The Buffalo Bills took a kicker in the 2020 NFL Draft, a strong indication they’d like to move on from Stephen Hauschka at the position. Hauschka turns 35 next month and has seen his numbers slide since an injury in 2018, so general manager Brandon Beane brought in Tyler Bass in the fifth round.
During his post-draft press conference, Beane was asked about Bass’s path to the roster. How do you evaluate kickers in a training camp and practice setting? Beane was forthcoming.
“There’s only so many true game-winning situations or pressure situations,” said Beane. “I think that’ll be [head coach] Sean and [special teams coach] Heath [Farwell]’s thing is to give him and Stephen as many variety of pressure situations. Sometimes that’s taking them in the stadium on a windy day, sometimes that’s having the whole team out there and saying ‘Hey, if you make this kick, we end without running sprints.’ So you got 89 guys staring at you and saying ‘please make this kick so I don’t have to run three sprints’ or whatever it is. Some team bonding stuff. You can only simulate game experiences so much, so that’s what you’re trying to do.”
Handling the pressure of the big situations is real, and with only four preseason games, there isn’t even simulated pressure much. Beane brought in a metaphor to help explain.
“It’s the golf analogy, hitting it on the driving range is great, but when you get out there and out of bounds and the water and all that, it is different,” continued Beane. “So, it’s not easy, and to go against a guy with Stephen’s history, you know, Tyler will really have to convince us that he is mentally strong. He’s got all the physical skills but he can handle the pressure.”
While Hauschka can handle the pressure, his power has been falling off. Still the record-holder for consecutive kicks made over 50 yards, Hauschka has dipped considerably in the power department since the end of that streak in 2017. He was just 1-of-5 beyond 50 yards in 2019 and 4-of-7 the year before.
“That’s one of the things we talked about with him. Last year Stephen wasn’t able to kick the 55-plus balls as much. But, we were happy with Stephen’s accuracy at 50 and in,” said Beane.
“We really liked this kicker and my exposure to him was at the Senior Bowl,” said Beane of Bass. “He really did a nice job with his leg. I was there all week because I stay for the BLESTO meeting so really you saw his leg strength. Live leg was banging some long field goals. You know leg strength in Buffalo. We know how windy it is. Kickoffs are super important.”
Beane also explained that Bass was taken because he had a better chance to make the roster in round 6 than other potential picks.
“You’re basing [your board] on position value,” said Beane following the draft. “Okay. Is this in the six round, who’s got a better chance to maybe make our roster - this linebacker here, or this kicker? And then sometimes it’s where you’re at. If where you’re at on the depths of your roster, whatever position is there, versus the kicker. That’s really what questions we had. What guys were on our board versus this kicker? Which guy can you say has the best chance to make our roster when they’re in similar positions on the board? That’s where he was. He was in the sixth round, and we had some other guys hanging around but we just decided that he had impressed us. Before the coronavirus hit that was one of the schools that had their pro day and Heath Farwell went down there and came back and said, you know, Tyler did a really nice job.”
This offseason, the Bills also added Kaare Vedvik, a kicker with NFL experience. Buffalo insists he’s going to be mainly used as a punter and on kickoffs.
“So, first position one punter. Okay, position two. He’s the kickoff guy, and he can compete as a long field goal guy too,” said Beane earlier in the offseason.
With Vedvik mainly competing at punter, the Bills were going to bring in a second kicker either via the draft, free agency, or as a priority undrafted free agent. That doesn’t mean Bass or any other kicker is going to make the roster. On the contrary, the Bills know what they have in Hauschka.
“Stephen is a proven guy,” said Beane. “I extended Stephen a year ago, and still believe in Stephen. He made some big kicks down the stretch. That’s what I told Bass is that us drafting you is nothing more than we were going to [add one]. If we didn’t draft one, we would have signed one after the draft, because Vedvik’s position was going to be punter.”
It’s going to be an interesting position group to watch this offseason. Last year, the Bills signed undrafted free agent Chase McLaughlin. After a tight competition, the Bills chose Hauschka but later in the year, with the veteran struggling, they put in a waiver claim for McLaughlin when he was released. The Indianapolis Colts had waiver priority, so he ended up there instead. But it became clear Buffalo wasn’t happy at the position.
The last time a field goal was made by a Bills player who was drafted by Buffalo was October of 1977. Neil O’Donoghue had a long career in the NFL after being cut during his rookie season in Buffalo. Gary Anderson is the league’s all-time leading scorer, but he didn’t make the Bills after a bad preseason in 1982.