NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Top Specialists for 2016

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 25, 2016

NFL Draft 400: Ranking the Top Specialists for 2016

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    Mike Stewart/Associated Press

    The 2016 NFL draft class doesn't feature two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks at the top like last season's did with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be excited about this year's class. With this draft set to be dominated by defensive linemen and small-school studs, not many people know as many names as they did last offseason.  

    The goal of the NFL Draft 400 series is to change that.

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

    Players were graded on positives and negatives, with a pro-player comparison added to match the player's style or fit in the NFL. 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.

Matt Miller NFL Draft Grading Scale

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    Seth Wenig/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. 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 2016 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
    5.50-5.59Round 6—Backup Caliber
    5.40-5.49Round 7—Backup Caliber
    5.00-5.39Priority Free Agent
    4.50-4.99Camp Player

9. Will Monday, Punter, Duke

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    6'4"212 lbs

    POSITIVES

    A four-year starter at Duke, Will Monday averaged 43.5 yards per punt for his career and has the fourth-most punting yards in ACC history with 11,299. An instant performer as a true freshman, Monday was an all-conference player every year in college and finished with a senior season that saw him receive second-team All-ACC honors.

    Monday has power and placement. He limits returns better than any punter in this draft class and knows how to switch up between hang time and ball placement to keep punt returners from making an impact against his gunners. Monday is an excellent directional punter with the quick-process ability to last in the NFL.

    NEGATIVES

    An inconsistent senior year saw Monday average 43.5 yards per punt after averaging 44.6 yards per punt as a freshman in 2012. With Monday never being asked to truly go out and kick the snot out of the ball because of kicker Ross Martin’s range, it’s unknown if he can kick with the power and depth to pin defenses back in open-field situations.

    Monday has the quick leg and accuracy to pin it in the corner, but can he handle a windy day in a Northeastern city when he’s asked to knock the ball 50 yards to pin the opposition deep in its own territory in the fourth quarter?

    PRO COMPARISON: Brad Wing, New York Giants

    FINAL GRADE: 4.50/9.00 (Camp Player)

8. Lachlan Edwards, Punter, Sam Houston State

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    6'4"209 lbs

    POSITIVES

    One of many Australian specialists in this year’s class, Lachlan Edwards is the rare Aussie who isn’t a rugby-style punter. He’s able to generate enough hang time with high punts that can pin an offense deep.

    Edwards shows remarkable control on his punts and the ability to keep the ball within play for his coverage teams. He limits touchbacks but was able to drop the ball inside the 20 on 31 punts (74 attempts) and caused 19 fair catches. An ideal deep punter, Edwards can boom the ball when given space to let loose.

    NEGATIVES

    Edwards has the size and seems to have the leg, but he’s not a consistent hang-time player. Scouts who saw him at the NFLPA Bowl practices told us his awareness as a punter was average and that he must speed up his entire process from catch to kick. That’s coachable, but leg power usually isn’t, so Edwards should still hear his phone ringing after the draft with a training camp opportunity that could lead to a starting job.

    PRO COMPARISON: Charles James, Houston Texans

    FINAL GRADE: 5.00/9.00 (Priority Free Agent)

7. Brad Craddock, Kicker, Maryland

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    G Fiume/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    6'0"186 lbs

    POSITIVES

    Brad Craddock won the prestigious Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top place-kicker, after the 2014 season and looked to build on that impressive resume. However, he was limited to nine games last year after injuring his wrist during a tackle attempt.

    A career 81.4 percent kicker on field goals, Craddock was 18-of-19 in 2014 and had his numbers skewed by injury in 2015 after connecting on eight of 10 attempts. With a long of 57 yards (a school record), the Australian has the power to drill deep kicks. In the last two seasons, he’s 13-of-15 on kicks of 40 yards or more. Craddock has power on kickoffs, too, as he has an average of more than 60 yards over the last two years.

