EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first part of a 10-part series previewing the 74th annual National Football League draft of college players. Today, the kickers, punters and long-snappers are previewed.
FOXBORO - When the 74th annual NFL Draft convenes a week from Saturday in New York, there will be no punters, kickers or long-snappers sitting backstage unless a buddy got them past security.
Very few of them will be sitting on pins and needles Sunday, either. It's the nature of the beast; specialists of this sort rarely get drafted.
For every Sebastian Janikowski (the rarest of rare birds, a first-round pick in 2000 by Oakland), there are hundreds of serviceable-to-successful kickers who will be signed after the draft. Even the use of a fourth-round pick for a kicker, as the Patriots did in 2006 for Stephen Gostkowski, is infrequent.
Punters? The Patriots have selected eight of them in 49 drafts. None of them rank among the team's best at the position.
And long-snappers? Forget it.
This year, however, the Patriots have 11 selections and at least a moderate need at two of the three positions. There's no telling what "value" may present itself to Bill Belichick on the second day of the draft, which includes the third through seventh rounds, or in the hours immediately following the selection meeting, when undrafted free agents are stockpiled.
The most pressing need is for a long-snapper, following the departure of long-time veteran Lonie Paxton to Denver for a whopping $1 million a year over the next five years. Eighth-year veteran Nathan Hodel was signed to fill the gap, but there are at least several prospects rated by various scouting services as being "almost" worthy of selection in the seventh round - among them, Michigan's Sean Griffin, Hawaii's Jake Ingram, Cal's Nick Sunberg, Nebraska's T.J. O'Leary, Pittsburgh's Mark Estermyer, Georgia Tech's Bret White, Wisconsin's Dave Peck and Utah's Clint Mower - and it would not be unusual for Belichick to pick up one of these to create training camp competition, especially with no incumbent in place.
Punting isn't a high priority on the Patriots' radar. Veteran Chris Hanson punted 49 times last year for a 43.7-yard average (36.4 net), but if Belichick feels he can improve the position, he'll do it.
Cincinnati's Kevin Huber is a left-footer who has never had a kick blocked and could be worthy of a sixth-round pick. Southern Methodist's Thomas Morstead and Ball State's Chris Miller are also potential draftees, while Texas A&M's Justin Brantly, Tennessee's Britton Colquitt, Idaho's T.J. Conley, Florida State's Graham Gano and Jacob Richardson of Miami (Ohio) could be brought in for a tryout.
With Gostkowski now a Pro Bowl player, there's little chance Belichick will waste a roster spot in training camp for the sake of competition. That will leave the rest of the league to battle over Utah's Louie Sakoda (possibly a sixth-round pick), Texas-El Paso's Jose Martinez, USC's David Buehler, West Virginia's Pat McAfee, Wake Forest's Sam Swank, Graceland's Merf Trout and Missouri's Jeff Wolfert.