Georgia's specialists hoping for Draft Day calls

Posted April 23, 2012 @ 12:55 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

Draft history is loaded with tales of teams surprising even those whom they select. 

Such is Kevin Butler’s story. Let’s turn back the clock to 1985. Butler, then a highly regarded placekicking prospect from Georgia, expected the Bills or Dolphins to draft him. Instead, the Bears, who already had an established placekicker in Bob Thomas, took him, and in Round Four, earlier than Butler expected.

“Wow, they’re just wanting me to push this veteran,” Butler thought at the time.

Ultimately, Butler won the job for a team that would go on to win the Super Bowl in his first NFL season. And he learned a lesson about teams and their draft picks.

“Teams don’t use draft picks to push people,” Butler said. “They use them with the expectation that you can certainly contribute.”

One round before Butler was selected in 1985, the Rams selected Clemson P Dale Hatcher. The Buccaneers took Hatcher’s college teammate, PK Donald Igwebuike, in Round 10. No punter-placekicker tandems from the same school have been selected in the same draft since.

But that could change later this week. Georgia P Drew Butler, Kevin Butler’s son, is PFW’s top-rated player at his position, and he stands a reasonable chance to be drafted. Likewise, Georgia PK Blair Walsh sits atop PFW’s position rankings. Butler, according to PFW’s 2012 Draft Preview, could go in Rounds Five or Six, with Walsh potentially coming off the board in Rounds Six or Seven.

Butler, who captured the Ray Guy Award as college football’s top punter in 2009, averaged 44.2 yards on 58 punts as a senior. The right-footed Butler, personnel analyst Nolan Nawrocki wrote in PFW’s 2012 Draft Preview, is a “(s)trong-legged, consistent, pedigreed, polished punter” who is “pro-ready, worthy of a draft pick and should have longetivity like his father.”

Kevin Butler, who played 13 NFL seasons, believes Drew’s all-around game, including his leg strength and directional kicking, will serve him well.

“He’s an efficient kicker,” Kevin Butler said. “As a punter goes, you have to be efficient.”

Drew Butler is confident he can kick at the next level.

“I know my talent and my technique will translate well,” he said.

He also knows he’s fortunate to have his father as a resource.

“He’s walked (in) these shoes, and he understands what it takes to be successful at the next level,” Drew Butler said.

Walsh, like Drew Butler, had great success early in his collegiate career. Walsh earned Georgia’s PK job as a true freshman, and as a sophomore, he connected on 20-of-22 field-goal attempts. The following season, he connected on 20-of-23 FG attempts. But as a senior, Walsh struggled, hitting just 21 field goals in 35 tries.

Kevin Butler, who’s part of the radio broadcast team for Georgia games, saw first-hand as Walsh worked to recapture his best form. Walsh’s problems, the elder Butler said, were a case of someone who badly wanted to do well for his teammates.

“I started pressing a little too much,” Walsh admitted.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt believes Walsh’s body of work and talent will get him an NFL shot — and that he will make the most of it.

“The guy is just so strong fundamentally and so strong physically,” Richt said in March. "Somebody’s going to be real excited about him, and he’s going to get back on the track he had his sophomore and junior year, which was phenomenal, and he’s going to be a great pro for a long time, I believe.”

Walsh has NFL-caliber leg strength; he drilled 10-of-16 FG attempts of 50 yards or more, and he kicked off very well at the NFL Scouting Combine, according to Kevin Butler. Like Drew Butler, Walsh went through a handful of private workouts for NFL clubs.

Walsh doesn’t duck questions about his final season in Athens, but he is understandably ready to turn the page.

“I’ve moved on, and I’m ready to go,” he said. 

It is now all over but the waiting for Walsh and Butler. If their phones ring during the draft, it likely will be on Saturday, when Rounds 4-7 are held. Each will play golf to pass the time on Saturday — Walsh with his sister, who will play golf for UGA next year; and Butler with his father.

Kevin Butler expects Drew to be drafted. He notes that a pair of former Bears teammates — Ron Rivera in Carolina and Jeff Fisher in St. Louis — could be adding punters.

By the same token, Kevin Butler wants to prepare his son for the prospect of going undrafted.

“That’s the life of a kicker,” Kevin Butler said of such uncertainty. “Welcome to the kicker fraternity.”

It's an exclusive club, one with no legacy bids. So if Drew Butler’s cell phone rings on Saturday, he will have earned it. And should that call come in the final four rounds, it won’t be an offer to be a camp leg.

His father can tell him a thing or two about that.