The list of players who’ve been invited to the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis has finally been released. And while others focus on the incoming class of quarterbacks, pass-rushers, offensive skill-position players, defensive backs, and bruisers who can win in the trenches, our eyes will fall elsewhere.
Specifically: college football’s best legs.
Three place kickers and three punters are among the seven special teamers who’ve been invited to the Combine this offseason. You can check out the full list here. And while we’ll surely dive into some of the bigger names and potential Bears fits at various positions later on, let’s take a look at which kickers will get an opportunity to boost their stock in Indianapolis.
Cole Tracy, LSU – NFL.com lists accuracy and confidence as strengths in Tracy’s draft profile, which should make him a favorite among fans. More specifically, he’s got a game-winner on the road in hostile SEC territory and made 94 percent of his kicks within 40 yards. The knocks on Tracy include the limits on his deep range and, less broadly, the fact that the ball “tends to die early” on deep attempts. Those are troubling weaknesses, but he should still be in camp somewhere.
Austin Seibert, Oklahoma – Seibert has experience in all three phases of the kicking game, which could raise eyebrows if he shows an ability to do it all. As a punter, he was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as a true freshman and two-time All-Big-12 honorable mention. And as a kicker, Seibert was a first-team All-Big-12 selection in 2018 and second-team member in 2017. He even handled kickoff duties, too. Seibert’s accuracy between 40-49 yards (he missed 5 of 9 attempts in that range) isn’t encouraging, especially after the Cody Parkey experience. And that he attempted just three kicks of 50+ yards during his college career leaves a lot to be desired. But I suppose the Bears could do worse when it comes to camp competition than inviting Seibert.
Matt Gay, Utah – Gay had a decorated college career in which he was a consensus All-American, first-team All-Pac-12 selection, and Lou Groza Award winner. He has experience booting touchbacks on kickoffs and has a “big, booming leg” that makes him stand out from the rest of the top kicking prospects. Gay had three blocks and three misses between 40-49 yards last year, which will make any Bears fan queasy. But still … Gay was one of college football’s best and figures to find himself kicking for a job this summer.
Just because there has been a focus on place-kicking doesn’t mean there aren’t other needs among the Bears’ specialists. Three punters have been invited to the Combine, too. Let’s meet them.
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah – After watching Seahawks rookie Michael Dickson grow from an Australian Rules Football standout to a pro caliber, you can expect other NFL front offices will try and snatch that idea for their own teams. Wischnowsky was a three-time first-team All-Pac-12 punter at Utah and earned unanimous All-American honors as a sophomore in 2016, which was the same season he won of the Ray Guy Award for being college football’s best punter. Wischnowski also earned third-team All-American honors in 2017 and second-team All-American status in 2018, showing his sophomore year wasn’t a fluke. In addition to his punting duties, he also handled kickoff duties at Utah, forcing touchbacks on 44 of 65 kickoffs.
According to NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Wischnowsky’s weaknesses include inconsistency in flipping the field and had three blocked punts, but his experience kicking “in excessive wind,” desired frame, and “adequate hang-time” make him an intriguing name to watch.
Jack Fox, Rice – Fox was Conference USA’s Special Teams Player of the Year and has desired size to go along with a strong leg. He was versatile, too, handling the team’s punting, kicking, and kickoff responsibilities. However, a high number of touchbacks and a poor showing as a field goal kicker took some heat off his stock. Fox had a knack for pinning opponents inside the 20, so perhaps that will help get him to some team’s training camp for a shot at a job.
Jake Bailey, Stanford – If not for Wischnowsky, we would probably be talking about this Stanford product as the Pac-12’s top punter. Bailey’s leg strength is a plus and seems to have a knack for flipping the field with strong punts, which is something that would play well with the Bears’ top-tier defense. He also has experience on kickoffs, where he knocked touchbacks at an 82 percent clip. Bailey’s net punting average and touch could use some work, but directional punting is a strength, as is versatility.