October in those cities did not exactly bleed confidence.

Next we move to the fact that kicking in generally is getting more reliable annually.  FiveThirtyEight did a study on it and found accuracy is increasing tremendously:

kickingThis means acquiring a talented kicker early in the draft (like Sebastian Janikowski being drafted in 2000 or Mike Nugent being drafted in 2005) would make more sense years ago than it does now.

We also must look at the replacement situation itself.  The Buccaneers current kicker is/was Connor Barth [Barth was cut Monday by the Bucs].  Let’s examine Connor Barth vs Roberto Aguayo:

Extra Points (last 4 years)

  • Aguayo = 100%
  • Barth = 99%

Less than 40 yd FGs (last 2 years)

  • Aguayo = 100%
  • Barth = 100%

Less than 40 yd FGs (last 4 years)

  • Aguayo = 100%
  • Barth = 98%

40+ yard FGs (last 2 years)

  • Aguayo = 64%
  • Barth = 63%

40+ yard FGs (last 4 years)

  • Aguayo = 72%
  • Barth = 78%

There is absolutely nothing that screams out that Aguayo will be a night and day improvement over Barth.

Part of the biggest issue with kickers is not their ability.  It’s their mentality and confidence.  Unlike virtually any other play in football, a kicker is ONLY judged on himself.  He doesn’t have to catch the snap (like a punter), the holder does that.  He doesn’t have to spin the laces, the holder does that.  All he must do is kick a (hopefully) stationary ball.  Either a kicker can or can’t perform that job adequately.  But the element that screws with them the most is the mental aspect.  Will they choke under the pressure?  Will they get the “yips” after missing a few key kicks?  Does their career spiral out of control as a result, or can they rebound?

As for Connor Barth, how is this for clutch?  The last five years Barth is 20/20 on FGs of 50 yards or less in the fourth quarter or overtime.  No other kicker is 100% unless they have 7 or fewer attempts.  Stephen Gostkowski and Steven Hauschka are the next most accurate kickers late in the game.

Additionally, the last five years Connor Barth has never missed a FG 55 yards or less in the second half when the game was within 3 points (meaning down by as many as 3 points or up by no more than 3 points).  His lone miss was a 56 yard attempt.

Thus, based on:

  1. Value lost in the trade up to grab Aguayo;
  2. The teams the Bucs moved ahead of would never take a kicker at that point in a draft;
  3. The 2nd or 3rd best college kickers were available in the 7th round, and neither was drafted.  Many of their stats were better than Aguayo’s stats, and could have been drafted by the Bucs at the end of the draft;
  4. Kickers are less valuable in warmer climates (when all kickers have an edge) and Tampa Bay is a warm climate;
  5. Aguayo has no experience relevant experience kicking in any environment apart from the warm South, and the few kicks in college that he took on the road, outside his normal temperature range, did not provide positive results;
  6. Kicking in general is improving league wide, so even average kickers are closer to the best kickers than they were a decade or more ago;
  7. Tampa Bay’s current kicker has nearly identical (and in some cases better) results at the NFL level as compared to Aguayo at the college level;
  8. Kicking in the NFL is more nerve wracking than it is in college, and yet the Buccaneers current kicker was the most accurate in the clutch of any NFL kicker the last 5 years.

I thought the decision to draft Aguayo 59th overall was not wise.  Is he a great kicker?  Will he have a great NFL career?  Will he win some games for the Buccaneers based on a late kick?  The answer to all three is likely, yes.  But that still does not make the move a smart one based on the above information.

Its not just my analytics and opinion that suggest it was a poor decision, here are some other respected opinions from the college draft universe:

  • “No kicker in the history of the NFL is worth a second round pick. None…. Dumbest pick I’ve ever seen” – Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
  • “Let me repeat, we (Bucs) just traded up in the 2nd round to take a damn kicker, unbelievable just unbelievable.  When u select a kicker that high it adds even more pressure to an already stressful situation.” – Shaun King @realshaunking
  • “I don’t care if you know for a fact that you’re getting the second coming of Morten Andersen, you don’t draft a kicker in the 2nd.” – Benjamin Allbright @AllbrightNFL
  • “Licht got greedy by trading up for Aguayo, sending Kansas City a fourth-round pick (106) in exchange for upgrading his third-rounder (74) by 15 slots — only to draft a kicker. I’m entirely not a fan of trading up to draft any kicker in the second round.” – Evan Silva @evansilva
  • “The Bucs earn a D- for trading up to draft kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round” – Pro Football Focus @PFF

It is always difficult to properly “grade” a draft pick because we don’t yet know how he’ll turn out.  For Tampa Bay’s sake, for Jason Licht’s sake, and for the young kid Roberto Aguayo’s sake, I hope it works out well.  And while busts are found everywhere in the first two rounds on an annual basis, the move to trade up (immediately before NE, CAR and DEN) to draft a kicker was highly questionable, to be kind.