It's that time again. The point in the draft cycle where we analyze the most important position on an NFL roster. The fullback. No, wait, I'm sorry, that's a different post. I meant punter. No, we're not doing that one either? Then, why did I spend so much time watching Ethan Evans, Bryce Baringer, Adam Korsak and Michael Turk? Which one are we doing? Oh, yes, the long snappers.
Over the last 8 NFL drafts, there have been a total of 8 long snappers selected. Last year there were zero long snappers taken, the only draft in the last 8 years that has happened. Out of all of those 8 drafts, only 3 drafted long snappers were still in the NFL last year. One of those players was a 5th round pick, Joe Cardona for the Patriots. Even though he's just a LS, if you look back at his draft class, he's arguably one of the top 5 picks in that 5th round.
This year, one of the picks owned by the Rams is a compensatory 7th rounder, 251st overall. By that point in the draft there is almost no difference between those guys and the UDFAs. If you need a specialist like a K, P or LS, it can be a good area of the draft to try to pick one up. In the compensatory part of last year's draft, the Bears drafted my "sleeper" punting prospect, Trenton Gill from NCState. Another punter I liked in that area would have been Ryan Stonehouse, who was an UDFA. Stonehouse led the NFL in gross punting average in 2022 with an impressive 53.1 yards per punt. He was 4th in net average, just behind some dude named Johnny Hekker (whichever foolish NFL team let him go must be kicking themselves right now. Wait a minute....)
There is no Joe Cardona level prospect in this year's draft. I don't know if any of the top guys will get drafted, it could be back to back years with zero long snappers selected. Let's take a quick look at 3 different long snapping prospects and see if any of them are promising.
The Combine Guy
Only one long snapper was invited to the Combine this year, Alex Ward from UCF.
Size (Combine): 6'4'' tall, 240 pounds, 30 3/8'' arms, 9 5/8'' hands
Size (Senior Bowl): 6'3 3/4'' tall, 236 pounds, 30 7/8'' arms, 9 1/4'' hands, 75 1/8'' wingspan
Size (SI): 6'3 7/8'' tall, 242 pounds, 30 3/4'' arms, 9 1/8'' hands, 75 1/4'' wingspan
Combine: 5.06 second (40 time), 1.8 second split, 30'' vert jump, 9'6'' broad jump, 4.46 sec (shuttle), 12 bench reps
Lance Zierlein: 5.65 draft grade (bottom of roster or practice squad). Added more muscle and athleticism in 2022. Fairly consistent short snapper, but long snaps only average speed and spiral. Chance to be a late round pick. Improved short snap placement in 2022. Good zip on short snaps. Slow feet to cover and tackle on punts. Below average velocity, inconsistent spiral and placement on long snaps.
NFLDB ranked 417th overall prospect.
Degree in Mechanical Engineering, 3.45 GPA. Internship at Lockheed Martin. After graduating, he took business classes and intends to pursue MBA.
Dad is county court judge. Wanted to be aerospace engineer since he was in grade school, because his grandfather was in the Air Force.
From Florida. Listed at 220 pounds in 2019. 4 year starter at UCF from 2019 through 2022. Redshirted 2017, didn't see action in 2018. Has 4 career tackles. Two time finalist for Pat Mannelly Award. 2 tackles in 2022, had a fumble recovery in 2021. For context, Cal Adomitis had 13 tackles in 5 seasons at Pitt and was an UDFA long snapper last year, winning a job with the Bengals as a rookie, so 4 tackles over 4 years isn't a particularly high number.
Was only LS at the combine and one of the LS at the Senior Bowl. Reportedly had zero botched snaps in 4 seasons in college. Turns 24 years old in April.
Expected to enter NFL draft last year, he surprisingly returned to school, saying that he wanted to improve his FG snaps, bulk up in size and improve his blocking.
Coaches say he is one of the best leaders on the football team. Mature personality in interviews, makes conscious effort to be leader on team during workouts and practice to try to add value beyond just being the team's snapper.
Has an engineering based, analytical mind, will study his own tape in minute detail and chart his snaps, trying to figure out how to become more consistent and more accurate.
Good blend of size, intangibles and consistency to be a long time NFL snapper, but marginal to be a draft pick. Matt Orzech was an UDFA in 2019 and he probably was a better prospect, because he had a bigger frame (246 pounds and a 79 5/8'' wingspan, so at least 4 inches wider wingspan than Ward), more explosive and strong (35'' vert, 10'5'' broad, 21 bench reps, 4.87 second 40 time with a 1.70 second split) so Orzech has more prototypical size and athleticism for an NFL long snapper. The problem for Orzech and likely the reason he originally got cut in the NFL was he didn't snap the ball consistently, he'd have some errant snaps.
I agree with LZ, the punt snaps don't have enough velocity. Decent athleticism to run down the field on coverage, but he lacks bulk and strength, his build is more like a receiving TE. Ward said he was 250 pounds during the 2022 season, so I don't know if he was exaggerating or if he lost weight after the season. Of all the 3 prospects, probably has the most balanced set of skills, size and intelligence to be an NFL long snapper.
