Detroit Lions NFL draft preview: Punters are (really good) draft prospects, too

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Free Press sports reporter Dave Birkett takes a position-by-position look at the top prospects and biggest Detroit Lions needs in the 2022 NFL draft. This is the third in an eight-part series.

The Lions had one of the NFL’s best special teams units last season and return most of their key contributors in 2022. Jack Fox is netting 43.6 yards per punt for his career and is expected to sign a multi-year extension at some point this summer. The Lions could add a camp backup to preserve Fox’s leg, but that player won’t come through the draft.

Kicker Riley Patterson performed well in his half-season, making 13 of 14 field goals and all 16 of his extra points. Patterson’s only miss was his lone attempt of 50-plus yards, but he enters what appears to be a kicking competition as the favorite for the job.

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Aldrick Rosas signed a futures contract with the Lions in February and Austin Seibert remains under contract after his injury-shortened 2022 season. Keeping three kickers does not seem like the best use of roster spots, but there’s no urgency to make a decision.

The Lions also re-signed punt returner Kalif Raymond this offseason and have kick returner Godwin Igwebuike under contract. They almost certainly will take a receiver at some point in the draft, and if that player has return ability it could spell trouble for Raymond or Igwebuike. But as far as specialists go, the Lions are young, cheap and set at those positions.

Specialists on the roster: K — Riley Patterson, Aldrick Rosas, Austin Seibert. P — Jack Fox. LS — Scott Daly.

Top 3 K prospects: 1. Cameron Dicker, Texas; 2. Cade York, LSU; 3. Nick Sciba, Wake Forest. Top 3 P prospects: 1. Matt Araiza, San Diego State; 2. Jordan Stout, Penn State; Jake Camarda, Georgia.

Other players with Michigan ties: P Jake Julien, Eastern Michigan.

Recent Lions draft picks at K/P/LS: None in the past five years.

Draft dish

Punter and kickers tend to toil in anonymity, but the top punter in this year’s class, Araiza, had quite the storied college career. Araiza left school with one year of eligibility remaining after authoring perhaps the best punting season in NCAA history. He averaged an NCAA-record 51.2 yards per punt and had two punts of 80-plus yards last season.

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Araiza likely will only punt in the NFL, but he made 50 of 68 field goals in his three-year college career, so some enterprising team could try and consolidate its kicking duties one day. Stout and Camarda also project as Day 3 picks, and some NFL teams might have Stout as the No. 1 punter on their board. The Virginia Tech transfer had a strong showing during Senior Bowl week and made a 57-yard field goal as a kicker.

“Dicker the kicker,” as he was immortalized by Gus Johnson after hitting a game-winning field goal against Oklahoma in 2018, is the top kicker in the draft. He earned all-Big 12 status as a punter last season (and honorable mention as a kicker) and finished as Texas’ career leader in field goals made. Drafting specialists is a crapshoot, though the Cincinnati Bengals hit big on the lone kicker drafted last year, Evan McPherson, in the fifth round.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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