Who could replace Chad Ryland in New England? 

Dec 12, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; New England Patriots kicker Nick Folk (6) against the Arizona
Dec 12, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; New England Patriots kicker Nick Folk (6) against the Arizona / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Famous restaurant owner and fisherman Jimmy Johnson (who used to coach a bit of football, too) once said, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little bit extra.” Jerod Mayo’s primary task this offseason is knowing where to find that little extra. And while there were a lot of areas where the Patriots could improve in 2023, kicking might be the most obvious one. 

Drafting a rookie kicker is always a gamble. And drafting Ryland was a gamble that didn’t pay off for the Patriots. He only kicked 64% of his field goal attempts during the regular season; that was the worst success rate in the league! He only kicked 7 of his 14 attempts from 40+ yards. That doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t return to New England in 2024.

But the arrival of Jeremy Springer to replace Cameron Achord makes it easier to sever ties.

Who could replace Ryland if the team does decide to move on? Well, there are a few candidates. Four highly-rated kickers are in the 2024 draft class, but let’s not try that again. 

Who are some veteran options to replace Chad Ryland on the Patriots?

Nick Folk is the most accurate of the current NFL kickers headed to free agency; he kicked 96.7% of his field goals last season. But he will also be 40 years old in November, and the Patriots presumably moved on from Folk at the end of the 2022 season because they thought he was too old.

It would be a bit of a surprise if they reversed that decision 1 season later. Although another Patriots legend, Adam Vinatieri, played until he was 48! 

Cameron Dicker is a more realistic option; he will be 24 in May. So, he’s a long-term solution and the cheapest free agent available. But more importantly, he has a 94.5% field goal success rate. That means the Chargers will want to retain his services, so the Patriots might have to offer him a more attractive deal. It’d be worth it, though. 

Chase McLaughlin would also be an interesting option. He has only had an 82.8% success rate throughout his career, but last season was the best. He kicked 93.5% of his attempts as a Buccaneer. And he is 24/29 on attempts over 50 yards in his career; his career-long is 57 yards. McLaughlin’s 2023 contract was worth $1,130,000, so he wouldn’t be as expensive as Ka’imi Fairbairn. 

It’s difficult to see Fairbairn leaving Houston since he has been there for seven seasons, and after their 2023 season, there’s plenty of optimism surrounding the Texans. He also made $4,412,500 last year, so he’ll be expensive, even if he takes a hometown discount. He kicked 96.4% of his field goals last season, though, so he’s an integral part of DeMeco Ryan's revolution. He isn’t going anywhere. 

But here’s the fun part. Who was the best kicker in the NFL last season?

That’s right, it was Brandon Aubrey. And where did the Cowboys unearth him? In the USFL, well he started in MLS, but he polished his goal-kicking as a Birmingham Stallion.

So, who will be kicking in the UFL (as it’s now known) this season? Well, Christopher Dunn is on the San Antonio Brahmas’ roster (they actually have three kickers). Dunn was on the Rams practice squad in 2023. In 2023, Jeremy Springer was the Rams’ assistant special teams coach.

Dunn is 24 and won the Lou Groza Award in 2022 at NC State. He was also first-team ACC in 2022. I’m sold. If Dunn performs well during the UFL season, he would be worth a preseason look. 

What are some of the Patriots' other options at kicker?

One of the other kickers on the Brahmas’ roster is 27-year-old Matt Ammendola, who certainly knows his way around the NFL. He’s played for the Jets, Cardinals, Texans, and the Chiefs since 2021. He only has a lowly 68.6% success rate in the NFL, but that’s still better than Ryland’s. If he finds his form in the UFL, he should certainly be an option. 

And finally, there’s the NFL’s international player pathway. It’s rare for any IPP player to make it out of a practice squad. The most notable ones who have made an active roster are Jordan Mailata and Efe Obada. But for the first time in 2024, kickers and punters are included in the IPP.

Spending a draft pick on an IPP player who has never even played college football would be a considerable risk, but these players will be available as UDFAs once the draft is over. 

And there are two very interesting kicking prospects in this class. Former England Under 20 age group rugby player Harry Mallinder is 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs around 240 lbs. (Maybe he could double as a tight end?) and, unsurprisingly, can kick a ball a country mile.

The 27-year-old enters the IPP as a kicker/punter. And if we learned anything in the 2023 season, it was that having an injured punter (or kicker) will affect a game plan.

Punter Ryan Stonehouse’s injury changed the Titans' game against the Colts. And after Fairbairn was injured, the Texans had to use a running back to kick against the Buccaneers. So, versatility is a rarely considered bonus. 

The most fascinating kicker in the IPP is Irish man Darragh Leader. Another former professional rugby player, Leader, has spent the last two years at Clemson. But not playing football, he was coaching the rugby team while studying for a Masters in Business Administration. But that’s not even the most fascinating part about Leader’s pathway to football.

The most fascinating part is that he has recently been helping his brother Tadgh run a kicking academy. Leader kicking recruit Irish athletes to play football in colleges. So, Leader is well placed to impress as a part of the international player pathway. 

As for the 4 kickers coming out of college this year who could become NFL kickers, after their 2023 experience it would be foolish for the Patriots to draft another one. But, if any of them become UDFAs they could be worth a shot. Former Stanford Kicker Joshua Karty looks like a particularly interesting prospect. 

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