2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Kickers and Punters)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the seventh in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 players at each position. So far, Nick has previewed the top defensive tackles, defensive ends, the inside linebackers and outside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks available in this year’s upcoming draft.

Part 7: Kickers and Punters

Overview: Both the punter and kicker positions are average in 2014. Neither position should see a player come off the board earlier than the fifth round. This year’s class will also have a tough time making opening day rosters.

The punter class is led by Iowa State’s Kirby Van Der Camp, who has sound technique. Last season only two punters were selected in the draft. Both Jeff Locke (Minnesota) and Sam Martin (Detroit) were selected in the fifth round and made their respective teams.

Rice’s Chris Boswell is the top placekicker. His strong leg will intrigue teams. Last year Caleb Sturgis, a fifth-round pick by Dolphins, and Dustin Hopkins, a sixth-round pick by the Bills, were the only kickers drafted. Sturgis played for Miami while Hopkins was placed on the injured reserve by Buffalo due to a groin injury. The breakdown (Kickers):

1. Chris Boswell, 6-2 1/4, 185 lbs., Rice

A four-year starter, Boswell is Rice’s second all-time leading scorer (Jarett Dillard, 360).  Boswell was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award (nation’s best kicker) in 2012 and 2013. During his time at Rice, Boswell set season school records for field goals (23, 2012) and total points (114, 2012).  In 2012, he led the nation with six 50+ yard field goals made.  Boswell finished his career with 13 field goals made from 50 or more yards.

Strengths: Has very good leg strength, long-distance range and timing on kicks. Produced 121 touchbacks on 224 career kickoffs (63.5%).  

Weaknesses: Needs to improve focus and forgot about misses. Missed eight extra points in career. Had shaky senior season (14 of 21 field goals). 

Projection: Sixth- to seventh-round pick

2. Anthony Fera, 6-1 1/2, 211 lbs., Texas

Fera was a four-year starter with stops at two schools (Penn State and Texas).  Last season, he capped off his career by being the first Texas finalist for the Lou Groza Award and earning both First-team (AFCA and FWAA) and Second-team All-American honors (AP, SI.com and CBSSports.com). Fera was dogged by a groin injury in 2012 and missed the first four games of the season. In 2011, Fera was a Groza Award semifinalist and Second-team All-Big Ten honoree.

Strengths: Has experience handling punts and kickoffs throughout career.  Kicks with fluid movement and good technique

Weaknesses: Has battled hip flexor injuries.  Lacks leg power—had only 19 touchbacks on 49 kickoffs (38.8%) in 2013.

Projection: Sixth- to seventh-round pick

3. Cairo Santos, 5-8 1/8, 164 lbs., Tulane

Santos, a four-year starter, won the Lou Groza Award and earned First-team All-American honors in 2012. He was a two-time First-team All-Conference USA pick (2012-13).  Santos made all 21 field goal attempts in 2012. He is a native of Brazil.

Strengths: Handles pressure well and is consistently accurate from inside the 50. Can kick up to 60 yards. Has the ability to serve as a punter, if needed.

Weaknesses: Needs to improve power, placement and hang-time on kickoffs. Has so-so follow-through and could speed up process. Is very small in size. 

Projection: Seventh-round pick or free agent

Others to watch: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern; Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson; Nate Freese, Boston College; Zach Hocker, Arkansas;  Cody Parkey, Auburn;

Small School: Ray Early, Furman

The breakdown (Punters):

1. Kirby Van Der Kamp, 6-3 3/4, 202 lbs., Iowa State

Van Der Kamp finished with the most punts in Big 12 history with 289. He was a two-time Second-team All-Big 12 selection. Van Der Kamp finished career with a 42.4 punting average (second-best in school history). He was impressive at the Senior Bowl finishing with a 46.9 average.

Strengths: Has good size and technique. Can run or pass the ball, if called upon (was 7 for 7 on fake punt attempts).  Used to punting in windy conditions.

Weaknesses: Lacks versatility by not holding for kicks or kicking off. Does not possess power. Could stand to improve process.

Projection: Sixth- to seventh-round pick

2. Tom Hornsey, 6-3 1/2, 221 lbs., Memphis

Hornsey, a four-year starter, was the Ray Guy Award (nation’s best punter) winner last season as well as the Co-AAC Special Teams Player of Year. He began playing American football in 2010.  Hornsey was a three-time Honorable Mention All-Conference USA selection (2010-12). He averaged 43.2 yards per punt over career. A native of Australia, Hornsey is a former Australian Rules Football player.

Strengths:  Has a fluid motion and is consistent.

Weaknesses: Needs to improve direction punting. Has been playing American football only since college and is 25.

Projection: Sixth- to seventh-round pick

3. Pat O’Donnell, 6-4 1/8, 220 lbs., Miami (FL)

O’Donnell was a First-team All-ACC pick after transferring to Miami (FL) as a grad student from Cincinnati, where he had played three seasons.   O'Donnell was second nationally in punting with a 47.1-yard average in 2013. At the NFL Combine, O’Donnell ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash and had 23 reps of 225 pounds. His 40 time was the fastest by a kicker or punter since 2006 (USC's David Buehler also ran a 4.62 in 2009).

Strengths: Can handle kickoffs and hold for field goals and extra points. Has ability to place directional kicks. Punts have consistent hang times. Has athletic build.

Weaknesses: Needs to improve timing and directional punting.

Projection: Seventh-round pick or free agent

Others to watch: Tyler Campbell, Mississippi; Steven Clark, Auburn; Richie Leone, Houston; Cody Mandell, Alabama; Cody Webster, Purdue

Small School: Kollin Carman, St. Francis (IN)

Next up: Centers

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.