With new competition, pressure is on Bucs' Roberto Aguayo
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed kicker Nick Folk over the weekend, meaning Roberto Aguayo will be on his way out if he doesn't improve significantly from last season. He's expected to compete with Folk during training camp and the preseason before a decision is made.
But how did he go from being the most accurate field goal kicker in NCAA history to making 22 of 31 field goals (71 percent), the lowest percentage of any kicker in the NFL? It still baffles many.
Well, for starters, his struggles from long distances were there in college, where he went just 5-of-10 his junior year from 40-plus yards. So when he only managed to go 4-for-10 on kicks from 40-plus yards in the NFL, and his longest attempt was from 43 yards out -- the shortest of any team in the league -- we shouldn't be surprised.
His average field-goal attempt was 35 yards in college. It was 38 last year. That may not seem like much of a difference, but considering the notable struggles kickers had with extra-point attempts being moved back just a couple of yards, with a record 12 extra-point misses in one day last season, even the slightest adjustments can wreak havoc on a kicker's psyche.
In January, Aguayo alluded to being in a much different predicament than he was at Florida State. Games are tighter. The Bucs don't average 52 points (he got more of a dose of reality in 2014 and 2015, when the Noles averaged 32 per game). Instead, they'll put up 17 points and the margin is less than a one-score game.
In Aguayo's three years at Florida State, the Noles' points margin was a whopping 284 points per season. The Bucs' points margin in 2016 was minus-15. Even when the Bucs turned it on late, starting with their Week 10 victory over the Chicago Bears, their points margin the rest of the way was 37. That's taking a kicker that was a luxury and making him a team's scoring lifeline.
You could see that in Week 11, when Aguayo made four field goals in a 19-17 upset over the Kansas Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bucs didn’t score an offensive touchdown until there was just 6:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“The pressure is gonna be up there, so you've got to do that extra at night -- maybe visualizing, seeing yourself make the kick, watching film, doing all these little things that you might not have done in college, and then going out there and cutting it loose," Aguayo said.
"Sometimes you have some hesitation or, 'Maybe I should aim for it here.' Aim for a spot, cut it loose, have fun at the same time and really not overthink it too much."
At the same time, being a highly-successful kicker in college can create a false sense of confidence going to the next level. That's not to say he was cocky or arrogant, and anyone who has had conversations with him will tell you he's one of the most delightful people to talk to. But any mistakes can take you for a ride you are not prepared for. And quite simply, Aguayo wasn't prepared for this.
"When you come in as a rookie, you don't think you know it all, but at the same time, you're like, 'I got here. I'll do whatever got me here, so I guess I'm good enough,'" Aguayo said. "In the NFL, it's a different league. You're not in college. You can't get by with what you did in college. It's a different league. You're with the best of the best. Sometimes you think it's easy, and you realize that it's not and you've got to do something better, do something more."
Is what he dealt with his rookie season fixable?
Every kicker is different and their reasons for misses vary. Sometimes it's mechanical and it's a matter of maintaining more of an upright posture, not letting a shoulder drop, or foot position upon impact. Sometimes it's also timing and a kicker will tell you he rushed it. It could be downright mental. It could also be both.
Aguayo's rookie struggles aren't unheard of. Sebastian Janikowski, a first-round pick, went 22-of-32 in his rookie season in 2000 -- 68.8 percent and the lowest mark of his career. His biggest issues came at kicks from over 40 yards out. Stephen Gostkowski only made just 70 percent of his kicks from 30-39 yards his rookie season and missed an extra point.
Folk, who has averaged 81.3 percent over his 10-year NFL career, had some struggles in his third year in 2009, where he made just 64 percent of his field goals. That was after offseason hip surgery and with a new holder. But those types are struggles are still devastating two seasons removed from making the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Whatever the reasons for Aguayo's struggles last year -- the pressure he felt as a second-round draft pick and Groza Award winner, being the most accurate field-goal kicker in NCAA history and coming to the NFL kicking for an offense producing just 20 points a game -- it only gets worse now that a kicking battle looms and the margin for error has gotten even smaller.