NFL Draft: Spotlight on special teams
By CHAREAN WILLIAMS
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda twice won the Ray Guy Award.
DALLAS Baylor punter has big upside in pros
Daniel Sepulveda's rebound was one for the record books.
The Baylor punter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right (nonkicking) knee while going for a rebound during a pick-up basketball game at a friend's house last Easter. Dr. Dan Cooper, the Dallas Cowboys' team physician, performed surgery on Sepulveda's knee April 27, 2006. Yet, Sepulveda was back for the Bears' season opener against TCU.
Sepulveda went on to win the Ray Guy Award as the nation's best punter, the first person to win the award twice.
"We were pushing it there to play in that first game," Sepulveda said. "... It was four months and a week. That was a tough decision. A whole lot of prayer went into that, and in the end, it was really just me and my older brother Stephen who thought I should play. My parents were saying no. The doctor said I should probably wait a couple more weeks. We ended up pulling the trigger, and it worked out."
Sepulveda was a linebacker at Highland Park, and he went to Baylor as a walk-on linebacker. After a season on the scout team, Sepulveda somehow decided he could win the starting punting job. He had not punted since junior high.
"He wasn't a real big kid," Sepulveda (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) said of his competition. "He didn't have the strongest leg. But he was consistent, certainly worthy of a scholarship.... I just thought that being a bigger kid that I'd have a stronger leg. It ended up working out that way."
In 45 games, Sepulveda had 277 attempts for 12,531 yards, a 45.24 average, with four blocked. He had 39 touchbacks and 82 were downed inside the 20.
Still, a special teams coach from an AFC team says Sepulveda is raw, relying too much on his leg strength. But Sepulveda still could be drafted late.
"I came into college with zero expectations," Sepulveda said. "I came into college at a different position, and it wouldn't have put me in [the NFL]. I don't want to go into the NFL with any expectations. I just want to do the best I can and have no worries."
It is a pretty typical year for specialists. Only a handful will be drafted. A total of 20 kickers and 19 punters have been drafted the past nine years. Colorado kicker Mason Crosby, Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda and UCLA kicker Justin Medlock have the best chance to hear their names called this year. Virginia Tech long snapper Nick Leeson is the top-rated at his position. Devin Hester's performance last year for the Chicago Bears has made returners a hot commodity, and first-round prospects Leon Hall, Aaron Ross and Ted Ginn Jr. are the best. Lane (Tenn.) receiver Jacoby Jones is a special teams wiz who could go as early as the third round.
The Cowboys feel as good about their specialists as they have in a long time. Punter Mat McBriar earned a Pro Bowl berth with a 48.2 yard average and a 38.6 net with only 10 touchbacks. Kicker Martin Gramatica, signed at midseason to replace Mike Vanderjagt, made 6 of 8 field goals with the Cowboys, with his only two misses coming from 44 and 43 yards. The only big change for Dallas will be Tony Romo relinquishing the holder role. Brad Johnson probably will take over as Gramatica's holder.
1 Mason Crosby, K, Colorado, 6-1, 212.
The Georgetown product is a possible first-day pick after making 75 percent of his field goals and having only 63 of his 203 kickoffs returned.
2 Daniel Sepulveda, P, Baylor, 6-3, 230.
The Highland Park native was the first two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award and a possible second-day pick.
3 Justin Medlock, K, UCLA, 6-0, 201.
He led the nation in field goals (2.15 per game) last season.
4 Adam Podlesh, P, Maryland, 5-11, 202.
He averaged 43.1 yards per punt with a 38.5-yard net.
5 Nick Folk, K, Arizona, 6-2, 225.
He helped himself with a strong Senior Bowl.
Brian Wingert, K, Northern Iowa, 6-1, 185.
He set school career records for points (331) and field goals (60) and only 83 of his 188 kickoffs were returned.
Jared Retkofsky, LS, TCU, 6-5, 265.
He and Virginia Tech's Nick Leeson are the top-rated long snappers and have a chance to be drafted.
Alex Reyes, P, Texas Tech, 6-1, 234.
Reyes is hoping for a camp invite after averaging 45.2 yards per punt with only six touchbacks.
Source: Heights, weights and 40 times were compiled from NFL Draft Scout.
2007 NFL DRAFT
Radio City Music Hall, New York
April 28 (Rounds 1-3), ESPN 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; ESPN2 7-9 p.m.; NFL Network 9-10 p.m.
April 29 (Rounds 4-7), ESPN 10 a.m.-5 p.m., NFL Network 11 a.m.-6 p.m.