In Range?

Without Stover On Roster, Kicker Has Become Position For Club To Consider Filling During Draft

Ravens

April 22, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

It might take until the late rounds, but there is a chance the Ravens could make team history in this weekend's NFL draft.

Though the Ravens have given a vote of confidence to Steve Hauschka as Matt Stover's successor, the club has contemplated drafting a kicker. The Ravens have never selected a place-kicker in 13 previous drafts, a total of 106 selections.

So, what are the chances the Ravens end that streak this year?

"Never say never," said Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' director of player personnel. "People looked at us like we were crazy when we drafted [punter Dave] Zastudil in the fourth round and [punter] Sam Koch in the sixth. And both of those picks worked out extremely well."

But drafting a kicker has been as hit-or-miss as selecting a quarterback.

In the past five years, just six of the 12 kickers drafted (the San Diego Chargers' Nate Kaeding, Jacksonville Jaguars' Josh Scobee, New England Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski, Green Bay Packers' Mason Crosby, Dallas Cowboys' Nick Folk and Seattle Seahawks' Brandon Coutu) remain with their original team. Three of those kickers are with other teams, and three are out of the league.

"It's a difficult position to stick," said Joe Hortiz, the Ravens' director of college scouting. "You definitely don't come out of each fall saying there are 12 kickers that are going to go to the NFL."

There is no consensus on the best kicker in this year's draft.

Some scouts say it's Southern California's David Buehler, whose strength is kicking off more than kicking field goals. Others point to Wake Forest's Sam Swank, who has been clutch during his career, or South Carolina's Ryan Succop, who has had some great workouts recently.

There are also Florida State's Graham Gano, Utah's Louis Sakoda, Texas-El Paso's Jose Martinez, West Virginia's Pat McAfee and Arizona's Jason Bondzio.

But the Ravens acknowledged they could take a kicker who hasn't gained a lot of attention.

"Part of the problem is people don't know how to scout kickers," DeCosta said. "The list of combine kickers doesn't necessarily mean those are the best kickers. It just means those were the guys that were invited to the combine. That's why we do our due diligence in looking at all of the other kickers out there, too."

The Ravens' scouts began looking at kickers in the fall and formed their list of the top ones. Then, the coaches hone in on them after the season, dissecting their mechanics, leg strength and mental makeup.

DeCosta said the Ravens have scouted 35 to 40 kickers. Some were at the NFL combine, and others worked out in front of special teams coach Jerry Rosburg and assistant coach Marwan Maalouf.

The Ravens, though, stressed there is no urgency to draft a kicker because they have Hauschka.

An undrafted rookie out of North Carolina State, Hauschka was 1-for-2 on field goals last season (converting a 54-yarder and missing a 53-yarder). He also had three touchbacks on kickoffs.

"We have Hauschka here, and we got him for a reason," general manager Ozzie Newsome said.

Newsome has reiterated the Ravens haven't cut all ties with Stover - he could come back after training camp if the younger kickers flop - but it's unusual to not have the luxury of the proven 41-year-old kicker on the roster.

During Stover's run with the Ravens, 19 of the other 31 teams have drafted a kicker. In fact, seven (the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Patriots, Jaguars, Chargers, Packers and Seahawks) have used two draft picks on kickers since 1996.

NFL DRAFT

When: Saturday (rounds 1-2, 4 p.m.), Sunday (rounds 3-7, 10 a.m.)

TV: ESPN, NFL Network

Ravens' picks:

1st round: 26

2nd round: 57

3rd round: 88

4th round: 123

5th round: 162

6th round: 198

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