In an ideal world, the Falcons would welcome Matt Bryant back, he'd kick for another five years and pick up a couple of Super Bowl rings, and we'd all have warm and fuzzies until the end of time. I'm hopeful—and even cautiously optimistic—that Bryant will return, but contingencies are necessary in case one of the team's great kickers does leave in free agency.
This draft class's special teams hopefuls reported today, and I thought this would be a particularly apt time to look at the kickers available for the Falcons in April, should they choose to go that route. It's a limited class, by the looks of it
The Penn State kicker is considered the top option in the draft class, and I hope he won't take offense to my saying it's a bit of an indictment on the class. Ficken was steady in 2014, hitting 82.8 of his field goals and scoring 100 points for the Nittany Lions, and his sometimes spotty kickoff abilities wouldn't be a factor in Atlanta, where Matt Bosher handles that role.
That said, Ficken hit just 50% of his field goals from the 40-49 yard range, and 2014 was his first quality year at Penn State. He has the leg and accuracy to be a quality kicker at the NFL level, but like everyone else in this class, he's far from a slam dunk.
The Texas A&M kicker hit 86.7% of his field goals and has a booming leg, as this video will attest.
The chief problem with evaluating Lambo is that he had a fairly meager number of field goals the last two seasons at A&M, kicking a combined 25 (Kyle Brindza, below, had 24 in 2014 alone). The numbers indicate that he's one of the better kickers in this class, however, and that strong leg will be intriguing for NFL teams, especially those relying on aging veterans who are nowhere near as good as Matt Bryant.
The Notre Dame kicker got a combine invite, but he's going to have to show some serious leg to wind up being drafted after a deeply shaky 2014 season. Brindza has a moderately strong leg, but his accuracy can come and go, and he hit just 58% of his kicks last season, a year after hitting a so-so 76.9%. He's struggled from the 30-39 yard range, too, where you need to be able to hit 80-plus percent of your kicks to survive in the NFL. Chances are he won't be on the Falcons' radar even if Bryant walks.
The Colorado kicker hit a 54 yarder in college, nailed 21 of 24 field goals in 2013 and profiles as one of the most accurate kickers from this class. The long field goals deceive a little bit, because Roberts doesn't have the same caliber of leg as, say, Josh Lambo. Even so, he was reliable in college and accuracy is a big, big deal at a position with such year-to-year variance in results. He'll be on teams' radars.
We finish up with Manton, a Louisian-Monroe product who handled kicking and punting duties for the Warhawks each of the last three years. Manton put up extremely mediocre numbers as a field goal kicker until 2014, when he suddenly hit 83.3 of his kicks (20-24), including both of his attempts from 50-plus yards. He has a strong leg, and while the Falcons don't need a punter at all, I guess it's great to have a backup?
Manton's talent ensures he'll get a long look at the combine, but he'll need to show enough to convince teams that 2014 wasn't an outlier.
More than likely, only one or two of these guys will be drafted, with the rest landing UDFA contracts. I'm hopeful Bryant will return and this article will be relegated to the dustbin of history, but just in case, start becoming familiar with these guys right now.