Thanks to a series of moves, the Cleveland Browns maneuvered themselves in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft and with pick No. 224 selected kicker Zane Gonzalez from Arizona State University.
Last year’s Lou Groza Award winner, given to the nation’s top kicker, Gonzalez was a first team All-American who set the FBS career record for field goals made after converting 96 kicks out of 116 attempts.
Unlike the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who selected kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Cleveland chose to wait until the final round to select arguably the best overall kicker in the draft. With this pick, the team sets up a training camp battle between Gonzalez and incumbent Cody Parkey, who missed three field goals – including the game winner – in his first game with the Browns, but went on to finish last season converting 32 of his 36 attempts.
In addition to the high number of field goals that Gonzalez made, he should be helpful in kickoffs as well, as 126 of his 167 career kickoffs went for touchbacks. Interestingly enough, Browns coverage teams only allowed 21.3 yards per return, good enough for 13th in the league.
With the leg this kid has, it’s reasonable to think even fewer kickoffs will have the opportunity to be run back.
One knock on him is hang-time. Gonzalez can kick far without problem, but it’s his pooch kicks or his kicks inside the 10-yard-line to pin a team deep that need work. He did allow three returns for touchdowns and those were all on kicks that were designed to pin a team deep. If Gonzalez wants to succeed in the NFL, not allowing returns will be a must.
Kicker may not have been an immediate need for the Browns, but if they were going to draft one, then an All-American, record-breaking, Groza-winning kicker could be a good player to have.