Mike ReissESPN staff writer7 minutes of reading
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick thoughts and notes around New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. Rookie Specialists: When the Patriots selected kicker Chad Ryland (fourth round) and punter Bryce Baringer (sixth round) in the 2023 NFL draft, they became just the second team in the last 30 years to select a kicker and punter in the same draft.
The Las Vegas Raiders, with kicker Sebastian Janikowski (first round) and punter Shane Lechler (fifth round), were the second – in 2000.
Trusting those spots to rookies this year — something Ryland (Eastern Michigan/Maryland) and Baringer (Michigan State) still need to earn in training camp — has flown under the radar with Patriots media attention focused more on offseason changes to release quarterback Mac Jones and the stagnant offensive.
One of the country’s leading experts in evaluating specialists, Jamie Kohl, emphasized the importance of patience.
“Rookie stats are always a little lower than the NFL average when it comes to specialists, especially with field goal percentage. Punctures are not that noticeable — of course included [Tennessee’s] Ryan Stonehouse breaks so many records [in 2022],” he said.
“It’s not a talent thing. The biggest thing is understanding the stadiums. Understanding the wind flow in different environments. I know it sounds like it’s not that big of a deal, but when your job is to put a ball between 18 feet , six inches wide [goal posts]you have to become an expert in understanding ball flight, trajectory, rotation and then being able to feel the stadiums and what is going on.”
To Kohl’s point, rookie kickers converted 83% of their field goal attempts from 2018-22, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Last season, that would have ranked 24th among kickers.
Kohl began hosting travel camps with his father John and brother Andy in 2000 with the goal of gathering as many talented kickers, punters and long snappers across the country. They’ve grown to become a go-to option for many prospects—both Ryland and Baringer credit them with their career progression—and a key resource for NFL teams (every punter and kicker drafted this year went through Kohl’s camps/workouts).
“The hard part about kicking, punting, snapping — similar to golf — it’s more of an ‘over-the-course-of-time’ position. The difference in performance can be dramatic from one day to the next, especially at the high school level ,” Kohl said.
“So one of the main questions that the Patriots and other teams had about Bryce and Chad — because we worked with them so much in January, February, March and April of this year — was, ‘Is what you saw similar to what they produced on their professional days and combine?’ That’s where we had some value.”
Kohl’s answer was a resounding “yes” — citing their mental toughness, Ryland’s leg speed and combination of accuracy and distance (as long as 72 yards) and Baringer’s consistency with hang times of 5-plus seconds (sometimes hitting 5.5, 5 ,6).
Kohl’s credibility among NFL teams was further enhanced due to his recent season work with the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers. He served as a kicking consultant for the Bears from 2019-21, helping them transition from rookie Cody Parkey’s “double doink” miss in a devastating wild-card loss on January 6, 2019, to Cairo Santos taking over and setting a franchise record for consecutive field goals (40). Last season, Kohl worked for the Panthers when kicker Eddy Pineiro led the NFL with a 94.3 field-goal percentage.
“It shows that everyone within the 32 [teams] can have a great season,” Kohl said. “A lot of it comes down to coaching, to situations, and I respect the Patriots very much. They’ve done extremely well with their special teams, and I know Bill [Belichick] attaches great importance to it.
“That’s why I was excited to see Bryce and Chad — who I respect quite a bit, I know their journeys, which are similar — end up there together.”
2. Rare feet: How unusual would it be for Ryland and Baringer to take over and thrive in 2023? Consider that over the past 20 seasons, there have only been 15 instances of a team using a rookie on both field-goal attempts and punts in a season (usually one of the players is undrafted). Also adding to the difficulty is that the punter is often the holder of field goal attempts, and specifically for 2023, wind patterns inside the Patriots’ home stadium are evolving with construction wrapping around the north end.
3. D-Hop Update: Key points about where things stand with free agent receiver DeAndre Hopkins, according to sources close to the situation, are as follows: The Tennessee Titans and Patriots have made offers, the Titans have been more aggressive to this point, and Hopkins has not been in a rush to sign. One reason Hopkins is waiting a little longer is to open up the possibility of another team entering the mix, potentially increasing his market.
4. D-Hop’s incentive: If it remains between the Titans and Patriots, one question Hopkins may have to ask himself is which team gives him a better chance to cash in on incentives and maximize his earnings. Given his proven production in Bill O’Brien’s offense from their time with the Houston Texans, that might give New England an edge.
5. McCourty’s snapshot: Retired Patriots safety Devin McCourty knows how to create a buzz in New England, which he did last week with an Instagram post that showed him spending time with Tom Brady and Mac Jones in the Hamptons. Brady and Jones had met before, but McCourty, a longtime captain who was teammates with both QBs during his career (2010-22), was the perfect go-between to bring them closer together for a picture that provided resonated with Patriots fans.
6. Mac’s Legacy: Jones spent the final days of June in Aledo, Texas, staying true to his “QB Club” commitment to mentor up-and-coming quarterbacks with his longtime coach Joe Dickinson. There were 24 junior/high school quarterbacks and 20 receivers invited, and Jones was joined by former Alabama teammate Slade Bolden in a mentoring role. Jones also led three film sessions in the classroom, and word is he instituted a Patriots rule for them — all cell phones had to be turned off.
7. Bentley’s evolution: When trying to quantify linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley’s value to the Patriots’ defense, which led to his latest two-year contract extension that includes $9 million guaranteed, consider that he ranks second among 89 linebackers at 39.5% run stop win rate since 2018 (minimum 2,000 snaps played per ESPN analysis).
That was one of Bentley’s strengths as a prospect coming out of Purdue, while his production in coverage — which had been considered a weakness — has steadily improved. According to NFL NextGen Stats, 55 linebackers were targeted more than 30 times in coverage last season, and Bentley ranked eighth in allowing 5.4 yards per carry.
8. Parker’s value: Receiver DeVante Parker’s new three-year contract in New England, which has a base value of $17.1 million and could be worth up to $33 million if all incentives and bonuses are reached, provides a springboard to highlight what the 6-foot-3, 219-pound Parker brings the best to the offense when healthy. When Parker was on the field, the Patriots ranked fourth in average yards per carry. try last season. When Parker wasn’t on the field, the Patriots ranked 31st in that category.
9. They said that: “He has very similar characteristics, mentality-wise, to Thomas Morstead. That kind of mentality lasts. You can’t always explain it, but when you see it, it’s different.” said Jamie Kohl, who paired Patriots rookie Baringer with 15-year veteran Morstead, whom Belichick once compared to a JUGS machine.
10. Did you know? 2019 Cleveland Browns, 2012 St. Louis Rams, the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles and the 2005 New York Jets are the four teams to have a rookie kicker with 20 field goals made and a rookie punter with at least 50 attempts over the last 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The most successful proved to be the Rams’ duo of Johnny Hekker (4) and Greg Zuerlein (1), with five first-team All-Pro selections between them.