NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Draft's Top Specialists

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 21, 2017

NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Draft's Top Specialists

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The 2017 NFL draft class features elite talents at the top of the board in Texas A&M's Myles Garrett and LSU's Leonard Fournette. After that? This is one of the deepest classes in the six years I've been scouting at Bleacher Report. 

    Stacking the board top to bottom for the '17 class was no easy task. There are a record-breaking number of first-round talents on my board. Outside of Round 1, it was easy to imagine putting 60 of the top players into the top 40. If you can't find starters in Round 4 of this class, you're doing it wrong.

    So who is the best overall? How about the best at each position? The goal of the NFL Draft 400 series is to figure that out.

    The top 400 players were tracked, scouted, graded and ranked by me and my scouting assistants, Marshal Miller and Dan Bazal, and Connor Rogers. Together, we viewed tape of a minimum of three games per player (the same standard NFL teams use). Oftentimes, we saw every play by a prospect over the last two years. That led to the grades, rankings and scouting reports you see here.

    Players were graded on strengths and weaknesses with a pro-player comparison added to match the prospect's style or fit in the pros. The top 400 players will be broken down position by position for easy viewing before the release of a top-400 big board prior to the draft.

    In the case of a tie, players were ranked based on their overall grade in our top 400.

    Here are the top specialists for the 2017 draft at the end of the month.

Matt Miller's NFL Draft Grading Scale

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    At the end of each scouting report, you'll see a final grade that falls somewhere between 4.00 and 9.00. This scale comes from the teaching I received from Charley Casserly, Michael Lombardi and other former and current front office personnel in the NFL. I tweaked it this year to be more transparent, and as a result, each player received a number grade as well as a ranking.

    This applies to all positions across the board.

    Matt Miller's NFL Draft Grading Scale
    GradeLabel
    9.00Elite—No. 1 pick
    8.00-8.99All-Pro—Rare Talent
    7.50-7.99Round 1—Pro Bowl Potential
    7.00-7.49Round 1—Top-15 Player Potential
    6.50-6.99Round 2—Rookie Impact/Future Starter
    6.00-6.49Round 3—Rookie Impact/Future Starter
    5.80-5.99Round 3-4—Future Starter
    5.70-5.79Round 4—Backup Caliber
    5.60-5.69Round 5—Backup Caliber
    5.30-5.59Round 6—Backup Caliber
    5.10-5.25Round 7—Backup Caliber
    5.00Priority Free Agent
    4.50-4.99Camp Player

6. Punter Cameron Johnston, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

     

    POSITIVES

    A former rugby kicker who moved to the U.S. from Australia, Cameron Johnston saw the field immediately for the Buckeyes. He's a powerful punter who was a second-team All-American in 2016 while hitting almost 47 yards on gross punts with just five touchbacks. His control is very good and allows a coverage unit to make a play on the ball and create fair catches—almost half his punts were fair caught. If Johnston is able to adjust his rugby-style punts, he could be the best from this class.

              

    NEGATIVES

    Because he's a rugby-style punter, Johnston offers very little hang time. His punts are line drives, and he relies too often on power. With the NFL's refusal to adapt to rugby kickers, Johnston will have to learn to punt from behind the long snapper. He has the tools, but it will be a massive adjustment.

     

    PRO COMPARISON: Brad Wing, New York Giants

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

5. Punter Justin Vogel, Miami (FL)

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

     

    POSITIVES

    A three-year starter at Miami, Justin Vogel has the size and long leg of a directional punter. He's an exceptional hang-time punter and is able to sky the ball and let his coverage unit get under it to limit returns. He does a great job keeping the ball in play with accurate kickoffs and could handle that role in the NFL too. Vogel's accuracy as a kickoff specialist and punter is good enough to get him drafted late in the process.

              

    NEGATIVES

    Vogel lacks power in his leg and already has a big, maxed-out frame that will likely limit the possibility of adding strength. He's much better kicking for power on a kickoff than in a punt and has lacked consistency in that department throughout his career at Miami. Vogel had one punt blocked in 2016 and could benefit from speeding up his process from catch to kick.