    NEGATIVES

    Craddock has been inconsistent as a field-goal kicker outside of his fantastic junior season in which he made 94.7 percent of kicks. In 2015, he hit just 80 percent and was an 84 percent kicker in 2013. Teams will no doubt look hard at the situations behind each kick to see if Craddock’s low numbers in 2015 would have been different had he played the full season.

    PRO COMPARISON: Graham Gano, Carolina Panthers

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 7)

6. Ross Martin, Kicker, Duke

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    5'9"183 lbs

    POSITIVES

    A two-time All-American, Ross Martin made 83.9 percent of his field goals at Duke while scoring 72 touchbacks on 228 kickoffs. A seasoned, poised kicker, Martin impressed during Senior Bowl week.

    Teams will question Martin’s range, but we were in the stands on a cold, windy, wet day in Mobile, Alabama, when he drilled a 60-yarder. In 2015, he was perfect beyond 50 yards, too, showing that talk about a small leg is foolish.

    Martin will be a godsend as a result of the new kickoff rules, too, with his ability to drop the ball inside the 10-yard line to force returns.

    NEGATIVES

    NFL scouts we talked to were concerned about Martin’s leg strength, especially on kickoffs. That doesn’t seem to match up with the observations of him in person and on film, but it’s worth noting that the concern is out there.

    The most legitimate worry with Martin is his lack of height on kickoffs. With touchbacks in the NFL set to come out to the 25-yard line now, teams will look for kickers who can boot the ball high and short to force returns. Martin has the short kick down but must work on adding hang time.

    PRO COMPARISON: Charles James, Houston Texans

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 7)

5. Tom Hackett, Punter, Utah

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    5'10"198 lbs

    POSITIVES

    A two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's top punter, Tom Hackett is one of the most decorated punters in college football. Born in Australia, Hackett has the distance and touch to be a draftable prospect.

    On the year, Hackett had just 11 punts returned on 61 kicks. That shows his ability to play to the strength of his coverage. Hackett didn’t put the ball in the end zone either—he had eight touchbacks all season. Instead, he held returners to fair catches and “poison” punts where the returner didn’t have a chance to even field it coming off his rugby-style kicks. He has distance, too, with a long punt of 76 yards.

    With 28 punts downed inside the 20-yard line, Hackett was a master at pinning offenses deep.

    NEGATIVES

    Coming from Australia, Hackett isn’t accustomed to being a dropback punter and instead uses a rugby style. NFL teams may want him kicking from behind the long snapper instead to generate hang time. He has had success in an unconventional way and may be seen as more of a knuckleballer than a classic punter.

    PRO COMPARISON: Dustin Colquitt, Kansas City Chiefs

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 7)

4. Nick O'Toole, Punter, West Virginia

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    6'3"219 lbs

    POSITIVES

    One of the more interesting people in the 2016 NFL draft, Nick O’Toole is a big, powerful punter. He’d also like you to call him “Boomstache.” His current Twitter profile picture features him wearing a captain’s hat, a blazer, short shorts and sporting a pipe.

    O’Toole’s average of 45.4 yards per punt was good for second-best in the Big 12 in 2015 and shows his ability to knock the ball down the field when given room to punt. O’Toole has shown touch and placement on punts, dropping 30 of 72 attempts inside the 20-yard line. He also excelled at limiting returns and saw 18 fair catches for his coverage team.

    NEGATIVES

    O’Toole’s 15 touchbacks were the most of any draft-eligible punter our team scouted in 2015. He also had seven punts go out of bounds. The difference in his accuracy and control this past season will get a hard look from scouts and especially special teams coaches.

    PRO COMPARISON: Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts

    FINAL GRADE: 5.40/9.00 (Round 7)

3. Ka'imi Fairbairn, Kicker, UCLA

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    5'11"183 lbs

    POSITIVES

    A consensus All-American in 2015—ahead of the better-known Roberto Aguayo—Ka’imi Fairbairn showed consistent improvement during his four years at UCLA. With a huge leg for kickoffs, Fairbairn is a draftable prospect.

