The New England Patriots’ had their fair share of short- and long-term injuries during the 2019 season. One of the most prominent players to end his campaign on the sidelines is kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who was placed on injured reserve in October after hurting his hip. With the veteran unavailable, the Patriots had to use three other kickers — Mike Nugent, Kai Forbath, Nick Folk — before ending the season with Folk as the final replacement option.
But despite the in-season addition having a solid stint with the Patriots, neither he nor Gostkowski are locks to be on the Patriots’ roster in 2020: Folk is an unrestricted free agent, while Gostkowski is coming off a stint on IR and will hit the team’s books with a salary cap hit of $4.89 million — a sizable number for a player of his age and recent ups and downs. New England might therefore look elsewhere for a long-term solution at the position.
Enter Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship, who might very well be the best place kicker to enter this year’s draft. Let’s take a closer look at him.
Name: Rodrigo Blankenship
Class: Redshirt Senior
2019 stats: 27 of 33 field goals (81.8%, 1 block); 46 of 46 extra points (100%); 85 kickoffs, 65 touchbacks, 1 out of pounds; 1 tackle
Size: 6007, 187 lbs, 8 1/2 hand size, 30 1/4 arm length, 73 wing span
Opening day age: 23
Expected round: 5th-6th
Strengths: Blankenship combines a strong leg with sound fundamentals, which allows him to stay accurate on both long field goal attempts and kickoffs — something that should help him find success at the next level even when playing in difficult conditions. He has proven capable of successfully making field goals from both hash-marks, and also has outstanding accuracy on shorter-distance kicks as his 92.7% success rate under 40 yards shows. Furthermore, his follow-through and power allows him to get his kicks high up into the air and away from potential blockers at the line of scrimmage.
Weaknesses: Despite his good technique and powerful leg, Blankenship still missed six of his field goal attempts in 2019 — including two against South Carolina: he had a 53-yarder blocked after not getting the line-drive high enough into the air, and later pulled a 42-yard try to the left that would have extended the game into a third overtime period. He also has kicked in relatively good conditions throughout his career, and has yet to prove he will be able to duplicating his success when asked to kick in the snowy or overly winy conditions he might regularly encounter in the NFL.
What would be his role? Blankenship’s role would be pretty straight forward if he joined the Patriots: he would be the team’s place kicker and as such the heir to Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski. He would be primarily asked to do field goal and point-after kicks, but could also perform kickoffs if New England wants the job to move away from punter Jake Bailey again.
How many downs can he play? One, although he would fill a rather prominent role in the Patriots’ kicking game operation and be on the field for around 40% of special teams snaps any given week.
What is his special teams value? Blankenship would attempt field goals and extra points, and also appears to be a realistic a candidate to serve as the Patriots’ kickoff specialist — a role previously held by place kickers in New England, but one that went to punter Jake Bailey in 2019 — and onside kicker.
Does he have positional versatility? The only real versatility he brings to the table is that he has experience performing both place kicks and kickoffs. He does have four career tackles and one unsuccessful passing attempt on a fake field goal on his résumé, though, for what it is worth.
Will his role change from year one to year two? There is little room for an increased role unless Blankenship would not perform kickoffs in year one and be handed those responsibilities in his second season. Other than that, his performance might be the biggest change between the 2020 and the 2021 seasons.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? With Nick Folk an unrestricted free agent and possible offseason departure, Stephen Gostkowski is currently scheduled to be the only kicker on the Patriots’ roster. The veteran, who is coming off a year ended on injured reserve due to a hip issue, would be the main competition for Blankenship. While Gostkowski has the proven production and experience, Blankenship has two factors working in his favor: he is 13 years younger almost to the day and would cost significantly less.
Why the Patriots? Blankenship is arguably the best kicker available in this year’s draft and as such could be of interest to New England: he was accurate in college and showcased his leg not just on field goal attempts but also while doing kickoffs. As such, he appears to be well-suited to challenge Stephen Gostkowski in 2020 and potentially become the veteran’s successor — much like Jake Bailey beat out Ryan Allen at punter last summer. Furthermore, the Patriots’ connections to Kirby Smart’s Georgia teams are well documented.
Why not the Patriots? The expectation is that Blankeship will become the first and possibly only place kicker to hear his name called during the draft, which means that New England will face plenty of competition for his services. Aside from that, the team might not be willing to invest a draft selection into the position with Gostkowski still under contract — he is still a solid kicker after all, despite his recent inconsistency — and Folk coming off a solid season. A new special teams coach taking over for the departed Joe Judge also might have an impact on the team’s plans.
Verdict: While Gostkowski is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, the Patriots would be smart to start looking for a replacement option with him coming off a stint on injured reserve and having his fair share of ups and downs over the last few seasons going all the way back to the 2015 AFC Championship Game. Blankenship might therefore be an intriguing option for the team: he brings solid tools to the table, has a proven track record, and should be able to take the starting job from day one. Investing a mid-round pick in the Georgia product would certainly not be a wrong move.