TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — For the second time in four NFL drafts, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have selected one of the best kickers in college football.
They can only hope Utah’s Matt Gay, the 2017 Lou Groza Award winner, doesn’t turn out to be another Roberto Aguayo.
The Bucs took Gay early in the fifth round on Saturday, ending a string of five consecutive selections used to secure help for one of the league’s worst defenses.
“He’s a big guy with a big leg, and he’s also accurate,” general manager Jason Licht said.
“That’s a big selling point. Strong-legged guys that can kick it from far distance usually have some accuracy issues,” Licht added. “This guy has not, so far.”
In two college seasons at the University of Utah, Gay set a school record with eight field goals of 50-plus yards and compiled the second-best career field goal percentage (86.2 in Utes’ history by converting 56 of 65 attempts).
Gay said the Bucs stayed in touch with him in the weeks leading up to the draft but never provided an indication that they had “extreme interest” in him. He said he thought he might be drafted in the sixth or seventh round, so he was surprised when the phone rang earlier than expected.
“I got a call, it was a Tampa number. I looked at the board and saw they were two picks away,” Gay said. “I was kind of like, ‘No way, not right now.’ … It was amazing, honestly.”
Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson was Tampa Bay’s first pick on the final day of the draft, landing with the Bucs in the fourth round after the club added linebacker Devin White, cornerbacks Sean Bunting and Jamel Dean, and safety Mike Edwards over the previous two days. They finished by taking speedy Bowling Green receiver Scotty Miller late in the sixth round and Missouri defensive tackle Terry Beckner, Jr., with the first pick of the seventh round.
In all, six of the team’s eight selections are defensive players. Offensive line and running back are areas of need that Licht and coach Bruce Arians did not address in the draft.
“We’ve stood pat so far,” Licht said, speaking specifically about the offensive line. “I say time and time again, we’re not lining up tomorrow to play regular season week one. We still have time.”
Gay played two years of soccer at Utah Valley before spending the past two at Utah, where he made all 40 of his extra points and was 30 of 34 on field goal attempts to win the Groza award as the nation’s top kicker in 2017.
Aguayo also was a Groza winner during a standout career at Florida State. The Bucs traded up 15 spots to select him in the second round of the 2016 draft, only to release him following a disappointing rookie season.
Gay will compete for a job with incumbent kicker Cairo Santos, who joined the Bucs early last season after one of the team’s key offseason acquisitions, Chandler Cantanzaro, got off to a slow start and was cut.
“We’ve exhausted everything we can to find a kicker. We’ll continue to, like every other position,” Licht said of the decision to select Gay.
“To me, to us, it was a small price to pay to get a kicker,” the GM added. “You wouldn’t say the same thing for a receiver. If a receiver didn’t work out a couple of years ago and you took him in the second round, would you be afraid to take a receiver in the fifth round? No. It’s a very, very important position.”
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