The 2020 offseason has been one of transition for the New England Patriots, and that extends to the kicker position.
The Patriots have been fortunate to not have to worry about kicking throughout most of the last 20 years. Whether it was Adam Vinatieri or Stephen Gostkowski, the Pats were in good hands when it came time to kick an important field goal.
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Changes are in store for 2020, though. Here's a breakdown of the Patriots' kicking situation, and who could step in as the team's new kicker.
The Patriots do not have a kicker on their after Gostkowski was released last month. Gostkowski had filled the starting kicker role since the Patriots drafted him in 2006 to replace a Super Bowl hero in Vinatieri. Gostkowski had a remarkable career and ranks as New England's all-time leading scorer. He suffered a season-ending hip injury early in the 2019 campaign and only played in four games.
The Patriots signed a few kickers after Gostkowski's injury, and veteran Nick Folk ultimately won the job. He played in seven games for the Patriots and converted on 14 of 17 field goal attempts, including a perfect 12-for-12 on extra points. Folk remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent (more on that below).
The quality of free agent kickers is poor. There aren't even many of them on the market. In fact, Spotrac has four kickers listed on their free agent tracker. Let's examine each player.
Stephen Gostkowski: The Patriots recently released him, although he told NBC Sports Boston's Tom E. Curran that he does plan to play in the 2020 season.
Adam Vinatieri: The return of Vinatieri, who won three Super Bowl titles and made some of the most iconic kicks in league history with the Patriots, would make for a great story. Vinatieri really struggled last season, though. He converted on just 17 of his 25 field goal attempts and missed six of his 28 extra point attempts. His field goal and extra point percentages were by far the worst of any single season in his Hall of Fame career. A Vinatieri reunion with the Patriots simply doesn't make sense.
Ryan Succop: Succop played in 12 games for the Tennessee Titans last season due to injury, and he was released by the AFC South club last month. The veteran kicker made only one of his six field goal attempts in 2019. Signing him would be a huge risk for the Pats.
Nick Folk: Folk played well for the Patriots. He missed only three kicks, and he converted both of his field goal attempts and his one extra point try during the Patriots' playoff loss to the Titans. Folk easily is the best free agent option available to the Patriots, especially if they're looking for a veteran to fill the starting kicker job.
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NFL Draft History
Here's a look at the kickers drafted by the Patriots in the last 30 years. It's a short list, as you probably would imagine.
2006, Round 4, 118th: Stephen Gostkowski (Memphis)
2001, Round 7, 216th: Owen Pochman (BYU)
1993, Round 5, 113th: Scott Sisson (Georgia Tech)
*Vinatieri was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 1996.
Not many kickers have been drafted over the last five years. Here's a look at those selections.
Round 5, 145th, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Matt Gay, Utah
Round 5, 170th, Cleveland Browns: Austin Seibert, Oklahoma
Round 5, 167th, Minnesota Vikings: Daniel Karlson, Auburn
Round 7, 229th, Miami Dolphins: Jason Sanders, New Mexico
Round 5, 153rd, Cincinnati Bengals: Jake Elliott, Memphis
Round 7, 224th, Cleveland Browns: Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State
Round 7, 233rd, Carolina Panthers: Harrison Butker, Georgia Tech
Round 2, 59th, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
Harrison Butker is the best kicker who's been drafted over the last five years. Despite being drafted by the Panthers, he never attempted a kick for them. Butker signed with the Chiefs in 2017 and has become one of the league's top kickers. He led the league with 34 made field goals last season.
Every kicker who ranked in the top five in field goals made during the 2019 season either went undrafted or does not currently play for the team that drafted them.
2020 NFL Draft Prospects
These three kickers are worth considering in April's draft. Blankenship is the best option for the Patriots. He not only posted impressive stats in four years at Georgia, he also kicked in a lot important moments during bowl games and the College Football Playoff.
Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia
2019 Stats: 27 FGM, 33 FGA, 46-for-46 XP
Tyler Bass, Georgia Southern
2019 Stats: 20 FGM, 28 FGA, 36-for-36 XP
Jet Toner, Stanford
2019 Stats: 12 FGM, 12 FGA, 13-for-13 XP