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Monday, July 16, 2012
Scout's notebook: Specialists

By Field Yates

Stephen Gostkowski,Danny Aiken & Zoltan Mesko
In Danny Aiken, Stephen Gostkowski and Zoltan Mesko, the Patriots have a young trio of specialists that has been successful in the early portions of their careers.
(Field Yates, a former Chiefs scouting assistant under general manager Scott Pioli, concludes a month-long series offering insight into how teams scout for players at each position.)

POSITION: Specialists (punters/kickers/snappers)

OVERVIEW: There are certain roles in sports that garner more attention for their failures than their successes; for punters, kickers, and long snappers, this often proves to be the case. A missed game-winning field goal often forces a kicker into a tailspin of fan backlash, and a botched punt or snap can lead to similar misery as well. But we should not shy away from the important positive contributions of these three players, as each has an integral role throughout the course of a game. Patriots fans learned from Adam Vinatieri how lethal a clutch kicker can be, and perhaps no team today relies on the booming power of their punter/kicker combo than the Raiders, who often turn to Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski to swing momentum. Reliability from this trio is an edge for any NFL team.

DESIRED TRAITS: As it relates to kickers, it starts with reliability. Reliability stems from accuracy on his kicks, both kickoffs and field goals. One must evaluate his consistency in field goal range, and power. Because of the cut and dry aspect to field goals (made or missed), we can use statistics to understand a kicker’s baseline abilities. Other traits identified are his arsenal on kickoffs (squib kick, mortar kick, onsides kick, directional kick, and straight-line power). Power is derived from proper footwork and leg velocity.

For punters, reliability is again the key. A 70-yard arcing spiral punt followed by a 25-yard shank is not as useful as a pair of 45-yard punts in succession. A punter must be quick and efficient in his operation, be able to punt directionally and with good distance and hang-time. Although distance is integral, it’s important for a punter to put enough air into his kicks to give his team time to run up and cover. A punter who can handle kickoff and/or holding duties is an added benefit.

Long snappers have perhaps the least glamorous job in football, and one that leads to notoriety only upon a failure to execute. They must be accurate and consistent – former Patriot Lonie Paxton was one of the most accurate and consistent snappers of this era of football – both on short (field goal) and long (punt snaps). A snapper must have very good velocity and spiral on his snaps as well.

Snappers will also be called upon to block and cover on the punt team, so tackling ability along with athletic ability and strength must be gauged. A long snapper who can play in space is a major boon to a punt coverage team.

PATRIOTS TAKE: In Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko and Danny Aiken, the Patriots have a young trio that has been successful in the early portions of their career.

Gostkowski has big power and has panned out for the Patriots after taking over for Vinatieri, but hasn’t flexed the same big-game clutchness that Vinatieri owned. Mesko has a very good combination of distance, hang time, directional ability and consistency, while Aiken impressed as an undrafted rookie in 2011. This group is solid if not unspectacular on the whole.