How Harrison Butker aced the NFL draft combine

November 26, 2016 Athens - Georgia Tech place kicker Harrison Butker (87) and other players celebrate their 28-27 win over Georgia with a piece of the Sanford Stadium hedges at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, November 26, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Former Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker had one principal challenge at the NFL combine last week in Indianapolis, and it wasn’t answering the question about whether he was more similar to a cat or a dog.

Butker aced drills administered to him and the three other kicking hopefuls, a performance that his agent said has spurred interest in him for the draft in late April. Last Thursday, Butker hit cannon shots on his kickoffs and made 14 of 15 field-goal attempts on kicks between 30 and 50 yards, doing so with a snapper and holder that he’d never worked with prior to the session.

“I think I definitely raised my draft stock,” Butker said.

That Butker got the invite was a little bit of an upset. Butker’s expertise was recognized by Tech fans, but not necessarily by the rest of the college football world. Butker did not make All-ACC (he was named honorable mention on the media team), nor was he among the 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation’s top kicker.

Butker did not gain much attention most likely because he did not have many opportunities to demonstrate his field-goal accuracy. As coach Paul Johnson’s offense plays a low-possession game and often goes for it on fourth down when others might kick field goals, Butker attempted 17 field goals this season, making 15. Among FBS teams, 78 teams attempted more field goals per game than the Jackets.

Further, four of Butker’s attempts were in Tech’s TaxSlayer Bowl victory, when awards had already been handed out. (He made all four in that game, including one from a season-long 52 yards, to make the Associated Press all-bowl team and become the school’s all-time leading scorer.)

However, he obviously made an impression on the scouts who parceled out the 330 invites, only four of which went to kickers.

“Initially, I was surprised,” Butker said. “I was very thankful, but it meant a lot to me to know that I was on their radar because I definitely feel like I have the potential and the ability to play at the next level.”

He did show that potential in his opportunities. Beyond making 15 of 17 field-goal attempts, he was 8-for-8 from 40 yards and beyond. He was nearly automatic on kickoffs, recording touchbacks on 54 of 73 kickoffs. His 74 percent rate was sixth highest in FBS.

“My senior season, I wanted to show teams I could be accurate,” Butker said. “The past three seasons, I had made big kicks, but I hadn’t put together a good season. That’s what they need in the NFL – a kicker that can hit 80 to 90 percent.”

On top of his field-goal performance in Indianapolis, Butker said he showed well on his 11 kickoffs – five for distance and six directional kicks. Of his five kickoffs, he said, three hit the fence behind the end zone. One, he said, might have cleared the crossbar. He is a fan of the NFL ball, which is plumper than the college ball and has a bigger sweet spot.

“I’m really crushing the ball right now,” he said.

Butker is an even-keeled sort, but admitted he got pretty competitive on the kickoffs at the combine. Asked how the workout with Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez, Memphis’ Jake Elliott and Stanford’s Conrad Ukropina turned out, he was relatively diplomatic.

“I don’t want to bash anyone, but I definitely had a great performance,” he said.

Agent Jordan Hagedorn declined to name teams, but said that he had conversations with several teams that expressed interest. Butker, who is Hagedorn’s first-ever client, also had private meetings with multiple teams.

“There’s definitely some interest,” Hagedorn said.

Besides interviews with teams and the on-field kicking session, Butker also took several lengthy evaluations that were a mix of personality test and gauge of analytical thinking, he said. One question asked whether he was more like a cat or a dog.

“Definitely a dog,” he said. “I don’t know who would put that they’re more similar to a cat.”

Tech’s pro day is March 17. To prepare, he is training with Tech strength and conditioning coach Ben Sowders and kicking with his old team of snapper Sean Tobin and punter Ryan Rodwell. He is also finishing up his industrial management degree with one class and a one-credit research project.

In the past 10 years, NFL teams have selected 1.7 kickers per year, ranging from none in two drafts to four in 2012.

“He’s got something to prove,” Hagedorn said. “He showed what he can do at the combine and I think all those teams looking for a kicker definitely know his name now.”

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