The NFL Draft doesn’t usually give us very many surprises when it comes to punting, but it came through with two big surprises on Saturday.
The biggest surprise is that college football‘s top punter, Matt Araiza, wasn’t the first punter off the board this year. The former San Diego State punter didn’t get selected until the Bills made him the first pick of the sixth round (180th overall).
Although he was the top punting prospect in the draft, Araiza ended up being the third punter 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 almost never see two punters get taken that early With Stout going at 130th overall and Camarda going three picks later, this year marked just the third time since 1993 that two punters were taken before the end of the fourth round. The only other times it happened came in 1993 and 2007.
For whatever reason, punters have been a popular position to pick in this year’s draft. Through the first 180 picks, there were more punters selected (3) than were taken in the entire 2021 draft combined (The Steelers selection of Pressley Harvin was the only punter pick last year).
As for Araiza, the Bills could potentially be getting a steal with their selection 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 punting average 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 in perspective, there were only six punts of 70 or more yards by every NFL punter combined last season. Araiza also boomed an 86-yard punt last season, which was the longest in college football.
It’s not clear why Araiza dropped all the way down to the sixth round, but there are plenty of theories. One theory on why he fell is because he’s never held for extra point or field goals. Araiza served as SDSU’s placekicker while he was in college, so he’s never had to hold. If a team is uncomfortable with your holding skills, that could absolutely lead you to dropping in the draft.
One other theory is that teams are afraid Araiza might outkick his coverage in the NFL. Former Saints punter 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 hit a punt over 55 yards, he was mad,” Morstead said. “He was like, ‘You’re outkicking your coverage. We’re not controlling field position.’ What I was asked to do was different from a skill set (perspective) than maybe other players have. But I know there are other players in the league who are told to just bang the ball as far as they can down the field, and the team is going to cover. They’ll give up some big returns, but they’ll also have some giant flips of field position.”
Although there’s some concern that Araiza’s booming punts could lead to him outkicking his coverage, San Diego State seemed to do just fine covering his punts. One of the most important punting stats is net punting average and Araiza finished the year at 44.3, which ranked sixth in the country. Stout was slightly ahead of him at 44.5 while Camarda was well below both guys at 41.6.
Stout was one of the top punters in this year’s class and it wasn’t a total shocker to see him become the first punter taken. John Harbaugh is a former special teams coach and he has a better eye for punters and kickers than any other head coach in the NFL, so if he wanted Stout, you can bet he liked his punting style more than he liked Araiza’s booming style.
Harbaugh seems to prefer a finesse punter, which is what he’s had over the years with Sam Koch, who’s been Baltimore’s punter since 2006. Stout will likely end up replacing the longtime Ravens punter, who turns 40 in August.
When it comes to punters, the bigger surprise is that the Buccaneers took Camarda over Araiza. The San Diego State punter 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 run with the team.
Although Araiza saw plenty of action at San Diego State, he might not see the field much in Buffalo. In 2021, the Bills only punted a total of 52 times, which was tied for the fifth-lowest total in the NFL. With Araiza now in Buffalo, that puts veteran punter Matt Haack on the hot seat.
Araiza seems like he’s going to be a good fit in Buffalo. As a matter of fact, he already seems to be fully embracing his new team.