ST. LOUIS– In the 2020 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots made some waves when the team used a fifth round draft pick on a kicker, at a time when there other needs, like quarterback, which had not been addressed.
Justin Rohrwasser joined just 49 other placekickers who have been drafted since the NFL went to seven rounds in 1994.
Edwardsville High School graduate Riley Patterson has designs on being number 51 in the group after wrapping up his college career at the University of Memphis.
Patterson is seen as part of a group of 3-4 kickers who could see their names called between April 29 and May 1 and will be assured of a priority free agent contract for an opportunity somewhere. You have to take them with a grain of salt, but several mock drafts have Patterson landing with the New York Jets.
“I’m just trying to get one of them like to me so they can take me either in the draft or free agency because all you can really do is hope for an opportunity and a fair competition to win a starting spot in the NFL,” Patterson said ahead of his pro day in Memphis last week. There’s not many roster spots for people who are number 2 kicker on a team, so make no bones about it, I want to be a starting kicker in the NFL, I want to get that opportunity to win the job somewhere.”
Patterson, who during his junior year at Memphis was first team All-Conference and was seventh in all of FBS for made field goals, has been honing on his craft at camps and working with Memphis trainers.
He’s aware that, maybe unlike most evaluations in the draft process, kickers get judged on how they handle the mental challenges of the job on top of the physical act of putting the ball through the uprights. They also get evaluated in unique ways regarding their failures.
“I don’t get too high, I don’t get too low, I’ve been in many different situations in a game including bad weather good weather, rainy, hot games, cold games, big pressure situations, not big pressure situations, I’ve made big kicks and I’ve missed kicks as well, so I know how to handle that adversity that comes with missing a big kick and I know how to handle success and I don’t think that really gets talked about as much either, when you’re on top the mountain, you do very well, and its hard to stay on top that mountain,” Patterson said.
There’s evidence that getting drafted may not be the best path to a prolonged NFL career. ESPN reports that prior to the 2020 draft, only 19 of the 47 kickers drafted since 1994 went on to kick for the team that drafted them for at least three seasons. That’s exactly how many seasons St. Louis native Neil Rackers kicked for Cincinnati after he was drafted by the Bengals in 2000. “You almost do the player a disservice because the expectation level now inside and outside the building becomes almost unrealistic,” Rams special teams coach John Bonamego told ESPN last year. “Once he struggles, which they are all going to struggle, especially the young guys, it becomes more difficult for them to overcome it because now, all of a sudden, they really feel the pressure.”
If Patterson were to get drafted, he would join a fellow Metro East native, Belleville West’s Austin Seibert, who was selected in the fifth round in 2019 by the Cleveland Browns. He spent parts of two seasons in Cleveland before his release last year and is now with the Bengals. Patterson told reporters this week that he, Seibert and Tucker McCann, another Metro East kicker who went on to a college career at Missouri before landing a free agent deal with Tennessee last season, all shared a Little League baseball team growing up.
Was there anything about growing up in this area that led them all to a career in kicking?
In the midwest, playing in a lot of cold games, playing a lot of rainy games, playing a lot of windy games, it helps you realize you need to hit a very true and straight ball which is something you’re gonna need to do in these NFL stadiums where wind cannot always be so predictable, so hitting a true ball that kind of slices through that wind with high rotation and good trajectory is very important,” Patterson said.
Have McCann or Seibert offered any advice?
“Make kicks, man… At the end of the day, NFL coaches want to see you make kicks, overcome different adversity, whether its the weather, whether its the situation in the game, whether you had missed or made the kick previous to the one you’re about to do, having that same consistent mindset, not getting too aggravated with a miss, not getting too high after you make a great field goal, just a consistent mindset and at the end of the day, making kicks and doing great on kickoffs,” Patterson said.