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Rating the specialists

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This year’s crop of specialists includes a fair amount of talent, though it is unlikely more than one of these prospects will be selected before the fourth round of the NFL draft.

A playoff-caliber team could very well decide to select either kicker Mason Crosby or punter Daniel Sepulveda in the third round to increase their stability on special teams. However, there are between 5-7 punters that could be contenders for starting jobs over the next few seasons.

Meanwhile, the kickers are a little bit harder to gauge since most teams need one guy to handle field goals and kickoffs. Crosby is capable of becoming a productive and dual-purpose pro on the level of Nate Kaeding or Josh Scobee, but the next tier of kickers is more of the late-round to priority free agent variety.

Special teams has become a more evaluated position as the Senior Bowl invited a pair of deep snappers and the NFL scouting combine had a small group of snappers in town at this year’s events.

Overall, this is a steady group of prospects with a total of 3-4 having the chance to be selected, mostly in Rounds 5-7.

TOP FIVE KICKERS/PUNTERS

1. Mason Crosby, Colorado: The combination of great confidence and a booming leg have helped make Crosby one of the premier kickers in the country. He's capable of nailing clutch kicks at the end of games, but also rebounds quickly from any prior misses.

Crosby has played in all types of weather conditions and can double as a kickoff specialist – he gets ideal depth and hang time on his kickoffs. He will rush his approach sometimes on longer attempts, which can result in shanks or blocks on some kicks. He missed a career-worst nine field goal attempts this season.

Crosby, a decent all-around athlete with good size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), has the ability to consistently convert kicks of 45-plus yards. That quality gives him a chance to push for a late first-day selection, though it's more likely he will be taken with one of the top-10 picks of the fourth round. Teams like the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys could all take long looks at acquiring his services.

2. Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor: One look at this kid in uniform and he could be easily mistaken for a linebacker, which makes sense considering he was one before converting to punter. More impressive than the size (6-3, 227) is the booming leg. He's no stranger to punts of 60-plus yards and 5-plus seconds hang time.

Sepulveda is very technically sound, but he will have a few times that he over-extends or takes too long to get the ball off. As a result, the punts either fall short or go out of bounds.

A very determined athlete that works hard at his craft, rebounded quickly from surgery on his right (non-kicking) knee and returned to have his third straight All-American campaign; a school record. The Texas native would look great in a Houston Texans uniform, as he has the opportunity to become a Shane Lechler-type performer at the next level.

3. Justin Medlock, UCLA: Saved his best season for last – converting 28-of-32 field goal attempts, including a long of 51 yards, and all of his extra points. Medlock has a very strong leg and gets good leg whip behind the ball to drive it on long attempts, while also showing consistency on the depth and hang times of his kickoffs. He has had a few off-field issues that remain on his player profile, but most teams seemed to review that with him in-depth at the East-West Shrine Game.

His workouts were very impressive as he consistently banged through his longer field goal attempts and also drove the ball inside the goal-line on most kickoffs. He is not one to lose confidence, but he can frustrate a special teams coach because he appears to have a chip on his shoulder at times. However, that stems from his high confidence level.

He has the ability to be taken in the later rounds for a team that would develop him over the next few years, though he'll initially be used for kickoffs. He's a solid choice for playoff contenders like the New Orleans Saints or even a team like the Washington Redskins, who have run through veteran kickers at a rapid pace the past few seasons.

4. Adam Podlesh, Maryland: A better all-around athlete than most of his counterparts, Podlesh has been timed in the 4.55 range in the 40.

Podlesh is adept at getting his team out of trouble and creating ideal field position for his defensive unit. However, he is much better at kicking for distance and hang time than he is for making coffin corner or directional kicks. Too often his kicks will sail out of bounds or drop in for a touch back, but those are areas that a position coach can work on with him to improve.

His athleticism allows him to handle poor or low snaps, and serve as an option for fake or gadget plays since he's capable of running or throwing the ball. He has the ability to replicate the performance of Brad Maynard, who has averaged over 42 yards per punt during an 11-year career. However, Podlesh's biggest challenge will be learning to improve his directional skills after being a booming-type punter coming out of college.

5. Nick Folk, Arizona: The Pac-10’s secret weapon on special teams, Folk handled all of the kicking duties for the Wildcats. However, his numbers will have to improve in the NFL as he converted only 64 percent of his kicks in his college career.

Folk showed very good leg strength on his punts and kickoffs, and has worked on his directional kicks in the postseason. He was very consistent at the combine, a place where kickers traditionally struggle. He also displayed good strength for his size (6-2, 206) and position, posting 14 bench reps of 225 pounds at his pro day.

He has the pure leg strength to hammer through 50-yard field goals, but has to work on his steps and keep the same routine on all of his attempts as his accuracy/consistency will be the biggest key to NFL success.

Folk will likely concentrate on being a kicker/kickoff specialist at the pro level, but can pitch in or be an emergency fill-in at punter. However, it's not out of the question for a team with a veteran kicker to bring him in as their punter and long field-goal guy.

SPECIAL TEAMERS

Aaron King, UTEP: An athletic snapper who has the ability to chase down the play post snap, King possesses enough size (6-1, 235) and upper-body strength to handle the man lined up over him. He was very consistent in his two postseason opportunities, recording a tackle in both the East-West Shrine Game and Texas vs. the Nation All-Star Challenge.

King came up through the system as a fullback/linebacker prior to getting the full-time position of snapper for the Miners, but he shows very good velocity, accuracy and then busts it down field to be part of the play post-snap. He is similar to Mike Schneck, who has played nine years in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills.

Jared Retkofsky, TCU: At nearly 6-5, 262, he's a good fit for a team looking for a larger body to handle snaps and deal with a double team up the middle.

Retkofsky is able to get the ball back there in a hurry with great velocity and ideal accuracy. His size helps him bolster the middle of his line's field goal or punt blocking scheme. He can get a little high post snap, so he will not always be involved in the post-snap activities. It is really a matter of style or preference, but either way, he should challenge a veteran during training camp.