I hear your groans Who Dat Nation. Trust me, the last thing I want to see is the Saints essentially waste one of their valuable picks on a position that sees more turnover in employment than a small-market TV station.
But right now the only place kickers (i.e. the guy that kicks field goals) on their roster are veteran Shayne Graham and a rookie by the name of Derek Demke. The 24-year-old University of Illinois alum made a total of 39 field goals in his three year college career, with a conversion percentage of nearly 85% (made 39 out of 46 attempts). In his best season, Demke made 24 of 29 attempts (83% – including 2/3 from 50+) which is better than any single season ex-Saints kicker Garrett Hartley ever managed.
That being said, this is the NFL. Pressure kicking could make or break Demke, and I can’t imagine the Saints are content with their options right now (a guy at the end of his career and an untested rookie).
To that end it would not be a surprise to see the Saints use their 7th round pick on a kicker with upside, like that of Chris Boswell from Rice or Cairo Santos of Louisiana’s own Tulane.
According to cover32’s list of the 10 best kickers/punters in this year’s draft, Boswell is the best of the place kickers – and for good reason. He has a big leg, connecting on 13 field goals from beyond 50 yards in his career. (although the Saints will likely use punter Thomas Morstead for kickoffs). As for Santos, he may just have the best leg in the entire draft; however, as a native of Brazil and newcomer to the game he has yet to harness the accuracy necessary to be a consistent NFL kicker.
Demke may end up being the guy, but it’s important to evaluate mental capacity at any position – especially one as reliant on mental fortitude as place kicking. Whether it’s Graham pushing him or drafting his competition, Demke needs someone to test him in training camp.
For example, Mason Crosby quickly elevated himself to the upper echelon of NFL kickers early in his career with the Green Bay Packers; however, a few years of no competition had him resting on his laurels and almost cost him his job in 2012. The next year the Packers brought in Giorgio Tavecchio as competition, and Crosby returned to his excellent form.
Right now kicking is still a relatively important part of the game, and having a guy that is automatic from 30-yards-in and efficient from 40-yards-out could end up being the difference in a tight playoff game. Hartley helped kick the Saints into a Super Bowl once-upon-a-time … hopefully this year they can find the next big leg to return them to glory.
But please for the love of god don’t go Russell Erxleben on us.
To find out where Boswell, Santos, and the rest of this year’s kicking class rank on cover32’s list, click here.