The Mannelly Award Winner
Ward didn't win the award as the nation's top long snapper for 2022. The player who earned that honor was Chris Stoll from Penn State.
Size (Shrine Bowl): 6'1 3/4'' tall, 257 pounds, 31'' arms, 8 3/4'' hands, 77 1/4'' wingspan.
The Penn State Pro Day is scheduled for Friday, March 24, so by the end of the week we should get another set of measurements and testing numbers on Stoll.
Stoll is a mixed bag, because he has more weight and a slightly bigger wingspan than Ward, but he's also shorter, with a relatively small hand size.
From Ohio. Played hockey, lacrosse and basketball in HS. Originally more of a hockey player growing up, he transitioned to FB when he was in HS. Long snapper at PSU from 2019 through 2022. Degree in kinesiology in spring of 2021, also studied health policy and administration. Career goal of being a physical therapist.
Team captain in 2022. Earned a scholarship in 2020. Redshirted 2017, didn't see action in 2018. Has 4 career tackles in 48 games, 3 in 2019 and one in 2021, no tackles in 2022. He says he was initially buried on the depth chart when he got to PSU and had to learn to mature, take care of his body and work harder in practice to earn the starting spot.
Snapped to Jordan Stout, a 4th round pick in 2022, who is the punter for the Ravens. Also snapped to Barney Amor, who is a rising punting prospect, skilled at downing punts inside the 20.
Adequate width to protect inside gaps after snapping, gets his hand on defenders. Pretty average velocity on both FG and punt snaps. Plays in formation that has 3 protectors for the punter. Not fast running down the field in coverage and doesn't have great quickness or athleticism in space, limiting his value for downing the ball near the end zone or for making tackles.
I see Stoll's value in being steady, consistent and accurate with his snaps, but he doesn't have the upside potential to be an elite NFL snapper, so IMO he's not the type of LS you would draft, he'd be someone you would target as an UDFA. Might be the most reliable of the 3 prospects.
Robert Soderholm III of VMI is the most intriguing athlete of these 3 players, but even his snap velocity isn't elite. To illustrate why none of these guys measure up, you have to go back and watch Joe Cardona snap when he was a prospect. Cardona was probably the best LS prospect for at least the last decade. When he snapped the ball, it was like the ball had been launched out of a Jugs machine, a rocket fastball with a very tight spiral. Incredible snapping talent. He also had excellent athleticism and strength, with a 1.70 second split time and 30 bench reps. Almost no LS are going to be worth taking as early as the 5th round, but similar to a K or a P with a monster leg, Cardona wasn't a normal LS prospect.
Size (Senior Bowl) 5'11 1/4'' tall, 241 pounds, 30 3/8'' arms, 9'' hands, 72 5/8'' wingspan
Right off the bat, before we talk about anything else, it is immediately apparent that there is a problem. Orzech has a nearly 80'' wingspan. Stoll is at about 77 inches. Ward is at 75 inches. Soderholm is way too small, he's only about 72 and a half inches. He's very short at only 5'11'' tall and has short arms. He's about the size of a fullback. Some NFL special teams coaches might flunk him and not even want to give him an audition, because he simply isn't big enough. The long snapper needs to be able to prevent penetration in the A gaps and if opponents slip by him, it will lead to blocked FGs and blocked punts. Opponents will attempt to leap up into the air to block the kick, so it helps to have a LS with length to reach out and prevent them from elevating.
From Virginia. Soderholm says he was 285 pounds in middle school. Initially a center and long snapper, he also became a linebacker in HS. He wanted to attend a military academy and walked-on at VMI.
Listed at only 210 pounds in 2018. He is a "self made" player, because to improve his craft, he saved up his own money from working, then spent that money to train at football camps. He put in extra work in the weight room and on the practice field. The work eventually paid off and he earned a scholarship.
International studies major. Made 7 tackles in 50 games in career.
Commissioned in the military, if he gets on an NFL team, he intends to play football and serve in the military at the same time, doing his military service in the offseason.
A weight room monster, strength like a powerlifter. Punt formation had 3 protectors. Has good, but not elite snap velocity. Aggressive and physical. Generates movement as a blocker as if he were an offensive lineman. Good hand usage to shed blocks and get downfield. Stiff, doesn't have great change of direction in space. Short and small, not super quick to get his head up, his gaps become vulnerable immediately after the snap. Not a widebody, build more like a fullback. Pancakes opponents and throws them to the ground, mentality of a linebacker. Solid snap accuracy. Physical in coverage, but also disciplined with his positioning, doesn't drift out of his rush lane. Might have the highest ceiling of the 3, but the lowest floor, because he's so small.
I don't have any of these 3 players with a true draftable grade, but if the Rams don't add any other LS to the roster, they might have no other choice but to try to get at least one of them to at least compete for the open spot.
I also don't feel that one of these prospects is way better than the other two. They all have some positive qualities, but they all also have some weaknesses. If the Rams could only get one of them, whether as a late round pick or as a priority UDFA, which one would you target?