Matt Araiza: la estrella del fútbol universitario es ... un apostador?

Hacer remar es una de esas cosas en las que los no apostadores rara vez piensan. Es como la oficina de correos. Está allá. Hace un trabajo. Pero rara vez es importante a menos que alguien cometa un error.

There has never been a rockstar of the profession. Punting is punting, its own individual craft, left to the side, away from the real jugadores. Pat McAfee has morphed into the sport’s most popular, mainstream entertainer post-career. Marquette King gave it a good go for a while with the Raiders, before his flamboyance saw him exiled from the starchy world of the professional game.

Enter: Matt Araiza, the Elvis of punters, and college football’s most intriguing one-man show.

Araiza is a punter by positional designation only – he also kicks field goals and takes San Diego State’s kickoffs. En realidad, he is an offensive weapon, the kind that ra-ra football coaches have been waiting for their entire coaching lives. Through nine games, the Aztecs are 8-1. Asked who was the team’s Most Valuable Player through an unbeaten seven-game stretch in late October, Brady Hoke, the Aztecs’ head coach, didn’t miss a beat. “It’s Matt,” Hoke said. “What he does in terms of field position. It has to be Matt.”

It’s not that Araiza is the best at what he does, although he is. It’s that he’s charting a new course for punters altogether. At the time of writing, Araiza leads the country in average punt yards. He has 15(!) punts this season of 60-yards or more, breaking the all-time record with weeks to spare. He has hit dos 80-plus yard punts esta temporada. There have only been two punts that have traveled 80 or more yards in the NFL over the last eight años.

Punters are not supposed to have highlights. They’re supposed to be a non-factor, a net-neutral player who doesn’t necessarily tip the scales in your favor but doesn’t cost you the game, ya sea.

Not Araiza. At San Diego State, he is la star attraction; has a fan-base ever rooted for its offense to go three-and-out just to see how far the punter can boom his kick? Against Hawaii, he hit a 90-yard punt. That’s not a typo:

Araiza has boomed 56 punts this season for a net average of 51.9 yards per punt. The NCAA record is 50.3 yardas. The NFL record is 51.4 yardas, set by Sammy Baugh in 1940. Araiza is on pace to easily beat both.

More important than the distance itself is Araiza’s control: He has hit 26 punts inside the opponent’s 20, often from bewildering distances. There are plenty of college punters with booming kicks, but smashing them out of the endzone doesn’t always help a defense. Dropping the ball from your own team’s 30-yard line to inside the opponent’s five, aunque? That’s a game-changer.

Araiza has become such a potent weapon, with returners struggling to track the ball so far downfield, that opponents have taken to sticking two returners on the play: One for where the ball would typically land from a punter with a big leg; one for when Araiza decides to do some Dumbledore stuff.

How high will he go in the 2022 draft? That’s the question Araiza-oligists continue to debate.

Listen hard enough, and you will hear the sound of 32 NFL head coaches cajoling their team’s chief decision-maker to take Araiza as early as possible. Were Al Davis still alive, we could have a real, honest discussion about whether the Raiders would take Arazia in the first round (the team have drafted a punter in the first-round before: they took future hall of famer Ray Guy with the 23rd pick in 1973). Conservative, fuddy-duddy coaches love nothing more than to harp on about the field position battle; joven, innovative coaches understand the unique advantage of having a singular player who can work as a get-out-of-jail-free card on offense, and who can shift the odds at a position that rarely features a true difference-maker.

Todavía: the NFL is a conservative league by nature. It can take a decade or more for the conventional wisdom to shift. Few want to be the first off the ledge.

Cornerbacks and receivers bust all the time. But if you take one in the first or second round and he flames out, the player draws the bulk of the attention. Take a punter or kicker that high, sin emabargo, and it shines a light on the organization. Never underestimate the number of decision-makers in sport whose main goal is not to get fired.

Punters have gone early before. Bryan Anger was selected by the Jaguars with the 70th overall pick in 2012. Back in the late 70s, punters going in the first round was commonplace. Ahora, even the best of the best have to wait until the third and final day of the draft to hear their name called. Teams would rather spend their precious draft capital on a maybe-possibly offensive lineman and then wade into the undrafted waters to find a punter.

Over the past half-decade, 12 punters have been drafted. The earliest a punter has been selected over that period was the fourth round, the Niners selecting Mitch Wishnowsky. No other punter was selected before the fifth round.

En la era moderna, teams have been more willing to take a gamble on kickers. Sebastian Janikowski was infamously selected by the Raiders 17th overall in 2000. It was a decision that was mocked at the time and subsequently, not least because Tom Brady was selected 182 picks later. Nobody wants to be the GM that passed up the GOAT to select a kicker.

But Janikowski did juego 17 years with the Raiders, which when you compare him to the team’s recent first-round selections is not too shabby. The point is not that you cannot draft a kicker or punter high, but that if you do so, they must be a paradigm-shifting player that you can pencil into the lineup for the next 10 or so years – and then hope an all-time quarterback was not selected behind them.

Araiza might be better at his craft than Janikowski was at his. He’s probably the best human being to ever punt a ball. In a league that spends sleepless nights trying to move the ball five yards at a time, Araiza represents a cheat code, someone who can turn a bad offensive drive into a healthy defensive position with a swing of his left leg. In the era of [shudders] marginal gains, that has value – though the margins are finer at the pro-level than in college because most punters are good.

Some team will select Arazia before the close of the second day of the draft. A fan base will lose its collective mind, thinking about the could-of, should-ofs of some pass-rusher. And then they’ll sit back in awe as Araiza sends his latest, greatest hit barreling through the sky.

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