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Bucs may have graded Robert Aguayo as a first round pick

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It's always entertaining when someone seems to draft a special teams player too early. But there's plenty to consider with such a move.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised pretty much everybody last month when they used a second round pick on Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo. He was the highest drafted kicker since 2005, when the New York Jets selected Mike Nugent with a second round pick.

On Friday, Rand Getlin tweeted something that got people chattering once again about the Aguayo pick:

The Pewter Report article he is referencing is this extensive look at what general manager Jason Licht did in the 2016 NFL Draft. It's a great read, but the Aguayo portion will certainly have people talking, at least for today.

Licht talked about a Bill Belichick story from when Licht was a scout. The New England Patriots head coach asked scouts to rank out the roster 1-53. When nobody ranked kicker Stephen Gostkowski in their top ten, Belichick asked everybody about it:

‘Nobody wants to put Gostkowski in our top 10? Why, just because he’s a kicker?’ Bill made us “rethink that” and he got his point across. He said, ‘You tell me 10 other players that are more important than him!’

The article then goes on to include some justifications from Licht about the pick. Most notably, the Bucs felt while Aguayo was not perfect in college, they say he actually was perfect the last two years when factoring in NFL hash marks:

“Obviously, it’s harder to kick in college because of the wider hashes,” Licht said. “His percentage the last two years – he was 100 percent on field goals if they were kicked from within NFL hashes.”

They also love his leadership and confidence.

“Roberto is wired differently,” Licht said. “He’s very confident. The folks at Florida State said, ‘He’s one of the leaders on our team.’ You just don’t run across that often at all with kickers. Just the way he carries himself, he’s different. He’s more of a normal teammate as a kicker. He’s a core player and a leader. He has a certain confidence about him. You just like being around him.”

I bring this up in part because of how many of us felt a year ago when the 49ers spent a fifth round pick on Bradley Pinion. At the time, GM Trent Baalke had this to say about Pinion:

Today was an offensive-heavy day, but I’m curious about the 5th round selection of Bradley Pinion. What did you see in him as a punter and what does it mean for P Andy Lee?

“First thing, what we saw in Bradley is a big, strong-legged punter that also kicks off. What it means for Andy, no different than any other position. You come in and you compete. It's not a message to Andy at all. As we always talk about, best player on the board at the time.”

He's a big guy, but seems like his best attribute is the finesse game, not knocking it into the endzone.

“You've watched a lot of film on him.”

Is that what kind of drew you to him? His control, directional punting, not putting it into the endzone.

“Everybody coaches their punters differently. Some want them to drive the ball. Some want them to position the ball. It's really independent of the system. But he does a nice job controlling the ball, pinning it inside the 20. He's been real effective. He's shown the ability to kick off as well, which is always an asset. At the same time, Andy has been here for a long time and he's a heck of a punter. We expect him to come in and continue to compete. It's not Bradley's job, it's Andy's job. It's Brad's job to come in and win that job.”

It was a surprising pick, but it's certainly a lot easier to justify a fifth round pick on a special teams player over a second round pick. One reason it was a bit odd is that the Bucs seem a little further away from Super Bowl contention. They are on the right track, but there is still work to do.

I bring that up because it reminds me of when the Oakland Raiders spent a first round pick on Sebastian Janikowski. It was surprising, but in the context of the previous year, I could kind of see what the Raiders were doing. They went 8-8 in 1999, and all eight of their losses were by seven points or less. They ranked well on offense, and more middle of the pack on defense. It would have made sense to look for an impact defensive player.

The Raiders primary kicker in 1999 was Michael Husted. They released him late in the season due to inconsistency, and actually ended up signing 26-year old Joe Nedney after the Cardinals waived him. He closed out the season, and the team released him. He would eventually join the Titans and find great success before heading back to the Bay Area to join the 49ers. Imagine if the Raiders had held on to Nedney instead of cutting him loose?

Yes, that was an excuse just to write about Joe Nedney!

But the point being, there can be plenty of impact from specialists, but to claim a player is worth investing that high is always going to be met with some derision. Maybe it works out for the Bucs, maybe not. If they're in the playoffs this season and have won some close games on the leg of Aguayo, more power to them. It won't be the last time someone appears to take a specialist too soon.