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The Final Pieces to the Patriots Special Teams Puzzle are Here

A complaint that I have seen far too much for my own liking this offseason has been Patriots fans being upset over Bill Belichick re-investing into the Special teams unit, and to that, I ask why? Do we not remember that third of the game costing them two games in just about the final half-dozen weeks of the season near single-handedly? Bringing in Chris Board was objectively a great move to help shore up things in the gunning department, and having Matthew Slater and Joe Cardona back is equally as gigantic.

The outright kicking portion of special teams was abysmal, especially down the stretch, for the Patriots as well last year if you recall. Jake Bailey had the worst season of his career before he went on IR, which stung the Patriots two-fold in the process. That forced Nick Folk into taking kickoff duties and that went about as poorly as it could have, then Bailey's immediate replacement Michael Palardy had some rough outings in his place. Folk meanwhile also missed four field goal tries from the 40-49 yard range after only missing once in that range in the last two years combined. Seeing as he's also going to turn 39 midway through this season, the Patriots made it a point to hit two birds with one stone on day three of the draft. So how did they make out with kicker Chad Ryland and punter Bryce Baringer?

Chad Ryland Bio

School: Maryland by way of Eastern Michigan

Number: 38

Height-Weight: 6’0 and 190 lbs

Age: 23 (Birthday is October 15)

Chad Ryland Prospect Big Board Rankings (Selected 112th overall)

Draft Network: 393rd

(Was Unranked on all other notable boards, but could be chalked up to kicker value I'd say)

My Knee Jerk Pick Grade on the Day of the Selection: D

Chad Ryland Film Review

As far as what you can see with Ryland, this is someone whose leg power is apparent. His career long is 55 yards back in 2021, but his max range entering the league could be closer to 60. He hit two 50-plus-yard kicks last season against Michigan at Ann Arbor that likely would have been good from there. And although he wasn't a precision specialist, Rylands, accuracy inside of 45 yards was near perfect, and I'd like to think things from deep will get better as he continues to get reps in.

What concerns me about Ryland however is this. He had a four-game stretch just last year where he had a missed field goal. Can't say that will do him favors as an NFL kicker, especially in Foxborough of all places. Secondly, Ryland has eight career kickoff attempts that go out of bounds in his career, half of those coming in 2019. He's more than likely going to be tasked with working kickoffs so that's something that he has to get better at and very quickly at that.

Positive Takeaways:

- More than enough experience kicking in the cold.

- Demonstrated plus leg strength. Has the ability to hit kicks in the 55-60 range with some time.

- Hit multiple 50-plus yard attempts on the road against Michigan in 2022

- Was cash money from 49 and inwards in his final three seasons (43-of-47) and has only one career miss inside of 30 yards.

Negative Takeaways:

- Has missed 40 percent of his career attempts from 50 yards and out, three of which came in 2022.

- Had a four-game stretch in 2022 where he missed a field goal (Three from 50-plus yards, one from 46 yards)

- Has had eight career kickoff attempts go out of bounds, including four in 2019.

Final Thoughts

My issues with this pick have nothing to do with Ryland, or the fact that they even traded up to get him. In fact, I would go as far as saying he's going to likely make Nick Folk expendable by the time the preseason wraps up. There was at least one team in the 110s range that the Patriots clearly thought was going to take Ryland (My guess would be the Green Bay Packers based on the recent Mason Crosby news), and the San Fransisco 49ers just about 12 hours prior to this pick, traded up to get Michigan kicker Jake Moody. If this was ultimately the Patriots guy, I can live with the trade-up from that standpoint, wasn't exactly considered a deep kicker class, to begin with.

With that said, I think the Patriots could and should have opted to get back into the third round to get an offensive skills guy. Two targets that I had zeroed in on the day of, as well as in the pre-draft process, went back to back at 93 and 94. Those being tight end Darnell Washington out of Georgia, and wide receiver Michael Wilson out of Stanford. Injury woes or not, a dice roll with the upside both of those guys possess would have been worth the gamble. I would have much preferred that option and then either stick with Folk for another year and/or see what was available in the UDFA market, even if the selection here is solid.

Chad Ryland Draft Pick Grade: D+

Chad Ryland Year One Projection: Starting Field Goal and Kickoff Specialist.

Bryce Baringer Bio

School: Michigan State by way of Illinois

Number: 99 (Was 37 at Illinois)

Height-Weight: 6’2 and 216 lbs

Age: 24 (Birthday is April 26)

Bryce Baringer Prospect Big Board Rankings (Selected 192nd overall)

Draft Network: 369th

(Same case as Chad Ryland in regards to rankings)

My Knee Jerk Pick Grade on the Day of the Selection: C+

Bryce Baringer Film Review

Before we get to anything else, Baringer punting with glasses is an immediate addition to the positives column by default. What else is tremendous is his 2022 stat line. Baringer put up 50 punts, and nearly half of them went for 50 yards or more, 22 of which landed inside the 20, for a net average of 49 yards per. Despite missing out on the Ray Guy award as a finalist, Baringer received numerous accolades last year, including Consensus All-American and First-Team All-Big 10 honors. His story to this point is also a fascinating one, Issac Punts has a great plot synopsis if you have the time.

If you want a guy who can simply annihilate a football with his leg then Baringer is your guy, look no further than that video. His average, keyword, average punt in 2022 was 49 yards on the dot, the best in the nation by just shy of two full yards. He wasn't always this, but Baringer was as big time as you could hope in his last two seasons. The operation of getting the ball out has never been an issue for Baringer as well. No better example of that than this broken play below against Rutgers.

A common issue I had seen coming into this was a lack of hangtime on the part of Baringer. While that was the case, especially in his earlier years, it wasn't as big an issue down the stretch, although it still popped up. Additionally, he put the rest of the combine invitee punters to shame in that department in kick drills. Outside of the fact he's never been a kickoff specialist, there's a lot to like here.

Positive Takeaways:

- Re earned his job in 2020 after effectively being cut in 2019 at Michigan State and quickly became one of the nation's best punters.

- 45.8 percent of his punts since 2021 have gone over 50 yards. Has several career punts over 70 yards

- Quelled hangtime concerns after a monster outing at the NFL Combine.

- Cut his touchback total in half from 2021(eight) to 2022 (four).

- Demonstrated elite directional accuracy in spurts, especially in 2022.

- His operation is quick and has never had a punt blocked.

Negative Takeaways:

- Hangtime issues do show up on film.

- Has next to no experience working kickoff duty.

Final Thoughts

No issues whatsoever with a punter in the sixth round, and it ended up working out great because the Patriots got the pick of the litter with zero punters going in the opening 191 picks. After a dreadful season down the stretch in that department, Baringer should be a breath of fresh air for Patriots fans. Anything barring Corliss Waitman having the camp/preseason of his life, you are looking at the newest starting punter down at 1 Patriot Place in the Michigan State product.

Bryce Baringer Draft Pick Grade: B+

Bryce Baringer Year One Projection: Starting Punter

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