Former Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has been projected to be the first kicker taken in the NFL draft in April.
Blankenship has meet with all 32 special-teams coordinators at the NFL scouting combine, including Ben Kotwica of the Falcons, he said Wednesday.
“I talked to the Falcons two days ago, and they said that they are interested in bringing in some competition,” Blankenship said. “So, I’m looking forward to any opportunity that I get.”
The Falcons tried to transition away from long-time kicker Matt Bryant last season, but his replacement, Giorgio Tavecchio didn’t make it out of the exhibition season. Younghoe Koo, a former Georgia Southern standout, finished the season as the kicker.
“He should be the first kicker off the board,” according to NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein.
There hasn’t been a kicker taken in the first round of the NFL draft since the Raiders selected Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th overall pick in 2000.
Former Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent was selected by the Jets in the second round of the 2005 draft. The Bucs selected Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the 2016 draft.
Kickers Matt Gay and Austin Siebert were selected in the fifth round by the Bucs and the Browns in the 2019 draft.
Blankenship has been trying to impress teams through the interview process.
“One of the most important things for any specialist is your mental game, your mental toughness,” Blankenship said. “So, it’s been a recurring theme just asking about how I handle adversity. How I handle tough times.”
Blankenship will get a chance to showcase his leg when the kickers and punters work out Friday.
“I’m just trying to prove that I’m going to be resilient and prove that I’m going to be able to sustain myself when things aren’t going so right,” Blankenship said. “It’s easy to perform when you are doing well. Everybody wants to know how you are going to be able to bounce back and respond when things aren’t going your way.”
Blankenship’s career-long kick was a 55-yard field goal against Oklahoma in 2019.
He was All-SEC first-team by the Associated Press and Coaches.
Blankenship, who played at Sprayberry High, believes he’s ready to make the jump to the NFL.
“It’s prepared me to handle competition,” Blankenship said of his time in Athens. “It’s prepared me to handle adversity. It’s prepared me to play in big-time games, in big-time moments. It’s prepared me as a man and prepared my character.”
Some NFL teams want Blankenship to handle the kickoffs and not necessarily just boom it for touchbacks.
“There are plenty of teams out there that don’t necessary want touchbacks any more,” Blankenship said. “They want kickoffs that are going to have hang time. Just drop it inside the five or around the goal line and let the cover team go down and try to make tackles inside the 20.”
Cold-weather teams want to know if Blankenship can kick in adverse weather conditions.
“We had a couple of bad-weather games this year, Kentucky and Texas A&M, where we had some torrential downpours is what it felt like,” Blankenship said. “But as far as cold goes, we’ve been very blessed to have some fair weather being in Georgia. It’s going to be something that I get used to if I should end up going to a place that’s a little bit more north.”
Tyler Bass, who kicked at Georgia Southern, also is at the combine and has been interviewed by Kotwica.
“We kicked together for a couple of years,” Bass said of Koo. “We worked together. We competed together. He taught me a lot. So yeah, I still talk to him to this day. He’s kind of helped me out on a lot of things.”
Bass, who showed off a strong leg in the Senior Bowl, had a career-long made field goal of 49 yards.
“As a specialist, I’m the only small-school kid here,” Bass said. “I still have a lot to go out there and prove. I want to show them what I can do.”
Bass has had similar interviews to Blankenship.
“They want to know how I handle highs and how I handle lows,” said Bass, who’s from Irmo, S.C. “You’re only as good as your next kick.”
Bass doesn’t necessarily want to be reunited with Koo. He’d prefer to go elsewhere than compete against his mentor.
“I’ve met with the Falcons,” Bass said. “They’ve got Younghoe. I’m so happy for him. They’ve got a great kicker. They are looking to bring in some competition for Younghoe, but that’s nothing new for him.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.