Patriots

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Three kickers worthy of being selected

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Three kickers worthy of being selected

Kicker isn't one of the popular positions entering the NFL Draft, but these players fill an important role at the pro level.

An accurate kicker can make a huge difference in pressure-packed moments, and New England Patriots fans know that all too well.

The Patriots' first three Super Bowl titles all were won by three points earned on fourth-quarter field goals by Adam Vinatieri.

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Stephen Gostkowski was drafted by the Patriots in 2006 to replace Vinatieri and became the team's all-time leading scorer. He also won three Super Bowl championships with the Patriots, and his kick late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII sealed the win. 

Gostkowski was released by the Patriots last month, so New England is among the teams that could consider selecting a kicker in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Let's take a look at three kickers worthy of being drafted from this year's class.

1. Rodrigo Blankenship

College: Georgia
Class: Redshirt Senior
2019 Stats: 27-for-33 on field goals, 46-for-46 on extra points

If you watched college football over the last four years, you probably saw Blankenship play. He spent four seasons kicking for Georgia and performed in a lot of pressure-packed moments, whether they were pivotal SEC matchups or the College Football Playoff. Let's not forget the 51-yard field goal he made against Alabama in overtime of the CFP national title game in 2017 that nearly won Georgia a championship.

Blankenship hit 80 of his 97 field goal attempts (82.4 percent) for the Bulldogs. He connected on six of his nine attempts from 50 yards or longer, and he never missed a field goal from 29 yards or closer. Blankenship was perfect on extra points in his career, too. As a senior, he won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker and earned an All-SEC first team selection. Blankenship's accuracy and experience kicking in big games are two huge factors in grading him the best kicker of the 2020 draft class.

Projected Round: Sixth 

2. Tyler Bass

College: Georgia Southern
Class: Redshirt Senior
2019 Stats: 20-for-28 on field goals, 36-for-36 on extra points

Bass has a powerful leg, and Georgia Southern let him use it. He attempted 36 field goals from 40 yards or longer over the last three years, and he made 27 of them (75 percent). Bass excelled on kickoffs too, achieving a touchback on 198 of 268 kicks in his career, including 55 touchbacks on 72 kickoffs last season. He also made all three of his field goal attempts in Georgia Southern's 23-16 loss to Liberty in the 2020 Cure Bowl. Bass' versatility in that he can be accurate on field goals and consistently earn touchbacks on kickoffs make him a solid prospect.

Projected Round: Seventh

3. Dominik Eberle

College: Utah State
Class: Senior
2019 Stats: 21-for-24 on field goals, 45-for-45 on extra points

Eberle is a very accurate kicker who had little trouble connecting on long field goals. He's got a huge leg -- connecting on four of seven field goals from 50-plus yards over the last three seasons, as well as a 14-for-17 mark on field goals of 40-plus yards over the last two seasons. Eberle's best performance came as a senior. He missed just three field goals and hit on eight of 10 attempts from 40 or more yards. His play earned him a spot on the 2019 All-Mountain West first team. Eberle is a good bet to have a long, productive career at the pro level given his accuracy for Utah State.

Projected Round: Seventh

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of the NFL Draft. This Wednesday at 5 p.m., stream the NBC Sports On the Clock: NFL Mock Draft special on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBoston.com.

This list of QBs with more guaranteed money than Cam Newton in 2020 is crazy

This list of QBs with more guaranteed money than Cam Newton in 2020 is crazy

The New England Patriots didn't have to make a huge financial commitment to add Cam Newton to their roster for the 2020 NFL season.

Newton and the Patriots reportedly have agreed to a one-year contract that could be worth up to $7.5 million. The veteran quarterback's contract has a $1.05 million base salary and up to $6.45 million in incentives, per reports. 

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One of the most interesting parts of Newton's contract is his $550,000 in guaranteed money, which isn't a lot, to say the least. In fact, the list of quarterbacks with more guaranteed money in their contract for next season is pretty crazy.

Bleacher Report tweeted the following list Thursday:

There's a good chance none of the quarterbacks listed above will be their team's starter in Week 1. Almost all of them will be backups throughout 2020.

Perhaps the most intriguing name on the list is Jarrett Stidham, who was the favorite to replace Tom Brady as the Patriots' starting quarterback before Newton's arrival. Stidham still has a chance to win the starter job, but if Newton is healthy, it's hard to imagine the 31-year-old veteran losing that competition. 

Either way, the Patriots have not taken much of a risk by acquiring Newton. If he's healthy and plays well, his contract will be among the best values in the league. If it doesn't work out, the Patriots didn't sacrifice a lot of salary cap space to take the chance. It's the classic low-risk, high-reward scenario.

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One of Cam Newton's ex-Panthers teammates says Patriots QB 'still has it'

One of Cam Newton's ex-Panthers teammates says Patriots QB 'still has it'

One of Cam Newton's former teammates on the Carolina Panthers thinks the veteran quarterback is still capable of great things as he enters a new chapter of his career with the New England Patriots.

Newton reportedly has agreed to sign a one-year contract with the Patriots worth up to $7.5 million. He was released by the Panthers in March after spending the first nine seasons of his career in Carolina.

"Man, I was happy for Cam," Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson recently told NFL Network's Colleen Wolfe. "I hated that it took so long for him to get signed. He's an MVP quarterback. Cam still has it. I'm happy for him. I'm glad the Patriots invested in him, and I can't wait to see Cam Newton come out there and play."

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Thompson and Newton were teammates for five seasons, including Thompson's rookie campaign in 2015 when Newton won league MVP and led the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.

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Thompson is not the only former or current player predicting success for Newton in New England. Ex-Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch thinks Newton will "erupt" and have a "crazy season" as a player motivated to prove his doubters wrong. Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss said the Patriots offense will be a lot of fun to watch with Newton at the helm.

There are reasons to believe Newton will thrive with the Patriots. Just two years ago he completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 3,395 yards and 24 touchdowns. He played at an MVP level for the first eight games of 2018 before a shoulder injury derailed his season.

Health is always going to be the main concern with Newton, especially after he missed 14 games in 2019 due to injuries. But if healthy, the Patriots should be getting a top 12 quarterback who gives the offense a dual-threat skill set we have rarely seen in New England.