     

    PRO COMPARISON: Britton Colquitt, Cleveland Browns

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

4. Punter Kenny Allen, Michigan

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

     

    POSITIVES

    A do-it-all specialist, Kenny Allen was Michigan's kicker, punter and kickoff specialist in 2016. Allen was a very good asset on kickoffs due to his ability to pin the ball deep and how consistently he can deliver power. On the year he averaged 64 yards per kickoff. As a punter, Allen shows accuracy and the ability to drop the ball inside the 20-yard line; he allowed under 40 percent of his punts to be returned. His best value for a pro team is a punter who also handles kickoff duties.

              

    NEGATIVES

    Allen was just a one-year starter at punter at Michigan, which limits the ability to see him in clutch moments. As a kicker, he lacks consistency and hasn't shown the range to hit field goals outside of 50 yards—nor was he allowed to try more than once. The Wisconsin game brings out concerns about his future as a field-goal kicker after he missed two kicks.

     

    PRO COMPARISON: Matt Bosher, Atlanta Falcons

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Undrafted Free Agent)

3. Punter Matt Haack, Arizona State

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

     

    POSITIVES

    A three-year starter and left-footed punter, Matt Haack has excellent hang time on his punts and can get the ball downfield with an average of 44 yards per kick. The best quality when watching Haack punt is how few of his kicks get returned. He's a very good situational punter with the football IQ to know where to put the ball or how much hang time to deliver so his teammates can get down the field to cover the kick. He can unleash massive kicks in the open field. Haack has never had a punt blocked.

              

    NEGATIVES

    Haack can sometimes over-kick his coverage unit and has had three punts returned for touchdowns. He was not asked to handle kickoffs at Arizona State because of kicker Zane Gonzalez's presence. Haack was good at limiting touchbacks but kicked too many punts out of bounds (eight).

     

    PRO COMPARISON: Bryan Anger, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    FINAL GRADE: 5.20/9.00 (Round 7)

2. Kicker Jake Elliott, Memphis

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

     

    POSITIVES

    A four-year starter at Memphis, Jake Elliott earned all-conference honors in each of those seasons and connected on over 80 percent of his kicks in three of those seasons. Elliott was 21-of-26 in 2016 and ran up his consecutive extra-point makes to 202. An NFL kicking coach we spoke to liked Elliott's best trait as his follow-through and the velocity on his kicks. He's shown quality accuracy on short kicks throughout his career and is automatic on extra points.

              

    NEGATIVES

    As a kickoff specialist, Elliott is average. Teams will question his sophomore season in which he connected on just 21 of 32 attempts. He has a very lean frame and will be asked to add strength—especially if kicking outdoors. Because he's not much of a long-ball kickoff artist and the NFL is trying to limit kick returns, Elliott could lose NFL value.

     

    PRO COMPARISON: Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh Steelers

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 6)

1. Kicker Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State

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    Matt York/Associated Press

     

    POSITIVES

    A four-year starter, Zane Gonzalez is the best specialist in the 2017 draft class. Former NFL kicker Jay Feely told us he liked Gonzalez more than 2016 second-rounder Roberto Aguayo, citing his accuracy over 50 yards. On his nine attempts over 50 yards in 2016, Gonzalez hit seven of them. He added size and strength before the 2016 season, and it showed as he hit on 23 of 25 kicks. He is also a talented kickoff specialist, drilling those for an average of 69 yards in his last two seasons. Gonzalez was a unanimous All-American and the Lou Groza Award winner.

              

    NEGATIVES

    Gonzalez was 0-of-3 on kicks over 50 yards in 2015 and didn't show great distance accuracy going back to his sophomore season. In 2015 he was just 40 percent on kicks over 40 yards. A kicking coach we spoke to said their only concern was that Gonzalez doesn't have great hang time on kickoffs, which can result in big returns from NFL returners.

     

    PRO COMPARISON: Matt Prater, Detroit Lions

    FINAL GRADE: 5.90/9.00 (Round 4)

     

    Advanced stats via Pro Football Focus.