Aaron Nagler speaks with Michael Cohen about the Packers' specialists heading into the NFL draft. (April 24, 2018) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Last in a 10-part NFL draft position-preview series looking at prospects who might be of interest to the Packers. Today: Specialists.
With kicker Mason Crosby and punter Justin Vogel both under contract for the next two seasons, special teams coordinator Ron Zook has stability at two of the specialist positions. Crosby, 33, will enter the third year of a four-year, $16 million extension signed in the spring of 2016. While his field goal percentage from last season dipped into the 70s for the first time since 2012, when Crosby made just 63.5 percent of his kicks, the Packers have a strong belief in a player who holds numerous franchise records. Coach Mike McCarthy is particularly effusive in his praise for Crosby, whom he considers one of the best kickers in the league. Vogel, meanwhile, enjoyed a very impressive rookie season that featured only two touchbacks and set a franchise record in net punting average with 41.6 yards per kick. His future is promising.
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Long snapper remains the biggest area of concern for the Packers. Veteran Brett Goode became an unrestricted free agent in March, and general manager Brian Gutekunst will continue to seek a younger, more athletic replacement. If he can’t find one, Gutekunst is likely to call Goode in mid-August. Priority level: Low.
TANNER CAREW, LS, OREGON
6-1, 243 pounds
The good: Carew was the only long snapper invited to the NFL scouting combine this year. He played in 52 career games at Oregon and twice went a full season without a botched snap as a sophomore and junior. Made two tackles in coverage during the Senior Bowl and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.00 seconds.
The bad: Gained approximately 50 pounds in college but still might be a shade light at 243 pounds. Like all snappers, will need to adjust to blocking requirements at the NFL level.
Projected round: 6-7.
KALEB SMITH, LS, TEXAS
6-3, 275 pounds
The good: Smith gained experience at two major programs during his career. He spent four years at Oklahoma State (including a redshirt season) and then transferred to Texas as a graduate student. Intelligent individual with a pair of Academic All-Big 12 honors to his name. Sturdy frame for the position.
The bad: Decent speed but not necessarily the type of athlete the Packers are looking for after running the 40-yard dash in 5.21 seconds. Probably needs to shed a few pounds if he wants to contribute in coverage.
Projected round: Priority free agent.
WESLEY HORKY, LS, OKLAHOMA
6-1, 233 pounds
The good: Horky has four years of experience at a high-major program, including three seasons as the unquestioned starter. He was named first-team All-Big 12 as a senior by Phil Steele Magazine. Made or assisted on six tackles during his career.
The bad: Undersized for the position and will need to add at least 10 pounds at the next level. Doesn’t run very well given his slender build: 5.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Projected round: Priority free agent.
Best and bust
The Packers’ best specialist pick was Crosby, a sixth-round choice from Colorado in 2007. Former general manager Ted Thompson stuck with Crosby through the disastrous ’12 season and was rewarded for his loyalty with a steady placekicker. Crosby holds franchise records for career points, field goals, extra points and consecutive field goals made, among others.
The Packers’ worst specialist pick was kicker Brett Conway of Penn State, a third-round choice in 1997. Conway never appeared in a regular-season game for the Packers and spend just one season in Green Bay. He went on to play 51 career games with Washington, Oakland, the New York Jets, the New York Giants and Cleveland.