This pick may have seemed to be premature. The New England Patriots' Zoltan Mesko became the first punter off the board in the 5th round, with players like USF's Carlton Mitchell (a top WR prospect) and Buffalo's James Starks (a solid mid-round RB prospect) still on the table. The Patriots thought highly enough of Mesko's potential as a punter to grab him in the 5th.
Not the first time the Patriots have snagged a special teamer early (K Stephen Gostkowski and LS Jake Ingram have turned out well. Who seriously drafts a long snapper?), Mesko will have to perform near perfection to justify his selection. While there weren't many other players on the board, it's still hard to justify taking a punter this early. Keep in mind, however, that 22 picks later, the Buccaneers selected the second punter in the draft. It's possible that the Patriots believed that the Bucs would trade upwards and grab the #1 punter in the draft. Instead of trading down and risking losing their player, the Patriots may have bit the bullet and snagged him.
More information after the jump!
His gross punting average increased over the last three years, going from 41.6 yards per punt as a redshirt freshman to 41.1 in 2007, 43.0 in a first-team All-Big Ten junior season, and finally 44.5 last season, when he set a school record and ranked in the top 10 nationally. But where Mesko really stands out is with 18 fair catches forced and a ratio of 15 punts inside the 20 to just three touchbacks. His 2008 numbers in those categories were even more impressive (21, 24-3).
Being left-footed is also a positive for Mesko. His kicks have a different spin than most punt returners are used to seeing. Add that to his combination of extension, leg strength, hangtime, and touch around the goal line, and Mesko is the best at a position most NFL teams consider a 12th starter on defense.
Has prototypical size and leg extension for the position. Adjusts well to high and low snaps. Good leg strength, but not elite. Lacks aggressiveness as a tackler on returns.
Solid 1.25-1.35 second get-off time. Long steps would put him too close to the line of scrimmage if he used full three-step drop.
Solid hangtime -- 4.2-4.4 seconds on 45-50 yard punts -- but will have the occasional line drive. Had 3.5-second hangtime on punts placed inside the 20 and throttles down to prevent touchbacks. Gross average benefitted from big rolls when punt returners don't catch the ball because of the left-footed spin. Uses rugby kicks and can wobble his punts to avoid top returners. Directional punting ability is a question mark.
Four-year letterman and starter at punter … four-time Academic All-Big Ten Conference (2006-07-08-09)
- Great ups
- Not very good at recovering from being hit
- Pretty good hang time
- Gets his body dirty when players are coming at him
Summary: While it seems that Mesko may have been drafted prematurely, the Patriots clearly didn't want to risk losing this guy. The punter we signed from Australia is far from being a given player, since he has never played before. In his life. Ever. Mesko has oodles (yes, oodles) of experience which makes him the instant favorite to be the starter- and he better be, for a 5th round pick.