Roberto Aguayo has been the talk of the town for, well, days. Ever since he was drafted. While some Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been busy arguing the opposite, the national consensus is clearly that the Bucs took him far too high, taking him late in the second round after giving up a high fourth-round pick to trade up high into the third round. People who like analytics have been particularly harsh, including me. I even called it the worst decision in the 2016 NFL draft.
After looking at the numbers, I'm now somewhat convinced that I was wrong and this is actually very much a defensible pick. And all of that hinges on Stephen Gostkowski. Let me explain with a graph: the points earned above average on field goals, extra points and kickoffs, as calculated by Football Outsiders. It includes every kicker who's had two full seasons of field goal and kickoff duty over the past five years. Outsiders' measurement isn't perfect -- it probably overvalues kickers with high-powered offenses who are already above average, as they get more opportunities to put up points -- but it's the best thing we've got.
This is a giant jumbled mess with no consistency except for exactly one player: Stephen Gostkowski, who has put up an average of 17.22 points above league average per season the past five years. Everyone else is incredibly up and down, with most jumbling right around the average. A few manage to hover consistently above average, but none can even touch Gostkowski. There are some Robbie Goulds and Sebastian Janikowskis, who are good at field goals but bad at kickoffs.
Many players with good reputations don't look particularly good in these measurements. Greg Zuerlein doesn't, with only one significantly above average year. Blair Walsh doesn't, as he was only significantly above average as a rookie. Dan Bailey does, but he's still only at a third of Gostkowski's per-year production. The same goes for Steven Hauschka, Josh Brown and Nick Folk.
Finding good kickers is much harder than people think
In fact, crunching all these numbers taught me a few things. One: it's really hard to find players who are actually consistently above average at either kickoffs or field goals, let alone both. A lot harder, in fact, than I initially thought. There are many, many players who hover just around average or even below it in both categories. Two: it's really, really hard to be confident about your kicker being actually a once-in-a-generation prospect. The New York Jets undoubtedly thought that's what they were getting with Mike Nugent in 2005. The Raiders certainly did with Sebastian Janikowski in 2000. Arguably, so did the Patriots in 2006. Only the Patriots turned out to really have been right about that.
Fact is, that out of all the kickers I surveyed over the past five years, only one clearly stands out: Stephen Gostkowski.
Gostkowski has been so good, that he alone could make the argument for Robert Aguayo to be a second-round pick, because Gostkowski is that upside the Bucs are looking for: someone who's consistently dominant on both kickoffs and field goals. We should keep in mind that Gostkowski has only been this dominant in the past five years: prior to his 2010 injury he was certainly above average, but didn't quite stand out as much as he does now. Still, even over his entire career he's clearly an outstanding player. Most importantly, his performance simply cannot be found out on the street. The league is filled with late-round, undrafted and street free agent kickers, but Gostkowski was a fourth-round pick who's played his entire career for one team. Drafting him was the only way to get him. The Bucs know that the same was true for Roberto Aguayo.
Okay but how valuable are kickers really?
We now have a benchmark: Stephen Gostkowski. We also have a cross-positional measure of quality: Pro Football Reference's AV, which is flawed but, again, the best tool we have for the job. It thinks Gostkowski has been worth 36 points so far, and he's halfway through his career. The average AV through the first five years of a player's career at Aguayo's draft slot is 8.6. The Bucs gave up some 12.1 points in AV to get that draft slot (they got fleeced on the trade itself). Those calculations, based on Chase Stuart's draft chart linked above, exclude the first two points in each year of a player's career, however, so the actual total AV would be closer to 18.6 or 22.1 -- likely a little lower, because a lot of players won't even reach 1 or 2 points. An estimate of 15 and 18 points respectively seem reasonable to me.
Gostkowski put up an AV of 14 over his first five years. Over the last five years, he's at 22. We've been working with Gostkowski's last five years as a benchmark so far in this article. Only in the second case would Gostkowski be worth more than what the Bucs gave up to draft Aguayo.
Looking at career AV is somewhat different, because the longer a career is, the more AV a player puts up. If we look at the top AV for kickers it's fairly obvious Aguayo could be worth his draft slot: Morten Andersen managed 97 AV, while Gary Anderson put up 91, Jason Hanson 83, and Jan Stenerud 78. Those are lofty standards, but it's nearly impossible to get players like that if not through the draft.
However, this does ignore one valid argument: that it's somewhat easy to find high AV kickers later in the draft or as undrafted players. In fact, the NFL had seven kickers enter the NFL since 2000 to put up AVs of 36 or above, which is where Gostkowski is at now, and two of them (Gostkowski and Janikowski) were drafted before the fifth round. This mostly shows that AV is a limited tool to evaluate kickers, but eight kickers still isn't all that many (the number will likely get a little higher as currently-playing kickers age), and more importantly: none of these have actually been consistently above average at both kickoffs and field goals. That is: AV likely severely underestimates Gostkowski's value.
Drafting Roberto Aguayo that high was the right call
This pick may not be popular, and there's a chance I rationalized it a little too much in this article. But I think there's actually a pretty solid statistical argument to take Aguayo in the second round -- that is: if the Bucs' scouting is correct, and he is indeed as good a kicker as they think he is. If he turns out to be the recent version of Stephen Gostkowski, a kicker who is outstanding both at field goals and kickoffs, then he'd certainly be worth a second-round pick. There are very good reasons to believe he actually is that good. Let's hope he lives up to it.
Update: A previous version used the draft value chart as stating it was based on career AV. That is wrong: it is based on a player's AV through the first five years of his career.