Matt Araiza has been asked countless times if he is nervous about the 2022 NFL Draft, which is now just a day away.
In the former San Diego State punter’s mind, the question is being asked to the wrong person. It’s NFL personnel who are on the clock.
“Honestly, for the players it’s just we’re finding out news,” Araiza said. “For the coaches (and GMs), it’s almost like game day for them. They have to make decisions that affect their career.
“Whereas for us, we’ve put in all the work. We’ve already done the combine and pro day and everything. We’re just waiting to hear where we end up.”
The 2022 Draft is being held in Las Vegas, beginning with the first round at 5 p.m. Thursday. Rounds 2-3 will be conducted starting at 4 p.m. Friday, with rounds 4-7 on Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. ESPN, ABC and NFL Network will provide TV coverage throughout the draft, which also can be streamed on the NFL app.
Araiza has the makings of a generational punter.
The question: Will an NFL team value the opportunity to get a player who could be a mainstay on the roster for the next 15 years over, say, a linebacker who may be on the field more but last only 3-4 years with the team?
“As of now, a GM would much rather get a punter as a priority free agent,” Union-Tribune draft guru Eddie Brown said. “That’s the math that makes the most sense.
“If there’s somebody that’s worthy of that, you have to pry their top five-round picks out of their cold, dead hands before they probably use it on a punter.”
Araiza’s agent told him he could expect to be drafted anywhere from the third to fifth rounds.
“I’m kind of going into that with a grain of salt and be ready for whatever happens,” Araiza said.
Some mock drafts project him as a fourth rounder. That includes CBSSports.com, which lists Araiza as the 126th prospect in the draft.
On his list of the top 150 prospects on NFL.com, Daniel Jeremiah listed Araiza at No. 147, a high fifth-round pick.
SDSU hasn’t had a punter selected since the 1980s — Mike Saxon (Dallas, 11th round, 1984) and Wayne Ross (Washington, 12th round, 1988) — when the draft included nearly twice as many rounds as it does now.
The top punter drafted last year was Georgia Tech’s Pressley Harvin, who was selected by Pittsburgh in the seventh round with the 254th pick.
In the past 20 years, the highest a punter has been drafted was in 2012 when Jacksonville took Cal’s Bryan Anger in the third round (70th overall).
“He was very good last year for Dallas, but he’s been on four teams already,” said Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief for Football Outsiders.
Schatz still is quick to recall Purdue punter Travis Dorsch, who won the 2001 Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top punter, a fourth-round pick by Cincinnati in 2002.
“He played only one game in the NFL,” Schatz said. “Nothing’s guaranteed, as good as Araiza looks.”
Added Schatz: “This is not a criticism of him or his dedication to his craft, certainly. He was phenomenal in college. He did things no one else has ever done.
“I, personally, really do not believe in drafting specialists, I would take a shot at him, but I wouldn’t do it until the fifth round.”
Schatz said that’s a spot where “they’re taking guys who are primarily going to be special teams players, especially early on in their careers. … At that point, it would make sense to take a punter who is very, very good over a player who may work out as an offensive or defensive player but more likely is going to be a backup who gives you a lot of special teams value.”
As has been duly noted, the Rancho Bernardo High graduate set numerous school and NCAA records last season — including a 51.19-yard punt average — on the way to earning the 2021 Ray Guy Award.
One criticism of Araiza from an NFL perspective was his hang time. So he went out and worked on that early in the offseason.
The result: Araiza added more than a second to his hang time, including one punt timed at 5.3 seconds.
The average hang time for an NFL punt is 4.3 seconds.
“I made a lot of changes, from more of a brute force-style punter to an NFL-style punter,” Araiza said after SDSU’s pro day last month.
Analytics could work for or against Araiza, depending on how the numbers are being crunched.
His ability to flip the field certainly works in Araiza’s favor. So does his toughness. As he did in college, Araiza is intent on joining his teammates downfield to make a tackle.
“I don’t know how many punters really feel like going down there and hitting people,” Araiza said.
The punter usually is unmarked, but during meetings with NFL teams Araiza had at least one coach tell him they would have someone assigned to him.
“I think that some teams might try to do that,” Araiza said. “I’m here for it.”
What could work against Araiza is how teams approach fourth down in the years to come.
“Analytics suggest that teams punt too much,” Schatz said. “You don’t want to be dependent on your punter. You want to be dependent on your quarterback. Your offense. You want to avoid punting.
“If you’re going for it more on fourth down, then your punter is worth even less.”
Part of the draft decision comes down to fit and opportunity.
Kansas City and Jacksonville are the two teams with the most picks in the draft — 12 apiece — but the Chiefs and Jaguars also have two of the better punters in the league.
There are several teams that have identified punter as a need — Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Green Bay, Minnesota, the L.A. Rams and N.Y. Giants to name several — but who among them is willing to choose a specialist over an offensive or defensive player?
The Giants (5 picks), Falcons (4) and Packers (4) are the only teams among them with extra picks in rounds 3-5.
Araiza had five private workouts — including for the Chargers and Rams — but isn’t necessarily expecting one of those teams to select him.
“I’ve heard too many stories about people getting drafted by the team that talked to them the least,” he said, “so I haven’t put too much weight on what teams have talked to me.”
Wherever he ends up, Araiza is confident it will be for several years to come.
“I absolutely know I can continue to do the same thing I did in college at the next level,” Araiza said. “I’m ready to start now and the team is going to have me for plenty of years. It’s not just a three-year investment, it’s a long-term investment.”
Other Aztecs in the draft
Jeremiah’s top 150 prospects list includes two other SDSU players. Defensive end Cameron Thomas (Carlsbad High) is rated No. 69, which would make him an early third-round pick. Tight end Daniel Bellinger is No. 84, which falls in the middle of the third round.