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PFF’s McGuinness: Gonzalez has potential to be ‘great’ NFL kicker

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Gonzalez is seeking to become the first specialist drafted out of ASU since 1985.

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NCAA Football: Arizona State at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one thing certain these days, it’s that Zane Gonzalez has blossomed into a sensation in the desert. And while he’s still a lesser-known talent nationally, there are plenty aware of the invaluable skill set the kicker brings to the table.

One of his most vocal proponents: Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness.

McGuinness is a lead special teams analyst and SEC writer at PFF, which in recent years has grown into a pioneering advocate of football analytics. He’s been at the forefront in championing Gonzalez, who was named a First-Team All-American by the site last season.

“My personal opinion is that Gonzalez should be off the board by the end of the second day of the NFL draft,” stated McGuinness in an email questionnaire. “What we saw in the NFL this year was the rise in popularity of a kicker that you can really trust like we saw with Justin Tucker.

“Ultimately it's up to Gonzalez to prove that he's not just a kicker who had tremendous accuracy in one season, but from what I saw this year, he has the ability to be a great kicker at the NFL level.”

Three traits in particular set Gonzalez apart from other kickers in this class: Accuracy, leg strength, and consistency.

Accuracy

Gonzalez is wickedly accurate.

The Deer Park, Texas native made better than 80 percent of his field goal attempts in three of his four seasons (the lone time he didn’t was during his junior year, when he made 76.5 percent). During Gonzalez’s senior year, he made 92 percent of his tries.

McGuinness says the disparity between Gonzalez’s junior and senior campaigns shouldn’t be a concern for evaluators.

“I think it's definitely encouraging,” he said. “You look at a guy like Roberto Agauyo and all everyone talked about was the fact that he was the most accurate kicker in FBS history. What nobody really talked about was that he also got progressively less accurate every season. I'm always encouraged when you see progression with any college football player, and Gonzalez showed that this year.”

Gonzalez finished his time at ASU with a career field-goal percentage of 82.8.

Leg Strength

Gonzalez has a huge leg, but it took some time for that to become developed, nonetheless known.

In fact, Gonzalez’s didn’t make an in-game kick of 50 yards until he was a senior.

As a freshman, his career-long was a 44-yarder he made during the Holiday Bowl against Texas Tech in 2014. He would later improve his first-year best by 15 yards when he made a 59-yard kick against Colorado in his final season.

The Lou Groza Award winner’s power has proven to be an asset.

“I think honestly, what separates him from so many other kickers is that he has a monster leg,” McGuinness said. “It's very rare to see a college kicker with that sort of leg strength and it's the sort of things NFL teams are going to covet. He can easily boom it through the uprights from 50+, and that's an increasingly rare skill.”

Consistency

Seven of Gonzalez’s nine attempts from 50 yards out or further were put through the uprights last season — the best mark in the country.

His booming ability was also evident during kickoffs.

McGuinness had the opportunity to watch Gonzalez live when he visited Senior Bowl practices in January, an event where the ASU product performed historically well.

During one midweek practice session, Gonzalez was unnerved despite blustery conditions, leaving quite the impression on McGuinness.

“On day two he kicked into the wind and went 1-for-2 on 53 yard attempts. The one miss looked like it got caught in the air by the wind too, and the one that was good, looked like it had another few yards in it,” McGuinness said.

Draft Outlook

Last year, former Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo was selected in the second round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after they traded up to take him. While the scenario is unlikely to happen with Gonzalez, McGuinness argues that he should be a day-two target, though doesn’t think he will.

“[H]is performance this week [at the Senior Bowl] should have done absolutely nothing to cause him to drop on anyone's board, so he has that going for him. And it certainly didn't change my believe that I think he deserves to be drafted on day two.”

McGuinness’ reasoning: Gonzalez is that special of a prospect.

“Not even just the kicking prospects in this class, I think he's separate[d] himself from any kicker we have seen recently. His range is incredibly rare, and the fact that he was so accurate, even from 50+, makes him incredibly valuable to the NFL in my opinion.”

The NFL will hold its annual scouting combine from Feb. 28 through March 6, before determining Gonzalez’s value at the draft, scheduled from April 27-29.