Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht traded up for place kicker Roberto Aguayo in the 2016 NFL draft. To move up to pick 59 in the second round, the Bucs gave up third and fourth round pick, picks 74 and 106 respectively. Aguayo came into the NFL as the most accurate kicker in the NCAA.
The first season for Aguayo has had a rocky start. During Monday Night Football, former Bucs' head coach Jon Gruden was reminiscing about a first-round rookie kicker he had while coaching in Oakland. That rookie was a Florida State kicker named Sebastian Janikowski. Gruden noted how erratic Janikowski was in his rookie year and trying to make a parallel with Roberto Aguayo. Seventeen years later, Janikowski is still kicking for the Raiders.
Janikowski is not the only kicker who struggled in their rookie season with a 68.8% make rate. New England's Stephen Gostkowski struggled with a 76.9% efficiency in his rookie year as a 4th round pick. Currently, Aguayo is making 64.3%.
So why do these highly sought after kickers not produce well in their first year in the NFL? My theory is muscle memory.
Sportsknowhow.com is a site I went to in order to find the dimensions of fields from NCCA to NFL. They also have the field dimensions for high school.
|Difference in distance to center of FG from Hash mark|
|High School, NCAA, and NFL|
|League||FG Width (In feet)||Hashmark (in feet)||Half of Hashmark (Middle of FG)||Difference (Half of Hash mark)|
|NCAA||18.5||40||20||HS - NCAA||6.6|
Muscle memory allows for repetitive motion without thought. The transition from high school to the NCAA is not as drastic as it is from the NCAA to the NFL. The mechanics involved for exceptional kickers is repetition. The same can be said of quarterbacks or say shooting a free throw in basketball.
The chart above identifies that in the NCAA, the kickers are pushing the ball over 11 feet (or almost 3 yards) more than they do in the NFL horizontally, not the hypotenuse length of the kick.
|40 yard FG Attempt|
|High School, NCAA, and NFL|
|League||FG Distance Attempt (feet)||Distance to Center of FG (feet)||Degree||Difference (in degrees)|
|NCAA||120||20||16.5||HS - NCAA||5.3|
|NFL||120||9.25||0.07||NCAA - NFL||16.43|
Pushing the ball is not the only change needed in the mechanics of kicking. The angle of the kick also matters. In the chart above, I have listed a 40 yard FG attempt and found the degree from the hash mark to the middle of the FG post. I used the tangent inverse to find the degree.
Sometimes just spouting numbers does not help visualize the difference being shown. Here is a graphic of the aforementioned chart. This is not to scale, but gives an idea of the difference.
Aguayo is the most accurate kicker in the NCAA. That means he has developed a level of consistency of how to kick at the NCAA league. When Aguayo left Florida State (FSU), he left as a red shirt Junior. As a red shirt player, Aguayo did not play any regulation snaps his first year at FSU. Roberto has a season to become acclimated to the transition from high school dimensions to NCAA dimensions. Even with the transition below the professional level, the change is not as drastic as coming from NCAA to the NFL.
I, like many fans, just take for granted that kickers can simply adapt in no time. Aguayo has been kicking a certain way from a certain angle for three years after his red shirt season. So much so that Aguayo had become so proficient that he holds the moniker of "the most accurate kicker in the NCAA". That consistency does not easily go away nor is it a fluke.
If his consistency is not a fluke, then what exactly is hampering Aguayo? Or drafted kickers in Janikowski or Gotskowki? Apparently, there exists a pattern - a change in mechanics. It takes time to break old mechanics and develop new ones. Yet if the pattern set by Janikowski and Gotskowski exists, then maybe Aguayo will follow in the same footsteps and be a very good kicker for a long time to come.
Bucs' QB Winston had terrible mechanics coming into the NFL. He had one whole offseason to work on it, but his mechanics are still a work in progress. Maybe we should give more leeway to Aguayo to finally acclimate completely to the NFL. While I may not have supported trading up for Aguayo, I want to figure out if the Bucs have a very good prospect still in Aguayo. Again, this is just my theory, but you have to believe being the most accurate kicker in the NCAA means Aguayo had developed a level of consistency to become that exceptional. We fans just need to be patient while he acclimates to becoming that exceptional again, but at the NFL level.