FanPost

Will the Rams draft a Long Snapper?

No, this isn't a joke fanpost. I'm being serious.

The Rams already have 2 well regarded LS prospects under contract. Both of them were considered to be the best LS in their respective draft classes. Why would the Rams even consider adding a 3rd candidate to this crowded competition? Because, there is a LS in this year's draft who might be better than the other 2.

Colin Holba was a 6th round pick in 2017 by the Steelers. He lost a training camp battle for the job and was waived. Since then, he's filled in a few times for various NFL teams as an injury replacement for their LS.

Steve Wirtel was called the best LS in the 2020 draft by Mel Kiper and other draft experts. He was an UDFA for the Detroit Lions (and you thought Stafford was the only key acquisition by the Rams from Detroit this year) but lost a close training camp battle with seasoned veteran Don Muhlbach. A former UDFA, Muhlbach has been with the Lions since 2004 and has been to the Pro Bowl multiple times. He's a bigger guy, 6'4'' tall and 258 pounds. Holba is more like Muhlbach in size, while Wirtel is a smaller and more athletic player.

The top LS in this year's draft is Thomas Fletcher from Alabama. He's a smaller LS, more like Wirtel, but he's very consistent.

The Giants Get Junked

Trey Junkin was a reliable NFL long snapper for nearly 2 decades. The sad part of it is his career will mostly be remembered for two bad snaps in a game that he probably never should have been playing in anyway.

Junkin was a 4th round pick by the Bills in 1983. That was the famous QB draft where the Bills got Jim Kelly. Junkin had very few bad snaps over the course of his career. He was retired when the desperate 2002 NY Giants convinced him to come out of retirement to help them in a playoff game. Junkin was their 4th long snapper that season, the other 3 all going down with injuries.

Jim Fassel, the HC, knew Junkin from a prior stop and believed the team needed a reliable veteran. Just days prior to the Wild Card game against the Niners, the Giants signed Junkin off the street. Late in the 3rd quarter of that game, the Giants led 38-14 and appeared to be cruising to an easy win. Then, the wheels completely fell off the wagon.

The Niners mounted a furious rally, but the Giants still were in position to put them away in the final minutes. With 3 minutes left, the Giants were up by 5 points and faced a 3rd & 2 in scoring range. All season, the Giants had struggled with short yardage rushing. Even though Tiki Barber had nearly 1,400 rushing yards that season (then a career high for him), the Giants didn't have a big, physical offensive line. They give the ball to Tiki and he gets stuffed a yard short of the marker.

The Giants attempt a 42 yard FG, trying to extend it to an 8 point lead. This would mean that even if they surrendered a TD, the best SF could do was tie the game with a 2 point conversion. Junkin's snap is slightly low and to the left. The holder is able to get it down, but the kicker shanks it badly to the left. No points.

The Niners take the lead, 39-38, but the Giants respond by driving into FG range and have a 41 yard attempt with 6 seconds left to win the game. Junkin's snap is even worse than the first miss. It is low and even wider left. The holder can't get it down and rolls out, just hoping that someone can get open for a pass. He flings the ball deep in the general direction of an offensive lineman, but a defender tackles the lineman to prevent the catch. The refs mess up the call. They penalize the Giants for having an ineligible receiver downfield. The game is over. The season is over. The next day, the NFL admits that there should have been an offsetting penalty for defensive pass interference and the Giants should have gotten another down to attempt the FG (which they probably make to win the game if Junkin gets the snap right.) Trey Junkin became Public Enemy Number One among Giants fans and his teammates. Sad to be remembered just for that, like Bill Buckner and the ball rolling between his legs. One bad moment shouldn't overshadow an athlete's entire career.

Years before that, Trey Junkin was the LS for the Seattle Seahawks. In 1996, the Hawks dumped him to try to save money on the salary cap. The younger, cheaper LS they Hawks auditioned to try to replace Junkin was Tom Fletcher. Obviously, not the Alabama LS in the 2021 draft. It was his father. To my knowledge, the Hawks didn't keep Fletcher as their LS. It appears that they saved a roster spot that year by using one of their LBs to snap on punts and a C to snap on FG attempts.

Fletch Lives

Thomas Fletcher was a 4 year starter for Alabama. He was ranked by multiple sources as the top LS recruit in the country in 2017. He didn't have a single bad snap in college, a perfect record in reportedly nearly 500 career snaps. Fletcher somewhat disputes this, saying that there were times he could have done things better. Natural for a LS to want to be absolutely perfect every single snap.

Fletcher won the 2020 Patrick Mannelly Award for being the best LS in college football.

He grew up in Vancouer, Washington, then moved in high school for football reasons. He has a degree in communications and commercial real estate and was a master's student in international business management.

ESPN ranks Fletcher as the 212th best prospect, which would make him a 6th round pick. Colin Holba was the 213th pick in 2017, almost exactly where ESPN has Fletcher ranked.

This is how measurements compare for Fletcher, Holba and Wirtel:

Holba: 6'4'' tall, 248 pounds, 33 5/8'' arms, 79 7/8'' wingspan, 9 5/8'' hands.

Fletcher: 6'1'' tall, 237 pounds, 31.5'' arms, 76.5'' wingspan, 9 5/8'' hands.

Wirtel: 6'4'' tall, 235 (Rams list him at 227), 31 1/8'' arms, 75 3/8'' wingspan, 9 3/8'' hands.

Fletcher is the shortest of the 3. Wirtel has the smallest wingspan. Holba is the biggest, with more weight and the biggest wingspan. Fletcher might be the most consistent snapper. Holba supposedly has good snap speed, but had some low snaps. Accuracy was probably one reason he didn't win the Steelers job as a rookie, but maybe with more training and experience he's improved in that area. Wirtel's profile says the speed on his punt snaps is average. Wirtel is probably the best athlete and can run down the field.

Wirtel had the fastest 40 time in Combine history for long snappers at 4.76 seconds. His jumping numbers are the same as Holba's. Wirtel's short shuttle time is the same as Jordan Fuller's, the Rams safety. So, when Wirtel runs down the field on a punt, it is almost like having a safety helping to try to tackle the returner. Holba ran 5.19 sec in the 40. That is more like an offensive lineman's speed.

Lance Zierlein gave Wirtel a 5.80 grade, the best of the three. He had Holba at 5.50. He gives Fletcher a 5.46 grade. I have no idea how LZ comes up with these numbers. How do you go about ranking long snappers so precisely? Holba is 0.04 points better than Fletcher? That is super precise. Is there some LS formula we used to calculate that?

The Rams hold slot 207 in the 6th round and they have a 7th round selection. Is it worth using either of those picks on yet another LS?

The long snapper position might be literally the lowest priority spot on an NFL team, but consider that Matt Gay has never been a full time starting kicker for an entire season yet. He's not an experienced veteran. Do we really want a guy who's probably already going to be nervous, thinking right before he lines up for a key FG "Man, I hope the LS gets the ball to Hekker this time." Bad swing thoughts.

Just ask the Giants and Trey Junkin what the difference one bad snap can make in a team's entire season.