    He is a do-it-all kicker with excellent range on field goals and the power to pin teams back on kickoffs. His career long of 60 yards for field goals is exceptional for a college kicker, as is his field-goal percentage of 82.6 percent over the last two seasons. Fairbairn has the boot to excel on kickoffs and averaged 64.6 yards per kick in 2015. Because of his ability to kick deep, Fairbairn was able to hold opponents to a return rate of just 29.8 percent, per Pro Football Focus. 

    NEGATIVES

    Teams may look back in Fairbairn’s tape and see his 2013 season—when he hit just 14 of 21 attempts—and be scared away by his inconsistency. More to that point, he missed five extra points in his four seasons at UCLA, something that could be an issue with the extra-point distance in the NFL moved back.

    In 2015, Fairbairn had four misses on field goals, two of which came in the fourth quarter and in cold-weather months in Nebraska and Virginia. His ability to handle wind and other inclement weather will be new challenge after coming out of UCLA.

    PRO COMPARISON: Cairo Santos, Kansas City Chiefs

    FINAL GRADE: 5.50/9.00 (Round 6)

2. Drew Kaser, Punter, Texas A&M

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    6'2"212 lbs

    POSITIVES

    Drew Kaser took over as the punter in his sophomore season at Texas A&M and boomed an average of 47.4 yards per punt. He owned the job from that point forward, becoming one of the most powerful, consistent punters in the country.

    Special teams coaches we talked to praised Kaser’s punting mechanics. He has a quick, swift motion described to us as being “like a perfect chip shot on the golf course.” Kaser is aware on the field and is an excellent directional punter.

    He’s shown the touch to drop the ball inside the 10-yard line and made life miserable for SEC offenses when he had a chance to open up and unleash a deep kick (47.47 yards per punt—a school record).

    Don’t be surprised if Kaser’s name gets called early on Day 3 of the draft.

    NEGATIVES

    Kaser has a boom stick, but many of his punts are returned. He’s known around the NFL for “outkicking his coverage” and leaving his gunners in poor positions to make a play on the ball. His leg strength is exceptional, but his situational awareness can be lacking.

    The only other complaint heard when talking to coaches is that Kaser kicked in easy, calm conditions at Texas A&M and hasn’t been tested in the elements. If he can learn to calm his leg and kick to better match his coverage, Kaser looks like he’ll have an easy transition to the NFL given his ability to quickly process plays as a punter.

    PRO COMPARISON: Shane Lechler, Houston Texans

    FINAL GRADE: 5.70/9.00 (Round 4)

1. Roberto Aguayo, Florida State

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press
    Combine/Pro Day Results
    HeightWeight
    6'0"207 lbs

    POSITIVES

    A three-time All-American, Roberto Aguayo has a legitimate chance to be a top-100 draft pick after winning the Lou Groza Award in 2013 and finishing as a finalist in 2014 and a semifinalist in 2015. A redshirt junior, Aguayo’s draft stock was high enough for him to leave school early.

    With a career long of 53 yards, Aguayo has the range teams look for, and his perfect 49-of-49 record on kicks inside the 40-yard line is ridiculous. On his career, he connected on 69 of 78 attempts (88.5 percent) but had just four misses heading into his final season.

    Aguayo was automatic as a freshman and sophomore and heads into the draft with a killer reputation as a clutch kicker.

    NEGATIVES

    Aguayo’s kickoff depth is not great (62.8 yards per kick) even though he shows solid hang time on film. With the new kickoff rules, it won’t be as important to be a long kicker, but he must show better control to keep the ball in play from the shorter perch.

    Aguayo’s accuracy dropped off hard in 2015 and saw him struggle on longer kicks. He missed four attempts of 40 or more yards and wasn’t often trotted out to attempt long field goals throughout his career (six attempts of 50 or more yards). Aguayo doesn’t have a big leg or great range, and that lack of driving power could affect his ability in cold weather or windy stadiums.

    PRO COMPARISON: Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys

    FINAL GRADE: 5.75/9.00 (Round 4)