The NFL Draft gets under way Thursday from Radio City Music Hall in New York, but for kickers and punters hoping to hear their name called, it really begins on Saturday.
Georgia‚Äôs Drew Butler and Blair Walsh will be waiting then with anticipation when rounds four through seven are held. Butler and Walsh are viewed as players that have ‚Äúa good chance‚Äù to be drafted late, according to Nolan Nawrocki, draft analyst for Pro Football Weekly, which rates Butler the top punter and Walsh the top kicker.
‚ÄúObviously it would be a huge blessing for us both to get drafted,‚Äù said Butler, who said it is a lifelong dream to play in the NFL. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs been a goal for both of us.‚Äù
A kicker and punter duo from the same school has not been drafted in the same year since 1985 when a pair from Clemson was selected: punter Dale Hatcher in the third round and kicker Donald Igwebuike in the 10th round.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôll be there supporting each other,‚Äù said Walsh, who will be home in Boca Raton, Fla., with his family and some friends Saturday. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm sure we‚Äôll text back and forth.‚Äù
Specialists aren‚Äôt a high priority for many teams during the draft. Draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network doesn‚Äôt include kickers or punters in his position-by-position rankings in the months leading up to the draft.
‚ÄúYou hope that you‚Äôre going to get drafted and that your career speaks for itself and that a team is willing to take a draft pick on you,‚Äù said Walsh, the Southeastern Conference‚Äôs career scoring leader. ‚ÄúAt the same time, you‚Äôve got to be realistic and realize that not many special teams guys are drafted.‚Äù
Only one punter and kicker were selected last year, but three punters were selected in 2009 and three more in 2010 and two kickers were drafted in 2009.
Georgia has a history of drafted kickers: Brandon Coutu (7th round, 2008), Todd Peterson (7th, 1993), John Kasay (4th, 1991), Kevin Butler (4th, 1985), Rex Robinson (6th, 1981), Alan Leavitt (4th, 1977) and Spike Jones (4th, 1970).
‚ÄúI‚Äôd like to continue that history,‚Äù Walsh said.
Butler isn‚Äôt trying to match his father, Kevin, who played 13 years in the NFL, in terms of draft position.
‚ÄúThe goal is just to get drafted and take advantage of the opportunity from there,‚Äù he said.
Butler said he will gather with family and friends at his home in Duluth on Saturday. He‚Äôs checked to see how he stacks up with punters selected in the past.
‚ÄúMy agent and I have thought about the possibility of being drafted, and it feels pretty good,‚Äù Butler said. ‚ÄúWe feel like we have a good chance just based off my performances in college and in the evaluation process.‚Äù
Butler and Walsh worked out together for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams and New York Jets. Butler said. Butler also worked out for the Carolina Panthers.
‚ÄúI think the market this year shows that a few teams definitely need punters,‚Äù said Butler, who averaged 44.2 yards per punt as a senior. ‚ÄúHopefully I‚Äôm atop their board when it comes to the punters that they want.‚Äù
Butler, the second-rated punter by ESPN‚Äôs Mel Kiper, won the Ray Guy Award for nation‚Äôs top punter in 2009, the same year that Walsh was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award for nation‚Äôs top kicker. Kiper ranks Walsh as the No. 3 kicker in the draft.
‚ÄúYou look at the inconsistencies this year, I think he went from being a draftable guy to probably being an undrafted free agent,‚Äù Kiper said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd say Butler, late rounder, free agent, Walsh same thing, probably more of a free agent, but I think he‚Äôll have a chance to compete for a job.‚Äù
Walsh struggled in his senior season when he made just 21 of 35 field goals, but feels he helped himself with some ‚Äúimportant individual workouts.‚Äù
Said Butler: ‚ÄúCoaches know what he‚Äôs capable of and how his game translates to the next level.‚Äù
‚ÄúButler obviously has the bloodlines, has a big leg,‚Äù Nawrocki said. ‚ÄúBoth came into the season at the top of the class. Walsh may not have had the greatest year, but I think both of them could be very solid players in the pros and functional, reliable starters that could earn jobs.‚Äù