2022 NFL Draft surprise: Bills land on ‘Punt God’ Matt Araiza, who surprisingly gets carried behind two other punters

The NFL Draft doesn’t usually give us many surprises when it comes to punts, but it did come with two big surprises on Saturday.

The biggest surprise is that college football’s leading punter, Matt Araiza, wasn’t the first kicker off the board this year. The former San Diego State punter went undrafted until the Bills took him as the top pick of the sixth round (180th overall).

Although he was the best punting prospect in the draft, Araiza ended up being the third kicker selected. The first two punters went off the board in the fourth round with the Ravens selecting Jordan Stout and the Buccaneers taking Jake Camarda.

Those two picks were also somewhat surprising, if only because you rarely see two punters taken this early. With Stout ranked 130th overall and Camarda three picks later, this year marked only the third time since 1993 that two punters were taken before the end of the fourth round. The only other times it happened were in 1993 and 2007.

For whatever reason, oddsmakers have been a popular position to pick in this year’s draft. Through the top 180 picks, more punters were selected (3) than were taken in the entire 2021 draft combined (the Steelers’ pick of Pressley Harvin was the only punting pick last year).

As for Araiza, the Bills could potentially be stealing with their pick of the player known as “Punt God.”

Araiza was widely viewed as the top punting prospect after a 2021 college season that ended with him winning the Ray Guy Award. If you look at his numbers, it’s pretty clear that Araiza has one of the strongest legs of any punting prospect in NFL history. Not only did he lead the nation in punt rate with an FBS-record 51.4 yards per punt, but he also had six punts of at least 70 yards in 2021, which was the most in the country. To put that into perspective, there were only six punts of 70 or more yards per combined NFL punt last season. Araiza also had an 86-yard punt last season, which was the longest in college football.

It’s not clear why Araiza fell until the sixth round, but there are many theories. One theory as to why he fell is because he has never had extra points or field goals. Araiza served as a kicker for SDSU while in college, so he never had to put up with it. If a team isn’t comfortable with your holding abilities, that could lead to you falling out of the draft.

Another theory is that teams fear Araiza could overwhelm his coverage in the NFL. Former Saints kicker Thomas Morstead recently explained to the Athletic why that’s a concern.

“The coach I had for my first eight years in New Orleans, if I had a 55+ yard punt, he would get mad,” Morstead said. “He told me: ‘You’re outgrowing your coverage. We’re not controlling field position.’ What I was asked to do was different from a skill set (perspective) that maybe other players have, but I know there are other players in the league who are told to just hit the ball as far down the field as they can. , and the team will cover. They’ll give up some big returns, but they’ll also have some giant field position changes as well.”

Although there is some concern that Araiza’s booming punts could lead him to overshoot his coverage, San Diego State seemed to do well covering his punts. One of the most important clearance statistics is net clearance average and Araiza finished the year with 44.3, which ranks him sixth in the country. Stout was slightly ahead of him at 44.5, while Camarda was well below both boys at 41.6.

Stout was one of the best bettors in this year’s class and it was not a total surprise to see him become the first pick bettor. John Harbaugh is a former special teams coach and has a better eye for punters and kickers than any other head coach in the NFL, so if he loved Stout, you can bet he liked his punting style better than Stout’s booming style. Araiza.

Harbaugh seems to prefer a fine punt, which is what he’s had over the years with Sam Koch, who has been Baltimore’s punt since 2006. Stout will likely end up replacing the Ravens punt, who turns 40 in August.

When it comes to oddsmakers, the biggest surprise is that the Buccaneers took Camarda over Araiza. San Diego State’s punt was better than Camarda in almost every metric last season. With Camarda now in Tampa, that likely spells the end of Bradley Pinion’s three-year career with the team.

Although Araiza saw a lot of action at San Diego State, he may not see much of the field at Buffalo. In 2021, the Bills only punted a total of 52 times, which tied them for the fifth-lowest total in the NFL. With Araiza now in Buffalo, that puts veteran punter Matt Haack on the bench.

Araiza looks like he’ll be a good fit in Buffalo. In fact, he already seems to be fully embracing his new team.

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