By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
Today College Scout looks at the top specialists, kickers, punters and returners. The Patriots value special teams play and have used draft picks to select a kicker and a punter in recent years. They seem to have two young draft picks at both positions, but its not unlikely they’ll bring in some competition for both. While punter Zoltan Mesko is having an improving rookie season that started out a bit shaky, he now looks to be a good punter. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was signed to a new contract and is young. But Mesko will be coming off just his first year and Gostkowski off an injury, so they’ll likely bring in some competition at least for awhile. Its probably they won’t use a draft pick, but could sign a free agent. Its conceivable they could carry either position on the practice squad next season as well. As for returner, the Patriots could be interested in each of the four listed and each has some potential as a NFL receiver as well. Lets take a look.
Top 3 Place Kickers
1.) Kai Forbath (#25), UCLA: Forbath was the 2009 Lou Groza award winner as college football’s best kicker. As a freshman remarkably kicked 5 field goals of longer than 50 yards. Had converted 41 of his last 44 field goal attempts coming into this year. This year he has slumped a bit only hitting on 11-16 attempts. Also does not handle kickoffs for UCLA as that is done by the punter. He has a strong leg and was amongst all-time NCAA leaders in accuracy coming into this season. He certainly has NFL talent and his poor season could make him a free agent signee. The Patriots may want to bring in some competition next year for Stephen Gostkowski coming off an injury and given that he wasn’t kicking great prior to his injury. Forbath has the talent to bring in and even keep on a practice squad for a year.
2.) Josh Jasper (#30), LSU: Perhaps is as well-known for his involvement in trick plays as he is for his kicking, but he is still an excellent kicker. Headed into this season as LSU’s all-time leader in FG percentage. Also serves as LSU’s pooch punter. This year he’s continued his fine kicking with 6-8 from 40-49 yards and 2-3 beyond 50. Memorably carried the ball off a fake FG for a first down after a lateral against Florida, helping LSU to the last second win.
3.) Wes Byrum (#18), Auburn: He’s been busy this year kicking for high scoring Auburn and he has delivered with 15-19 field goals connected upon. Has had one blocked. A good kicker, he probably needs a bit of time to round into NFL shape but he has a strong leg and just needs to improve his accuracy a bit. Was Auburn’s special teams MVP his junior year. Has kicked 3 game winning last second kicks.
Top 3 Punters:
1.) Ryan Donahue (#5), Iowa: A good athlete who kicks for Belichick former assistant Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz subscribes to the punting strategy and teachings where height and direction are more important than pure distance. Donahue is able to stay with the strategy of the kick whether it be to kick towards a certain coverage or height. Can boom the ball when necessary and has kicked in bad weather. Can kick extra points and field goals in a pinch.
2.) Derek Epperson (#38), Baylor: A big kid at 240 lbs. and a right-footed punter. Probably has a stronger leg than Donahue but not quite as polished as him. Smart kid whos
e been an Academic All-American several times.
3.) Chas Henry (#17), Florida: Has experience in big games, but not much bad weather experience. Gets good hand time. Has done a decent job filling in for injured Gators kicker this year and beat Georgia in overtime with a kick. Future remains as a punter though. He will get an opportunity in the NFL.
Top 4 Kick Returners:
1.) Leon Berry (#9), Mississippi State: Has only caught 8 balls this year, but averaged over 23 yards per catch. An excellent returner, he has averaged nearly 27 yards per return and brought one back for a touchdown. Hasn’t done any punt returning. Not purely a return specialist as he has good size at 210 lbs. and some potential as a receiver. Good speed, just hasn’t been too productive and needs a lot of work in that area. Only played major college football for two years as he went to junior college first.
2.) Titus Young (#1), Boise State: Young would be drafted anyways as a receiver, but has the added dimension of being a game breaking returner. Boise State has limited his chances compared to past years, but averaging over 25 yards per kick return and nearly 11 per punt return. Will top 1,000 yards as a receiver. Young has great speed and shifty inside quickness. He should be productive as a both a receiver and returner in the NFL. A bit undersized at 175 lbs.
3.) Jeremy Kerley (#85), TCU: Was the Mountain West Conference special teams player of the year as a junior in 2009. This year averaging nearly 13 yards per punt return and 28 per kick return. Has receiver ability and can play there too. Also has run the ball 16 times and could be a reverse/wildcat type player in the NFL. Versatile, also has thrown several passes, including multiple touchdowns, in his TCU career.
4.) Jerell Jernigan (#3), Troy State: Another productive receiver, he’s a bit undersized at 5’9″ Was a quarterback in high school. Averaging 12.5 per punt return and nearly 29 as a kick returner. Has brought one back of each. Quick player who is a leader for Troy State team and a very good receiver prospect as well as returner. Could see him going as high as the second round given the number of things he can do for a team.