The Cowboys are getting ready for the 2023 NFL Draft, with quite a long list of prospects they’ve been tied to. But one area that has gone under the radar is special teams. It’s not a surprise, as special teams players rarely get drafted, and usually not very high when they do get selected.
But it’s an area of focus for the Cowboys, especially because they’re currently without two of their three starters from last year. Kicker Brett Maher remains unsigned while long snapper Jake McQuaide - who tore his tricep in Week 4 and missed the rest of the year - signed with the Lions. Matt Overton, the veteran who replaced McQuaide, is also a free agent at the moment.
Only Bryan Anger remains, but the 36 year old’s contract does allow for a post-June 1st cut that would save $2.2 million, so even he may not be completely safe. While Dallas has signed kicker Tristan Vizcaino and long snapper Trent Sieg, they could still be looking at options in this year’s draft class, whether to spend a draft pick on or (more like) sign as an undrafted free agent. With that, here are the top names to know.
Michigan K Jake Moody
Jake Moody is considered the best kicker in this draft, and for good reason. The Michigan native stayed home for college and put together an impressive five years for the Wolverines, which ended with him setting program records for most points in both a single season and a career.
Moody was especially lights out in 2021, hitting 92% of his field goals, and he was awarded with the Lou Groza trophy for his efforts. Moody came back down to Earth a bit this year, but still connected on 29 of his 35 field goal attempts. He’s also never missed an extra point in five years. Moody is a safe bet to be drafted at some point on the third day.
Maryland K Chad Ryland
Another Michigan native makes this list in Chad Ryland. He originally committed to Eastern Michigan, where Ryland established himself as one of the best kickers in the Group of Five. Over his last two years at Eastern Michigan, Ryland drilled nearly 86% of his field goals and his lone missed extra point was blocked.
Ryland then transferred to Maryland for his final year of eligibility and he remained consistent, making 19 of his 23 field goals and only missing one extra point. All of Ryland’s misses came from beyond 40 yards, though he made several kicks from beyond 50 as well. Ryland will be in the conversation to be the second kicker drafted, as he’s teeming with potential.
NC State K Christopher Dunn
Christopher Dunn has had an up-and-down career, playing five years with the Wolfpack of NC State. In his first two seasons, the hometown hero drilled 88% of his field goals. As a result, Dunn was named to the All-ACC second team, and had firmly entrenched himself as one of the nation’s top kickers.
Then inconsistency hit. Dunn had an uneven 2020 season and it was revealed afterwards that he sustained an injury at some point. The injury kept him out of spring drills the following offseason, and seemed to still impact him during the 2021 campaign. Over those two years, Dunn hit just under 70% of his field goals, a far cry from his hot start.
Dunn saved his best for last, though, and delivered an incredible season that saw him hit 28 of his 29 field goals. That was enough to earn Dunn the Lou Groza trophy and cap off a return to dominance for him. Like Moody, Dunn has also never missed a PAT. His highs make Dunn look like the second coming of Justin Tucker, but he also has two seasons of very bad football. It’ll be interesting to see how teams evaluate Dunn, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he were the first kicker drafted in place of Moody.
Michigan State P Bryce Baringer
There’s little debate as to who the best punter in this draft is. Bryce Baringer ran away with the distinction long ago. The Michigan native who wears glasses on the field and dons number 99 on his jersey transferred after just one year at Illinois. He was forced into action his first year with the Spartans due to injuries ahead of him, and Baringer didn’t look ready at the time.
He sat out for all of 2019, but came back in 2020 looking so much better. The next year, Baringer was named to the All-Big Ten second team and entered this past year as the prospective top punter. Baringer responded by setting program records for career average and single-season average in yards per punt, earning him a handful of accolades, topped with being a consensus All-American. It would be a shock if Baringer was not the first punter drafted.
Rutgers P Adam Korsak
If you had to pick a punter in this draft to prioritize ahead of Baringer, Adam Korsak would be the guy. After all, Korsak beat out Baringer for this year’s Ray Guy trophy despite Baringer securing every other honor while playing in the same conference.
Korsak’s five year career with the Scarlet Knights saw him grow into a precision punter with excellent accuracy. The only year that Korsak didn’t punt 70+ times in a season was the COVID-shortened 2020; and yet, Korsak downed a whopping 44% of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. He’s exceptional at flipping field position, though Korsak is lacking the sheer power of Baringer.
Michigan P Brad Robbins
It was a great year for special teams in the Big Ten, and Brad Robbins being the third best punter is no indictment of his ability. Robbins wasn’t as flashy as Baringer or Korsak, but he was a model of consistency throughout his six seasons at Michigan.
Robbins missed the entire 2018 season and most of 2019 due to an injury, which enabled him to last through 2022 in terms of eligibility. Robbins ended as the second best punter in program history, statistically, and was also a key part of Michigan’s kicking operation as the holder for all of Moody’s field goals and extra points. Robbins may not be a stud, but he’s not going to keep coaches up at night wondering if they can trust him.
UCF LS Alex Ward
It can be hard to stand out as a long snapper, but Alex Ward did just that in four seasons as the starting long snapper for the Knights. His performance in 2021 earned him a third team All-American recognition, which he turned into a second team All-American honor this past year. Ward was also a finalist for the Patrick Mannelly trophy, given annually to the top long snapper, each of the last two years.
Liberty LS Austin Mock
Austin Mock committed to Liberty as a legacy player, his father having played along the offensive line in the 90’s. Mock came in and earned the starting long snapper job right away, holding it down for the next five years. Liberty was an FBS independent for each one of those years, which prevented Mock from earning any conference honors, but his play was enough to land him as a semifinalist for the Patrick Mannelly trophy each of the last two years. Mock was a critical part of a very consistent special teams group at Liberty, and he should have a future in the NFL in some capacity.