Oct 15, 2021; San Jose, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs kicker Matt Araiza (2) punts during the fourth quarter against the San Jose State Spartans at CEFCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
On the surface, punter is not a need for the Patriots. Jake Bailey is two years removed from an All-Pro season, and on the final year of his rookie deal. However, that doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t be in the market for a punter.
Because of contract incentives related to his All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, Bailey is due just over $4 million this season. If the Patriots were to move on from him, only $72,520 of his salary would stay on the books and count against the cap.
On top of that, the Patriots have a history of extensive punter turnover, even predating Bill Belichick. Since Rich Camarillo in the mid-80’s, only one punter has played for the Patriots under separate consecutive contracts. That was Ryan Allen, who got a three-year extension mid-way through his rookie deal in 2015. He was then brought back on a one-year deal, but the team moved on from him in favor of Bailey that summer.
So, is there a punter in this class that would push the Patriots towards moving on from Bailey a year early? It’s hard to argue against San Diego State’s Matt Araiza, who just may be the best punting prospect in the history of the draft. By some projections, the Patriots’ traditional fifth-round special teams pick may not be early enough to select him.
What makes Araiza so special? In his first full season as a punter in 2021, the lefty re-wrote the NCAA record books. Among those records are his 51.2 yards per punt average, making him one of just four punters since 2000 to average over 50 yards per punt in a single season. He also booted a record 39 punts of 50-plus yards, and 18 of 60-plus. Araiza had two punts travel over 80 (!) yards, with both being downed inside the 15.
Can he control his powerful leg? Sort of. 37 of his 79 punts last season were downed inside the 20, which ranked second in Division-I. He did also have 15 touchbacks, which is the biggest knock on him right now. But as mentioned above, he’s still learning as a punter after picking the position up in college, and has plenty of room to grow his game.
Originally, Araiza was recruited to San Diego State as a kicker, and was the team’s starter there for three years – including the 2021 season when he set records as a punter. In those three years, Araiza hit 73.5 percent of his 68 field goal attempts, including multiple 50 yarders.
When Araiza made the switch to punting, he took a very scientific approach to developing his style. That involved heavily studying and trying to emulate the pro kicker he felt most resembled his build and skill set – Jake Bailey.
All in all, Araiza seems like an ideal fit for the Patriots. But that’s when Belichick can tend to zag. Would he look further down the board in what is considered a notably deep punter class behind Araiza?
Jordan Stout from Penn State was the Punter of the Year in the Big Ten, and has turned heads at the Senior Bowl and Combine. And while the Patriots don’t seem to value inclement weather experience as much from punters, Stout does check that box. Last season, Stout averaged 46 yards per punt with 35 of his 67 kicks being downed inside the 20, versus three touchbacks.
The third and final punter expected to be drafted this year is Georgia’s Jake Camarda. Camarda is a two-time All-SEC punter, and led the conference last year averaging 46.7 yards per punt with 16 of his 47 punts being downed inside the 20, compared to six touchbacks.
Texas’ Cameron Dicker, who is mentioned above, was both a kicker and punter for the Longhorns. While he’s entering the NFL as a kicker, that versatility adds to his value.