In the 2023 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots did something that no other team had done since 2000, and it was actually something surprisingly within their character: they drafted both a punter and kicker in the same draft. The punter was Michigan State punter Bryce Baringer in the sixth round, and the kicker was University of Maryland kicker Chad Ryland, in the fourth round.
In doing so, many NFL experts are now calling this the end of the Nick Folk era in Foxborough. A lot are saying that "his leg isn't as strong as it used to be", or that he "can't be counted on for kickoffs", but this isn't a Nick Folk hate article. In fact, it's the opposite.
Going into 2023, Folk has the potential to be a very valued member of this Patriots team. After all, the Patriots have had two kickers on their roster before since Folk was signed in 2019. It first happened in 2021 when they signed Quinn Nordin, then Nordin was quickly placed on kickoff duty.
Then there was 2022, when they carried two kickers on their roster for a single game vs. Buffalo Bills in Folk and Tristan Vizcaino.
While New England did trade up to get Ryland - effectively showing the league just how interested they were - the first reason to keep Folk on the roster is his experience. Ryland, and Folk are two fairly similar kickers. In 2022, Ryland was 19 of 23 on field goal under 50 yards, and 3 of 6 from 50+ including two makes at 52 and 53 yards on the road vs. University of Michigan. He also tallied touchbacks on nearly 70% of his kickoffs.
However, Folk has been in the NFL for 16 years, and another thing he can add to the equation is the ability to act as a mentor to Ryland. He can teach him the ropes of how to kick around certain blocking schemes, and in certain weather situations he has not faced. In addition to this, Folk could simply serve as a backup to Ryland.
If Ryland is the only kicker on the roster, and he gets hurt, it's good to have someone to rely on that has NFL experience, and has experience in the Patriots system. Folk is that kicker.
Another reason to keep Folk, is that while his leg is not exactly what it used to be distance wise, he has still remained very accurate, in fact he had some of his best numbers in 2020-22. In 2022, he made 32 of his 37 field goal attempts, including 4 of 5 from over 50 yards, giving him an 86.5% accuracy clip. He also was 92.3% and 92.9% accurate in 2021 and 2020, respectively, the former coming when he tied a career high in attempts in 39.
Ryland will be kicking a different, slightly larger ball in the NFL. Maybe that will be good for him, maybe he'll need a little bit of an adjustment period. While Folk's heir apparent may have arrived in Ryland, maybe, like a new quarterback, he'll take a reduced role to start and eventually worm his way into a starter spot. For all we know, Belichick might relegate him to a role much like Nordin's - kickoff duty.