The Patriots will be looking for a new place kicker to replace Stephen Gostkowski, who gave the Patriots 14 solid years of kicking to replace Adam Vinatieri while being better than his predecessor on kickoffs and long-distance field goals. The team will most likely either spend a Day Three draft pick or sign a priority UDFA to address the issue or could possibly turn back to Nick Folk, who was reliable down the stretch last year.
One name that could pop up in the draft at the kicker spot comes from a program that’s always been good to the Patriots in the draft.
Name: Rodrigo Blankenship
Position: Place kicker
Week 1 Age: 23
Size: 6’0” 190
2019 Stats: 27/33 FG (3/5 from 50+), 46/46 XP, Lou Groza Award Winner
Strengths: Blankenship was a reliable place kicker for Georgia over the last four years, showing the ability to not only have a strong leg but also quality accuracy. Blankenship has quality accuracy from 40-49 (23/33) and 50+ (6/9) for his career although you could argue playing in a warm weather conference he should be able to hit those kicks with ease. Not only does he provide value as a place kicker, but also value on kickoffs thanks to his strong leg as nearly 80% of his kickoffs were touchbacks in 2019. In the 2018 Rose Bowl, Blankenship hit a 55-yard FG for his career long so that’s the range we’re likely dealing with.
Weaknesses: Going from Georgia to New England, there is some uncertainty about his ability to kick in cold weather conditions. He’ll have less experience in those conditions than Vinatieri and Gostkowski did playing in the warm weather of the SEC. One common issue is sometimes Blankenship will occasionally have the ball trajectory too low, which could lead to his kicks being blocked on long distance attempts. There are also two noted examples of missing pressure kicks, with a miss against Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship from 30 and a miss on a game-tying FG attempt from 42 vs. South Carolina in the previous season.
Expected Round: 4th
Who would he have to beat out? If Blankenship is drafted by the Patriots, you can anoint him as the team’s kicker.
2020 (and long term) Role: Blankenship will be asked to handle normal kicker duties: kickoffs, field goals, and extra points. It will be interesting to see how he handles his first New England winter though. I believe early on, they’ll try to simplify the kickoff coverage before having him practice short kicks to the goal line to try to pin opponents inside their own 25.
Why the Patriots? The opportunity for the Patriots to acquire Blankenship is there, with the team possessing three third-round selections and Chicago’s fourth-rounder. Like with Gostkowski and Vinatieri in the past, having a quality kicker makes a huge difference in a close game. Blankenship has the accuracy and leg to be a high-quality place kicker in the NFL for many years. Having a reliable kicker for the next 10 years is a great value for a fourth-round investment and could give the Patriots the edge with games likely to become more tightly contested in 2020.
Why not the Patriots? The Patriots may prefer a prospect who they don’t need to project as much for cold weather than Blankenship. The blocked kicks problem is another issue, although a very slight adjustment to his kicking mechanics could rectify that problem.
Verdict: Quality place kicking often proves to be very advantageous in tight games. The Patriots have not had any issues there for the majority of the past 24 NFL seasons, so I believe it’s a good idea to make sure that run of success continues. Blankenship gives the Patriots their best potential kicker prospect since Gostkowski if they want to go that route.