Did you know that no school has had a kicker and a punter drafted in the same draft since the draft was shortened in 1994?
Eddy Pineiro and Johnny Townsend both gave a blank stare when the question was posed to them after the Florida Gators Pro Day.
How could they answer? It’s a dream for both of them, for sure, but it’s a tricky position to be drafted at. Since 1998 only 37 punters and 40 kickers have been drafted. In the same span there have been 239 quarterbacks drafted. Couple that with the fact that most NFL teams will carry just one punter and one kicker on the 53 man roster and now the jobs that Pineiro and Townsend are auditioning for are just 1/32, respectively.
Both got invitations to the NFL Scouting Combine. Pineiro was one of four kickers that earned that invitation and Townsend one of seven punters. So when teams lined up to watch the pair at Florida’s Pro Day and the wind was blowing, both Pineiro and Townsend pled their case to kick with the wind at their backs, only to be rebuffed by the scouts that wanted to watch them.
The two performed fine and are regarded as top thre prospects at their positions this year. Townsend joins Alabama’s J.K. Scott and Texas’ Michael Dickson and Pineiro trails only Auburn’s Daniel Carlson. That is, of course, depending on which team you talk to.
The biggest caveat is timing. It’s why Townsend seriously considered leaving school last year. When entering the draft as a specialist, you’re not only considering the other players leaving school to enter the draft but also which teams have players at your position. Teams that have a punter or kicker that performed well the previous season and have that player on a friendly contract are out. So you start subtracting teams and hoping to find an advantageous year to leave.
“We are always trying to figure that out,” Townsend said. “The Eagles and the Giants are two teams we think may be looking for a guy because of retirement and a guy getting cut. We try to look at that all the time and figure out what the playing field is lie and which team is potentially looking for a guy.”
The Raiders, for instance, had a Pro Bowl punter in Marquette King but he was cut when Jon Gruden took over, finding a home in Denver for this season. It’s a volatile position and for the first time since 1998 there wasn’t a single punter drafted in 2017.
“Last year there were no punters drafted, but the year before that there were three,” Townsend noted after Pro Day. “It all depends just on the need of the team. You kind of have to fall into it. There is only one spot in every squad. It is a big timing thing for us. “
Townsend benefitted from Florida’s offensive woes. He holds the school record for punts in a season (83) and in a career (240). Pineiro, too, benefitted from Florida’s inability to get in the end zone. He was one of the most efficient kickers in the country during his two seasons at Florida.
“They know I can hit the ball. Just how consistent can I be? How consistently can I make it into the wind? That’s the most important thing,” Pineiro said after Pro Day. “Can you kick in windy conditions? Can you kick when it’s raining? When it’s snowing? That’s what they really want to know.”
Pineiro has leg for days. He kicked an 81-yarder during a summer workout last year (tweet below) and was a YouTube sensation for long kicks even before he stepped foot on campus.
— Eddy Piñeiro (@EddyPineiro) May 2, 2017
His first season at Florida he made 17-of-18 field goal attempts, making him the most accurate kicker in the country. For his career Pineiro made 38 of his 43 attempts, including 29 of his last 30. He was a perfect 5-of-5 from beyond 50-yards and his career 88.4% field goal conversion set a school record.
Two kickers from the same school were last selected in 1985 when Clemson punter Dale Hatcher (3rd round) and kicker Donald Igwebuike (10th) were selected. It has never happened since the draft was shortened to seven rounds.
That doesn’t mean the two have lost hope. They both plan to be with family, Townsend in Gainesville where his brother Tommy is replacing him at Florida and Pineiro back in Miami, to watch the draft unfold. It starts Thursday night and while both would love to hear their names called then, they know they’ll have to wait until late Friday or even Saturday.
“Anything can happen,” Townsend said. “The draft is a hectic process and the process itself is very hectic. As a specialist you just have to control what you can and sit back and sit what happens.”