The Falcons curiously did not favor competition at kicker and punter this offseason, despite virtually promising it at the former position and having a veteran competitor already on hand for the latter. Instead, Younghoe Koo and rookie Sterling Hofrichter have been given near-total trust from the team, an unexpected but not unwelcome development.
Given that, and given that both have fared pretty well in practice despite a shaky punt or missed kick here and there, you were likely surprised to see today that the team will be working out three punters. I was too, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jason Butt was kind enough to clarify why in his report.
The punters set to work out for the Falcons are Cameron Nizialek, Drew Kaser and Austin Rehko. The primary reason for the tryout is to find an extra specialist who can handle punting and place-kicking duties on an emergency basis for the expanded 16-man practice squad.
The Falcons know that Younghoe Koo can handle kickoffs in a pinch—it was one of the things he did best last year, at least in terms of generating onsides kicks—and that Hofrichter can probably handle an emergency field goal or two, as he did at Syracuse. What they want to have on hand is someone who can handle kickoffs or punts if they lose one of Koo or Hofrichter for any length of time to COVID-19 or injury, and it appears they’re willing to burn one of their practice squad spots to do it.
So who are these guys?
Nizialek played college ball at Georgia for a single year after spending three quiet seasons at Columbia. His 45.0 yards per punt average at UGA was one of the school’s highest averages in almost ten years, and he was even better for the Atlanta Legends of the AAF while it existed. I don’t know how much experienced he has on kickoffs and he hasn’t gotten any live NFL game action in the regular season just yet, but he has a good leg.
Kaser has far more NFL experience, having booted 146 punts for 6,918 yards, or 47.4 yards per punt. He’s put nearly one-third of those punts inside the 20 and seems like a pretty effective option, but somewhat mysteriously he’s been cut a lot and did not get in an NFL game in 2019. Still just 27, he looks like a solid veteran option for Atlanta, should they be looking for that.
Finally, Rehko has been an extremely unlucky guy, coming into the NFL with a reputation for having strong punt placement and a history as a placekicker, but getting cut by the Bills (he lost the gig as a kicker), signing with and ultimately getting cut by the Giants as a punter, and playing for the AAF and XFL only to watch both shut down. He’s largely an unknown at the NFL level, but has prior experience on kickoffs, as a punter, and kicking field goals, which might be welcome versatility for a team that’s only using one practice squad spot on a specialist.
Expect one of these guys to sign in the coming days. Who’s your guess?