Some have argued that the words “kicker” and “punter” don’t belong in the same sentence as “NFL Draft.” But just last year, six special teams players were drafted by NFL teams. Could the Dallas Cowboys consider such a player with one of their 2019 draft picks?
From 2009-2018, various teams have drafted 19 kickers and 18 punters. The highest pick was a second-rounder; Tampa Bay’s selection of Roberto Aguayo in 2016. Outside of one pick in the third round and another in the fourth, the other 34 picks have all been in rounds 5-7.
The Dallas Cowboys have only contributed one pick to this total. In 2009 they selected David Buehler in the fifth round, two years after using a sixth-round pick on Nick Folk.
Ten years later, could Dallas finally use another draft pick on special teams?
There are a few of factors that make this possible. For one, the Cowboys are already fairly loaded with talent across the roster. A late-round pick spent at any number of positions would have a hard time surviving final cuts.
Second, in terms of the quality of player versus the round, there’s no better value than on special teams. You can possibly get the best kicker in the country in the fifth or sixth round; no other position offers that.
Lastly, and most importantly, the Cowboys have a pretty clear opportunity to upgrade at kicker. They also could use the draft to save some cap space by making a change at punter.
As I’ve written about before, Brett Maher was a Jekyll & Hyde kicker in 2018. He was brilliant from long range but a major liability closer in, and his 80.6% total field-goal accuracy was near the bottom of the league.
While Maher’s distance is a true asset, does it outweigh the risk of him missing a game-winning FG from 35 yards? And what about extra-point kicks, for that matter?
Dallas should certainly bring Brett back in 2019 to compete for the job. Remember, he was still Dan Bailey’s backup until close to the start of the regular season. Perhaps a full offseason as the primary kicker would help him stabilize his game.
But given the uncertainty, the Cowboys could easily justify spending a late-round pick at kicker. They could potentially land LSU’s Cole Tracy or Utah’s Matt Gay, two of the top prospects in this draft class.
The worst-case scenario is that Maher beats one of these guys and you cut them. But there was a high probability that you’d have cut whoever you drafted at another position anyway. Essentially, you’d have spent a late draft pick as an insurance policy against Maher’s development.
That’s not bad business. In fact, maybe you’d be able to trade that kicker at final cuts to a team who suffers a preseason injury or is otherwise dissatisfied at the position. There’s a chance you could even recoup your draft pick.
Another consideration is at punter. Chris Jones has been a very solid one for a while now, but he turns 30 in July and counts $2.3 million against the salary cap. Could the draft give Dallas a chance to get someone younger and cheaper?
Let’s say Dallas drafted one of the nation’s top punters like Jack Fox out of Rice or Stanford’s Jack Bailey. They’d have that player on a four-year rookie deal costing roughly 20% of what Jones’ does.
Dallas could trade or release Chris Jones for $800k in 2019 cap relief, or $1.8 million if he’s cut after June 1st. That would push $1 million of dead money onto the 2020 cap.
Those aren’t big numbers, so the real gain here is if you think one of the top rookie punters could match or even exceed Jones’ play. Then you’ve got that player on the cheap for the next four seasons.
I would not predict that the Cowboys will spend a draft pick at either kicker or punter, but the point of all this is that you can’t entirely dismiss it. 2019 presents the right mix of circumstances for Dallas to consider it more than they have in the past, especially considering how long Dan Bailey was a fixture on the roster.
Brett Maher doesn’t enjoy that same status. Dallas could easily look at some of the top kickers available and think that an upgrade is possible.
Will that lead to the Cowboys spending a draft pick on special teams for the first time in a decade?
Draft Likelihood: 10%
Projected Round: *6th-7th
* The Cowboys don’t currently have a 6th-round pick, but could acquire one in a potential trade.
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