GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The NFL draft moved to a 7-round format in 1994, and in that modern incarnation, no school has had a kicker and a punter drafted in the same year.
Florida’s dynamic duo of kicker Eddy Pineiro and punter Johnny Townsend now hope to make history this week.
Pineiro and Townsend were arguably at the top of their craft in the college ranks, and both are waiting to see where their football futures will take them. It seems likely that both will end up in the NFL either as draft picks or undrafted free agents, but they’d certainly prefer to make one last bit of history as Gators teammates.
“I was not aware of that stat. I just know it’s rare. Well, we are going to try to make it happen this year,” Townsend said. “Anything can happen. The draft is a hectic process and the [pre-draft] process itself is very hectic. As a specialist, you just have to control what you can and sit back and see what happens.”
Said Pineiro: “Oh my goodness, that would be amazing. I hope so. I think we’ve got a good chance.”
With specialists, it comes down to opportunities and needs. Once a kicker or punter proves himself in the NFL, he isn’t eager to leave and give up one of those coveted roster spots.
Longtime New England Patriots/Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is 45 and hoping to continue his career next season. Arizona Cardinals kicker Phil Dawson, Atlanta Falcons kicker Matt Bryant and newly signed Seattle Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski are also still going into their 40s. Meanwhile, Houston Texans punter Shane Lechler continues on at age 41.
The point is, few jobs come open by choice, but needs do arise and teams also at times look to save money by jettisoning a more expensive veteran specialist for a cheaper rookie.
“Last year there was no punters drafted, but the year before that there were three,” Townsend said. “It all depends just on the need of the team. You kind of have to fall into it. There is only one spot in every squad. It is a big timing thing for us.”
No kickers were drafted in 2015, but Florida State’s Robert Aguayo was selected in the second round in 2016. Memphis’ Jake Elliott was a fifth-round pick last year, and two other kickers were taken in the seventh round of that 2017 draft.
“It’s tough to know where you’re going to go in the draft,” Pineiro said. “The draft is a crazy process, but I’m looking forward to it, that’s for sure.”
A kicker and punter from the same school were selected in 1985 when Clemson punter Dale Hatcher went in the third round to the Los Angeles Rams and Tigers punter Donald Igwebuike was taken in the 10th round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If it is to happen again, it’s hard to imagine any such duo having a stronger case than Pineiro and Townsend.
Pineiro led the country in field goal percentage last season, making 17 of 18 attempts, and dating back to 2016 he ended up converting on 29 of his final 30 attempts. Overall, he finished his two seasons in Gainesville with a program-record 88.4-percent success rate (38 for 43). He was 5 for 5 on kicks of 50 yards or more and has posted videos of himself on social media draining ridiculously long kicks.
Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro said he realistically think he can make an 80-yard field goal. He met with the #Chargers this week and the team told him they’re looking to draft a kicker
— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) March 2, 2018
Townsend, meanwhile, led the country in punting average at 47.5 yards per attempt last fall. According to Florida’s records, Townsend finished his career with an SEC-record 46.2-yard average per punt.
Speaking after Florida’s pro day in March, Townsend said he thinks having two elite specialists to showcase helped both him and Pineiro.
“With these private workouts I’ve had nine teams come in; I have 11 total coming and having private workouts with me,” he said at the time. “It’s awesome because me and Eddy can be seen by the same amount of coaches through that because we’re at the same school. It kind of helps us out.”
How much so? They’ll find out this week. After the first round of the draft Thursday night, rounds two and three take place Friday, with the final four rounds coming on Saturday.
“It’s all surreal,” Pineiro said. “I grew up, I always wanted to play professional soccer. My dad played professional soccer so seeing him play and seeing that environment, I always wanted to do that. But being able to feed my family and hopefully make it to the next level doing this is a good thing to do.”