The Buccaneers Need to Cut Roberto Aguayo

Roberto Aguayo was one of the worst kickers in recent history as a second-round rookie last year.

We all love to make the contrarian call and be proven right. Bet big on an unknown stock, and you’re a millionaire. Plant your flag on the career of an unproven prospect and you’re suddenly a “guru” or “whisperer”.

Call your shot and make it, and you become a hero. But the danger of bravado like this is that if (and likely when) you whiff, you leave yourself more open to being a laughingstock than if you took the safe route.

No one can say the Tampa Bay Buccaneers weren’t making a bold move when they traded up to the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft to select then-Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo at 59th overall. So far, though, that boldness hasn’t paid off and the Buccaneers’ gamble is looking like the modern version of the Ray Guy selection – but without the Hall of Fame career attached.

It’s pretty clear what the Bucs have to do: Cutting their losses with Aguayo is the only way to save face and save their team.

A Wise Guy, Eh?

It’s clear that Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter don’t play fantasy football. If they did, they would have read countless articles about why drafting kickers (early, or ever) is a losing game. When we look at the value recent early-round picks have netted in their careers, it’s easy to see that the kicker doesn’t contribute nearly enough -- even in NFL terms -- to make them worth a first- or second-round selection. We can check their production via numberFire’s Net Expected Points (NEP) to verify this.

NEP is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

I compiled the Field Goal NEP data of every kicker to play at least five seasons since 2000, averaging their values both on a per-play and per-season basis. Of all of these players, only Baltimore Ravens bootsman Justin Tucker has produced more than 25.00 NEP on average (35.35) and he has the most attempts per season (37.4). The average kicker over the past 17 years has attempted 26.9 kicks per year, earning 11.92 Field Goal NEP, for a per-kick value of 0.44. On a per-play basis, they seem to be pretty good (especially Tucker’s career 0.95).

But think about it this way: if you draft a player early or pay them a ton of money, you want that player to touch the ball as many times as possible. You want that player to become a focal point of your team. The per-kick value – no matter how good – doesn’t outweigh the fact that the best kickers only swing their legs fewer than 40 times a year. It’s not apples to apples to compare kicker value to other positions in the league, but the lack of opportunities definitely drags down any seeming per-play upside.

I also took these same kickers and assigned the draft value of the picks they were selected with to compare how much the draft capital invested in a kicker affects their productivity. If we examine just the 24 drafted kickers in the sample, there is a slight correlation between a higher draft pick and more value – in both career Field Goal NEP and Field Goal NEP per play. The differences between the likes of highly-drafted Sebastian Janikowski and seventh-rounder Ryan Succop are so minimal in these regards, however, that the relationship isn’t anywhere near one-to-one that the more a team spends on a kicker, the more they’re guaranteed to get back.

When we introduce the undrafted kickers – all 31 of them – into the sample, the data goes haywire. For every great kicker that was drafted, there’s another who was signed as a UDFA: Tucker, Adam Vinatieri, Dan Bailey, and Robbie Gould all floated through their drafts untouched and have been great in recent memory.

The replacement level of non-premium kickers is so high that there is no reason the Buccaneers should have spent a second-round pick on one last year, let alone one who cost them value.

Slapkick Comedy

We all know already how bad Aguayo has been; that’s no secret. We can see how ridiculous the draft pick was; that’s easy. But how can the Buccaneers fix their mistake? They need to keep vested veteran Nick Folk and let Roberto Aguayo go, whether by trade or release.

Reports have come out of Bucs’ OTAs that Aguayo has continued his whiffing ways while in completely ideal, no-pressure circumstances during kicking drills this spring. As a reminder, in 2016 during the season, Aguayo actually cost the team more than four field goals’ worth of value – he earned -12.71 NEP on 31 attempts (-0.41 Field Goal NEP per attempt).

In Tampa Bay OTAs, however, Folk has been perfect in his attempts both close with the skinny uprights and from distance. While Folk’s per-play Field Goal NEP has trended down slightly over the last few years, he’s still been solidly near-average in the total Field Goal NEP department, posting 5.97 on 31 kicks last year (0.19). He’s also nailed no less than 50 percent of his kicks from 40 yards or further each season since 2011 – a distance Aguayo went 4-for-11 on last season.

While it may not seem like a major upgrade, the Buccaneers have averaged 34.6 field goal attempts per year over the last five years. Rounding that up to 35 and adding the difference of 0.60 Field Goal NEP per kick between Folk and Aguayo’s 2016 seasons, that’s an added 21.00 Field Goal NEP – three touchdowns’ worth – they would improve by. If Folk can get anywhere near the league-average of 0.44 (he posted 0.50 Field Goal NEP per play in 2014), that would be more than four touchdowns of value they gain back for this year.

Some kickers who had awful rookie seasons went on to have fine careers, Sebastian Janikowski being one of them (-0.24 Field Goal NEP per play in 2000). However, some completely crashed and burned. The young and promising Buccaneers don’t stand to gain much by waiting to see if Aguayo is one of the former while risking the chance he’s the latter since they are truly poised to contend in the 2017 NFC South.