The NFL Draft doesn’t usually give us very many surprises when it comes to punting, but it came through with two big surprises during the fourth round on Saturday.
The first big surprise came when both the Ravens (Jordan Stout) and Buccaneers (Jake Camarda) selected a punter. The reason that was surprising is because you almost never see two punters get taken this early in the draft. With Stout going at 130th overall and Camarda going three picks later, this marks just the third time since 1993 that two punters have been taken before the end of the fourth round.
The only other times it happened came in 1993 and 2007. There were more punters taken in the fourth round this year than were taken in the entire 2021 draft combined (The Steelers selection of Pressley Harvin was the only punter pick last year).
The other big punting surprise is the fact that San Diego State’s Matt Araiza wasn’t one of the first two punters off the board. I mean, the man’s nickname is “Punt God,” but apparently that wasn’t enough to impress NFL teams.
Araiza was widely viewed as the top punting prospect after a 2021 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 (No other college punter had more than two). To put that in perspective, there were only six punts of 70 or more yards by every NFL punter combined last season.
One theory on why Araiza is dropping is because teams are afraid he 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 taken first.
John Harbaugh is a former special teams coach and he has a better eye for punters and kickers than any 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 with Sam Koch. Stout will likely end up replacing the longtime Ravens punter, who turns 40 in August.
The bigger surprise of the fourth round is that the Buccaneers took Camarda over Araiza. The San Diego State punter was better in almost every metric.
There is also one other theory on why Araiza might be falling and it’s because he’s never held for a kicker. Araiza served as SDSU’s kicker 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 drop.
Araiza will likely get selected at some point, but even though he was arguably the top punting prospect this year, he wasn’t the first punter off the board.