NFL Prospects: Special Teams
2007 promises to be a strong year for special teams
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April 16, 2007
By Rob Rang
Special to CSTV.com from the Sports Xchange
The argument that special teams play is more valued in the NFL today than ever before has wheels. Just look at
Fortunately for the 28 other teams in the league, the 2007 NFL Draft is a particularly strong one for special-teams prospects. For the first time in years, there is a reasonable possibility that a return specialist, kicker and punter will all be drafted in the first three rounds.
An in-depth look at the best returners, kickers, punters, and long snappers available in the draft:
1. Ted Ginn, Jr., RS/WR, Ohio State, 6-0, 180, JR:
An explosive runner likely to be drafted in the first round as a receiver, Ginn may offer a more immediate impact with his return skills. He leaves
2. Aaron Ross, RS/CB,
The Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top defensive back, the speedy Ross will be drafted in the first round because of his ability to shut down opposing wide receivers, but he brings the added element of game-breaking punt-return ability. Ross was used as a kick returner twice (26.5 average) at
3. Johnnie Lee Higgins, RS/WR, UTEP, 5-11, 184, SR:
Productive receiver and return specialist with the size, speed and agility to continue playing both roles at the NFL level. Best asset might be his acceleration. Once he reaches the open field, Higgins has the burst to pull away from defenders. Averaged 19.88 yards per kick return over his three seasons at the position. He took over primary punt-return duties as a junior, averaging 9.4 yards per return. He seemed more comfortable in that role as a senior, returning two punts for touchdowns.
4. Yamon Figurs, RS/WR,
Figurs isn't the receiver prospect that Ginn Jr. and Higgins are, and won't likely be drafted anywhere near as high. Still, he's viewed by many as the best pure returner in the draft.
Figurs recorded the fastest time (4.30 seconds in the 40-yard dash) of anyone tested at the 2007 Scouting Combine. As a senior at
Others to watch:
-- Antonio Pittman, RS/RB,
-- Travarous Bain, RS/CB, Hampton, 6-0, 182, SR: Former Miami Hurricane has great speed and agility.
-- Steve Breaston, RS/WR, Michigan, 6-1, 178, SR: Best chance in the NFL might be as return specialist.
-- Syndric Steptoe, RS/WR,
Possesses as strong a leg as any kicking prospect in the past 10 years. Kicked a career-long 60-yard field goal at Colorado, and proved his range had nothing to do with the thin Colorado air with a 58-yarder at Miami -- the longest without a kicking tee at sea level in D-I history. Leg strength translates on kickoffs, with 138 of 203 career kickoffs going for touchbacks.
2. Justin Medlock, UCLA, 6-0, 201, SR:
An All-Pac-10 selection all four seasons with the Bruins, Medlock leaves with a career accuracy mark of 79.5 percent (70 of 88). He lacks the monster leg some scouts look for -- he has a long of 52 yards and on kickoffs consistently falls short of the five-yard line. Statistically, he improved throughout his career, topping it off with a senior season worthy of First Team All-American honors, when he converted 26 of 30 attempts. Worth noting: Medlock was suspended in December 2005 after being arrested for a felony DUI and leaving the scene of an accident.
Folk is an emerging talent who overcame previous struggles with long-distance field-goal attempts to enjoy a standout senior campaign.
Folk was a First Team All-Pac-10 choice in 2006, making 15 of 20 field goals and doubling as the team's punter -- averaging 44 yards per punt. Helped himself with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl, showing his leg strength matched favorably with
Others to watch:
-- Matt Clark, Auburn, 6-0, 181, SR:
1. Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor, 6-3, 229, SR:
Everyone's All-American in 2006, Sepulveda could challenge Todd Sauerbrun (No. 56 overall, 1995) as the highest-drafted punter in NFL history. His career punting average of 45.24 yards is the highest in D-I history among punters with more than 50 attempts. He's a two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter (2004, 2006). Tore the ACL in his right (non-kicking) leg in April of 2006, but recovered in time to play every game last season. Built like a linebacker -- and was recruited as one when he signed with Baylor out of high school.
Podlesh is a rare athlete for the punter position. Has been timed in the 4.4s and has an athletic, sculpted frame. Shows a strong leg, averaging 43.2 yards per punt over the past two seasons. The only player in
3. Kody Bliss,
While Bliss may lack the size and athleticism of the two other highly regarded punting prospects, his 45.72-yard average in the ultra-athletic SEC is impressive. Bliss was a consistent standout at
Others to watch:
-- Brendan Carney,
-- Adam Graessle, Pittsburgh, 6-4, 215, SR: Has a strong leg that allowed him to be used as a kickoff specialist as well as punter.
1. Nick Leeson, LS, Virginia Tech, 6-2, 255, SR:
Leeson is considered the clear-cut premier senior long snapper by most scouts. According to Virginia Tech statistics, he had only one bad snap over the past two years. Has the size and athleticism to hold up at the NFL level. Leeson, along with
2. Jared Retkofsky, LS, TCU, 6-5, 265, SR:
Unlike many prospects at this position, Retkofsky has the size and experience at other positions to contribute outside of special teams. He was a contributor at left defensive end and defensive tackle throughout his career with the Horned Frogs. Overall, he's a good athlete who left TCU with the record for broad jump (10'1") by a defensive lineman, and he consistently ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.8s.
3. Zak DeOssie, LS/ILB, Brown, 6-5, 250, SR:
Graded as only a marginal long-snapping prospect, DeOssie is viewed as a quality inside linebacker worthy of mid-round consideration. His father, Steve, was a linebacker and long snapper for
Others to watch:
-- Aaron King, UTEP, 6-1, 239, SR: King was a four-year starter and finished with four tackles in coverage in 2006. One of only three pure long snappers invited to NFL Scouting Combine (Leeson, Retkofsky).