Rodrigo Blankenship set to be top kicker selected in 2020 NFL draft

Georgia place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (98) kicks off during the second half at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Georgia defeated Notre Dame 23-17.
caption arrowCaption
Georgia place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (98) kicks off during the second half at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Georgia defeated Notre Dame 23-17.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Former Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is ready to take his glasses and strong leg to the NFL.

After a stellar career, the Sprayberry High product projects to be the first kicker selected in the draft, which will be held Thursday through Saturday.

“He should be the first kicker off the board,” according to NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein.

Physically, Blankenship showed what he could do for the Bulldogs as he improved each season. Former Georgia kicker and NFL standout Kevin Butler helped him hone the part of the game that will help him succeed in the NFL.

» MORE: Top 10 special teams prospects

“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. 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.

“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 made all 200 of his extra-point attempts, 80 of 97 field-goal attempts (82.5%) to score 440 points over 53 career games. His career-long kick was a 55-yard field goal against Oklahoma in 2019.

He was chosen All-SEC first-team by the Associated Press and the conference coaches last season.

“I think that playing at the University of Georgia has been such a great experience,” Blankenship said. “It’s just provided me and a lot of my other teammates that are here with opportunities to go out and play in high-pressure environments and high-pressure situations, just playing in games that have an impact on the national landscape each and every year.

“I think that has been great in preparing us to go out and just do what we do in the toughest situations.”

There hasn’t been a kicker taken in the first round of the draft since the Raiders selected Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th pick in 2000.

Former Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent was selected by the Jets in the second round in 2005, and the Buccaneers selected Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016.

Kickers Matt Gay and Austin Siebert were selected in the fifth round by the Bucs and the Browns in the 2019 draft.

Blankenship interviewed with the Falcons at the scouting combine.

“They said they are interested in bringing in some competition, so I’m looking forward to any opportunity that I get,” Blankenship said.

The Falcons don’t have a pick in the fifth and sixth rounds. They would have to take Blankenship in the fourth round, where they hold two picks (119th and 143rd), because he likely won’t be available when they pick in the seventh round, 228th overall.

Some of the cold-weather teams want to know if Blankenship can kick in frigid 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 we get used to if I should end up going to a place that’s a little bit more north.”

Chicago is in the market for a kicker.

“There is nothing that I can do to alter the weather,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship thinks he showed his mental mettle while at Georgia. He pointed to kicking in the national title game against Alabama and hitting a 49-yard field goal against Mississippi State in 2017.

“I think that was the best ball that I’ve hit in my career,” Blankenship said. “It won’t show up on any stat sheets. Everyone is going to look at the 55-yarder from the Rose Bowl or the 51-yarder from the national championship game or the 53-yarder against Vandy is 2018 because they are a little bit longer.

“But I think in terms of how pure and how clean I hit the ball, that was the 49-yarder against Mississippi State in 2017. It hit above the Allstate hands (logo on the netting behind the goalpost). I felt that was the best ball that I’ve ever hit.”

There are kicks that Blankenship would like to forget, too.

“There are more than one that I’d like to kick again, but there is an obvious answer when I think about the end of the South Carolina game (last season),” Blankenship said.

He tried to grow from that kick, a 42-yard attempt that would have tied the score and forced a third overtime.

“It’s prepared me to handle competition,” Blankenship said. “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.”

Blankenship has described his approach to teams.

“I just tell them how meticulous and detail-oriented I am with my preparation,” Blankenship said. “I think that building consistency in your preparation is going to build consistency with your performance.”

AJC’s 2020 POSITION BY POSITION DRAFT SERIES

Quarterbacks: Joe Burrow leads classTop 10
Running backs: Cam Akers' life lessonTop 10
Tight ends:  Harrison Bryant top prospect Top 10 
Guards/Centers:  Solomon Kindley a late-rounderTop 10 
Offensive tackles:  Austin Jackson's life lesson | Top 10 
Wide receivers: Jeudy or Lamb  | Top 10
Defensive tackles: Brown, Kinlaw stand outTop 10
Defensive ends: A 'generational' talentTop 10
Linebackers: Simmons a position-less LBTop 10
Safeties: Loaded with Georgia talent | Top 10
Special Teams: Rodrigo Blankenship tops list | Top 10
Part 12: Cornerbacks

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