Over the next week, we will be breaking down the draft prospects of some of Northwestern’s outgoing seniors. Will any of them hear their names called at the podium between May 8 and 10?
In November 2012, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he could not understand why kicker Jeff Budzien was not named a finalist for the Lou Groza award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding kicker. “How he’s not a finalist for the Groza Award makes me scratch my head,” he said. “I have no idea. I’m done. I’m getting off that voting.”
Fitzgerald’s outrage was understandable. Budzien missed only one field goal that season and was one of two players named the Bakken-Andersen kicker of the year (Brett Maher of Nebraska was the other). To boost Budzien’s chances of winning the Groza in 2013, Northwestern athletics created a Twitter account, @Budzien4Groza, dedicated to publicizing his statistics and accomplishments. But Budzien – despite a 92 percent conversion rate on field goals and a perfect 35-of-35 mark on extra points – was again left off the list of Groza finalists.
The biggest knock on Budzien, in both his junior and senior seasons, was that he did not make any extraordinarily long field goals. His longest in 2013 was 42 yards and in 2012, Budzien missed his most important kick – a 53-yarder late in a close loss to Nebraska. Budzien was one of the Big Ten’s most accurate kickers ever, but his suspect leg strength prevented him from garnering the national recognition many believed he deserved.
And it will likely cause NFL teams to pass him up on draft day. There doesn’t appear to be a consensus about where Budzien ranks among this year’s group of placekickers. ESPN has him at No. 15 and he is 4th on CBSSports. Last month, National Football Post wrote that Budzien had drawn interest from several NFL teams, including the New England Patriots, New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Budzien performed well at Northwestern’s pro-day, connecting on six of his nine attempts from beyond 50 yards (his longest was 58). That performance is proof Budzien has adequate leg strength, but he’s never made one that long in a game. Whether NFL teams believe Budzien’s pro-day performance is indicative of how he will handle longer kicks at the next level is unclear. Budzien’s in-game track record suggests that the sterling accuracy that formed the basis of his candidacy for the Bakken Anderson Awards diminishes at longer distances.
Of course, no kicker is as accurate from 40 yards as he is from 20. But if Budzien has not proven that he can connect from longer distances in games, why should NFL teams believe this will change when he enters the league? For that reason, it seems unlikely Budzien will be drafted. An average of 1.8 kickers have been selected in the last five drafts, and this year there appear to be at least three – Cairo Santos of Tulane, Chris Boswell of Rice and Anthony Fera of Texas – rated higher than Budzien.
The most likely scenario is that Budzien will get an opportunity to compete for a roster spot as an undrafted free agent.