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XFL 2023 Rookie Draft – The 5 Specialists Who Could Beat the Odds

Kickers (and long snappers) are people too. We’ve all seen how hard it is to get reliable special teams players in the spring leagues for years, but let’s be honest here. The odds of a specialist being taken in this particular draft are incredibly low. The fall XFL draft is going to occur after the NFL does the final round of preseason cuts and at that point there’s going to be a smorgasbord of specialist options.

Sill, that doesn’t mean that the NFL has scooped up every talented kicker, punter, and long snapper out there. They are the longest of shots, but here’s the five specialists with the best chance of getting drafted on Friday.

Wildcard) Daniel Gutierrez, UNLV, Kicker

First up we have a dude with an enormous amount of natural talent. Daniel Gutierrez has been involved in sports since he started playing soccer at four years old. Even at such a young age, his leg was so strong that his mom had to bring his birth certificate to every game to prove his age. 

He wouldn’t kick an American football until 8th grade. A friend and future UNLV teammate, would notice Daniel regularly kicking soccer balls 80 yards, so he coaxed Daniel to try the same with an American ball. Despite him being too young to even make the varsity team, Daniel went to tryouts and effortlessly nailed a series of 40-yard kicks. His preparation? Watching YouTube tutorials on how to be a kicker.

He would end up on the varsity team once he hit high school. In his junior year he hit a 54-yard field goal and offers rolled in. Daniel was recruited by Boise State, Missouri, Arizona, and Alabama. He turned all the offers down and walked on at UNLV in order to be closer to home. 

After a tough sophomore year, when lack of playing time led him to nearly quit football entirely, he became the full time placekicker for the Rebels. In this ultra senior 6th year, Daniel was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and was nominated for the Burlsworth Trophy.

Scouts have noted that Daniel remains incredibly accurate under 50 yards, but above 50 is a lot more inconsistent. Ideally, that’s something he can improve, but the accuracy in short yardage could be very valuable for XFL kickoffs.

5) Briggs Bourgeois, Southern Miss, Kicker

If this draft was all about the best names coming out of college, Briggs Bourgeois would be in a neck-and-neck battle with Hampton wide receiver Jadakis Bonds. Lucky for Briggs, he’s also a very solid kicker.

In high school, Briggs was a semi-ironman player in that he played wide receiver, kicker, and dabbled in kick returns. The kicking was a result of his love of soccer. It was initially his goal to be a Division I soccer player like his big brother. 

He committed to Southern Miss before his last year of high school and focused entirely on kicking duties once he got there. In his freshman year he handled kickoffs and became noted for his ability to just boom the ball out of the back of the end zone. He stayed solely on kickoffs in 2018 and got one start when the regular kicker had a brief injury. 

Briggs had a medical redshirt in 2019, but returned as the full fledged starter in 2020. That year would be the highlight of his collegiate tenure. He led the team in scoring (65 points) and was named to the Conference USA Honorable Mention. He played for two more seasons, but wouldn’t be named to any All-Conference teams or be in the running for the Lou Groza Award. Yet his kicking stats remained very respectable. In his last year he scored 90 points, had a max kick of 53 yards, and racked up a field goal percentage of 94.7% (which is a better percentage than any XFL kicker got in their senior year).

The main knock against Briggs is that he will need to add more control on his kickoffs. While his normal kicks in college are good for guaranteed touchbacks, in the XFL, it’s a great way to notch a whole pile of penalties. 

4) Jake Gerardi, Southern Utah, Punter

Once again, we have another player who started out with a complete dedication to soccer, but was coaxed into the world of American football. Jake Gerardi was initially a goaltender and had hoped to take that to the next level. However, he would change his mind because football had the potential to pay more. He also went the semi-ironman route by playing wide receiver, tight end, kicker, and punter. 

Jake attended Azusa Pacific for college with the hope of splitting time between tight end and kicker. He would play his freshman year, but only on kick offs. He redshirted the next year, and on his return in 2019, he was the full-time starting punter. By the end of the year he was named 1st Team All-GNAC. The problem though is Azusa Pacific would terminate their football program in 2020.

Jake sent his tape predominantly to teams in the FCS Big Sky Conference and he found a new home at Southern Utah. He was the starting punter for the next three seasons, which culminated in being named 1st Team FCS All-American and the Western Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.

