By Mark Long
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE Florida kicker Eddy Pineiro badly wanted to show off his leg.
He pleaded with NFL scouts to kick with the breeze at his back during the school’s pro day last month, believing he was capable of hitting an 80-yarder that would open eyes and raise his draft stock.
“They were like, ‘No, no. Coaches want to see you kick into the wind,'” Pineiro said.
They did the same to punter Johnny Townsend. The college teammates obliged, and performed just fine in the other direction.
Pineiro and Townsend hope they did enough to get drafted. If so, they would become the first specialists from the same college drafted in the same year since Clemson’s duo of Dale Hatcher (third round) and Donald Igwebuike (10th) in 1985. Pineiro and Townsend would be the first teammates to do so — call it a “rare feet” — since the NFL draft was shortened to seven rounds in 1994.
Pineiro and Townsend are hardly locks, but they’re far from long shots after working out at the NFL combine, at Florida’s pro day and for a number of teams in private.
They are widely regarded as the second-best prospects at their positions, trailing only Auburn place-kicker Daniel Carlson and Texas punter Michael Dickson.
“Anything can happen,” Townsend said. “The draft is a hectic process. As a specialist, you just have to control what you can and sit back and see what happens.”
There’s no doubt Pineiro and Townsend have to talent to make NFL rosters.
Pineiro made 29 of his last 30 field-goal attempts and finished his college career having made 38 of 43, including all five from 50 yards or longer. His career conversation rate of 88.4 percent broke the school record set by Bobby Raymond in 1984.
The Miami native hit 17 of 18 field goals as a junior in 2017, making him the most accurate kicker in the country. And there’s no telling how well he would have done had he played with an offense that could move the ball with any consistency.
The Gators ranked 109th in total offense, in triple digits for the sixth time in the last seven years.
Pineiro was arguably the team’s biggest scoring threat.
“They know I can hit the ball,” said Pineiro, who made an 81-yarder in practice last summer. “Just how consistent can I be? How consistently can I make it into the wind? That’s the most important thing: Can you kick in windy conditions? Can you kick when it’s raining? When it’s snowing? That’s what they really want to know, you know?”
Three place-kickers were drafted last year: Jake Elliott (fifth round), Zane Gonzalez (seventh) and Harrison Butker (seventh). Only Gonzalez (Cleveland) won a job in training camp. Elliott and Butker landed elsewhere and shined as rookies.
“I feel like every kicker is replaceable,” Pineiro said. “It’s the NFL — Not For Long — so that’s how it goes.”
No punters were drafted in 2017, the first time that’s happened since 1998.
Several will be under consideration in the final few rounds April 28, and Townsend hopes to be high on draft boards.
He broke a Southeastern Conference record by averaging 46.2 yards a punt during his career. He averaged 47.5 yards as a senior and was even better (47.9) in 2016. He often helped Florida’s mostly inept offense flip the field.
“I have a legitimate opportunity,” Townsend said. “It’s a timing thing. … It all depends just on the need of the team. You kind of have to fall into it. There is only one spot in every squad. It is a big timing thing for us.”
By Mark Long