To no one's surprise, the Buffalo Bills drafted a punter this year following the struggles of Matt Haack in 2021.
What did come as a little bit of a surprise is that the punter they did select, San Diego State's Matt Araiza, was still available to them in the sixth round at 180 overall as the third one to come off the board. The left-footed Araiza had the most powerful leg in college football last season.
Yet two punters were drafted ahead of him.
Araiza vowed after being introduced by the Bills to remember that, which should drive him from the start.
But he probably doesn't need any extra motivation. Araiza is an outstanding athlete. Known as the "Punt God," his average of 51.19 yards per punt last season was the best in the history of college football. Then he came through with great numbers for a punter at the NFL Scouting Combine: 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a 32-inch vertical jump and 10-1 on the broad jump.
Araiza also is an accomplished placekicker, which could be the ultimate difference in the battle against Haack for the job, which general manager Brandon Beane assured everyone will have to be earned because there's much more to the punter's job than just booming kicks.
There's directional kicking, being able to get the kick off under in time under pressure, distance control and holding for kicker Tyler Bass.
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"That's the great thing about Matt Haack is that he's an elite holder," Beane said after drafting Araiza. "I know his job title's a punter. But again ... Tyler was in such a groove last year even though Matt struggled a little bit. Matt had a down year. He's a better punter than what he displayed last year. He's got a new focus.
"So it's competition, and Matt knows that. We talked about that with Matt when we brought him back. We're going to bring in competition — either a veteran or somebody in the college draft or free agency that didn't get drafted."
Once Araiza was selected, the hype was instantaneous. Everybody wanted to know more about Matt Araiza and what the Bills thought about Matt Araiza and how many Super Bowls the Bills are going to win with Matt Araiza.
Coach Sean McDermott tried his best to squelch it before taking the field for the team's first rookie minicamp practice of 2022. But by then, it was probably too late.
"We'll get a hot-air balloon out there for him and for the guy to catch it," McDermott joked. "That will be the next trick, right? One day at a time. He hasn't even punted yet at all. So just hope he goes out there, gets his shoes tied right, which I'm sure he will, and has a good first practice here."
For his part, Araiza skipped his college graduation to come to camp despite being given the option by the Bills to skip camp.
"I want to be here, I want to practice, I want to be in this facility and work towards earning a job," he said. "That's a lot more important to me."
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