It's not often that you see an NFL team take both a kicker and punter in the same draft, but that's exactly what the New England Patriots did this year.
The special teams spree started in the fourth-round for the Patriots when they decided to TRADE UP to get Chad Ryland. To get the Maryland kicker, the Patriots made a trade with the Jets that allowed them to move up eight spots to the 112th overall pick. In exchange for that pick, the Patriots had to send the 120th overall pick and the 184th overall pick to New York.
Two rounds later, the Patriots used the 192nd overall pick in the draft on Michigan State's Bryce Baringer.
Thanks to those two picks, the Patriots became the first team in 23 years to select both a kicker and a punter in the same draft and just the second team sine 1990 to pull off the feat. Before this season, the last time it happened came in 2000 when the Raiders stunned everyone by taking kicker Sebastian Janikowski in the first round. They followed that up by taking Shane Lechler in the fifth round.
Although it's rare to take both a kicker and a punter in the same draft, it actually made sense for the Patriots to do it. Their punting situation was a total disaster last year. Jake Bailey started the season as the punter, but after he got injured, the job went to Michael Palardy. Both guys struggled, which is a big reason why New England ended the season with one of the worst punting units in the NFL.
Bailey had been the team's punter since 2019, but the team cut ties with him in March, setting the stage for Baringer to be drafted on Saturday. The Michigan State punter was a finalist for the Ray Guy award in 2022 and was viewed by most as the top punter in the draft this year.
On Ryland's end, the fact that they made a trade for him shows how much they coveted the former Maryland star, who was viewed by most as the second-best kicker in the draft this year.
During his lone year at Maryland, Ryland drilled 94.1% of his kicks from inside 50 yards (16 of 17). Although Ryland only made 50% of his kicks from beyond 50 (3 of 6), he does have a booming leg and he showed that off in a game against Michigan back in September when he hit from both 52 and 53 yards.
Ryland arrived at Maryland after spending the first four years of his career at Eastern Michigan. During his time at the MAC school, Ryland hit several clutch kicks, including a game-winner against Purdue in 2018 and another game-winner against Illinois in 2019.
With Ryland now headed for New England, that likely means the end of Nick Folk's time with the Patriots. Although Folk has been proven to be accurate during his time in New England, the 38-year-old's right leg isn't as strong as it used to be and that's been evident on kickoffs with Folk kicking a touchback less than 10% of the time last season. To put that in perspective, there were seven teams that kicked touchbacks more than 70% of the time in 2022.
Although the pick made sense, CBSSports.com draft guru Chris Trapasso wasn't a big fan of the selection, giving it an "F."
"Accurate kicker but doesn't have a big leg," Trapasso wrote. "I get kickers can be drafted, but trading up for a kicker in the fourth round?"
On the other hand, CBSSports.com draft expert Josh Edwards did approve of the Baringer pick, giving it a "B-" grade.
"Arguably the best punting prospect in the class," Edwards wrote. "Big, booming leg, which occasionally leads to him outkicking his coverage. Lacks touch on shorter kicks."
This has been quite the year for specialists. Not only are the Patriots just the second team since 1990 to take a kicker and a punter in the same draft, but this draft also marks the first time since 1988 that there have been two kickers taken in the first 112 picks. The first kicker went off the board on Friday when the 49ers selected Michigan's Jake Moody .
When it comes to picking kickers, the Patriots have a spotty track record. Although they hit a home run with Stephen Gostkowski in 2006, they've selected multiple kickers over the past 30 years who lasted one season or less with the team, including Scott Sisson (1993), Owen Pochman (2001), Justin Rohrwasser (2020). The best kicker in franchise history, Adam Vinatieri, was originally signed to the roster as an undrafted free agent.
If things go as planned for the Patriots, Baringer and Ryland will be in New England for a long time to come.