If XFL teams and looking for a booming punter, then Jake would be an easy pick. His longest punt clocks in at 73 yards and on average he hits 48.1 yards. Of all current XFL punters, the only one with a better average yards per punt in their senior year was Race Porter. Also, Jake has made a 46 yard field goal in college, so if you really need him to kick, he’s not a bad option.

3) Robert Soderholm, VMI, Long Snapper

That’s right, y’all! It’s long snapper time. Hiking balls further than usual. Potentially ensuring a ridiculously long tenure in pro football. Living in complete obscurity until one thing goes horribly wrong. It’s all the things we love about the most obscure position in the sport. And yeah, it’s pretty hard to discern one long snapper from another, but Robert Soderholm makes it very easy to tell that he’s the best available at the position.

Much like Luis Perez and the aforementioned Daniel Gutierrez, Robert taught himself to long snap via YouTube. He started out playing center in middle school and figured that learning this extra skill could help ensure his place on the team. In high school he switched to linebacker, but while his classmates kept growing, he stayed the same size. However, since he knew how to long snap, he was able to secure his spot on the varsity team.

Following high school, he attended the Virginia Military Institute on a half-scholarship from the ROTC. He joined the football team as a preferred walk-on and was their starting long snapper for five years. He made 1st Team FCS All-American in 2019, 2020, and 2022. He also made 1st Team-SoCon in 2021 and 2022, but only did so after they specifically created a long snapper spot for the end-of-year team. 

He was invited to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which resulted in a minicamp invite with the Seahawks. Just for a bit of icing on the cake, he was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army Reserves.

What makes Robert so special is that VMI ran an NFL style punting scheme. While most collegiate long snappers aren’t expected to block, Robert was. He was also expected to escape the block after the punt and be ready to take down the returner, which he would do seven times over his career. I don’t know which teams are jonesing for a long snapper, but if there’s an opening, using a draft pick on Soderholm would make a ton of sense.

2) Kyle Ulbrich, Middle Tennessee State, Punter

Next up we have our first kicker that didn’t start out in soccer. Apparently it used to be common for junior varsity teams to have a very buckwild system of punting. The punter would take the snap from under center, do a five-step drop back, and then punt. Thanks to this rule, Kyle Ulbrich just made punting part of his skill set.

In his freshman year, Kyle was alternating between quarterback and wide receiver. Since he was already behind center most of the time, he taught himself how to punt. This ended up working out since he proved to be a good enough kicker and punter to get on the varsity squad. In his senior year, he switched to a prep school and made All-County for his kicking. He’d get offers, but Valparaiso was the only school to agree to let him kick and punt.

After redshirting his first year, Kyle was brought in to punt full time. The promise to also kick, however, was relegated to practice. At the end of the season, Kyle wondered if he could succeed at a higher level. The temptation became too strong and made his way to FBS Middle Tennessee State.

In his first year he was only used as a distance punter, but by 2020 he was the full time starter. In his last year he was 1st Team All-Conference USA and was added to the Ray Guy Award watch list. For any team that takes him, you get a punter of great consistency. He’s good for 60+ punts a year, averages 47.1 yards per boot, and has a career long of 75 yards.

1) Gavin Baechle, UTEP, Kicker

To finish things off, we have one of the biggest snubs of the NFL preseason signings, Gavin Baechle. Gavin played kicker & punter in high school and put together nearly perfect back-to-back seasons as a kicker.

On his UTEP team profile, Gavin is listed as both the kicker and punter, but his stats have all been as a kicker. After handling kickoffs his freshman year, he moved into the starting position and never looked back. Leading up to his senior year, his numbers were good, but nothing earth shaking. In 2020 he finished 2nd on the team in points scored (38) and was a Conference USA Honorable mention in 2019 & 2021.

In 2022, Gavin broke through with his best season yet. He was 22 for 24 on field goals, perfect on extra points, and scored 97 points for the Miners. More importantly, Gavin was named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year. He was also named as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, but would fail to named one of the three finalists. Particularly, this confounded Giants kicker Graham Gano.

Along with being snubbed by the Lou Groza committee, Gavin wasn’t invited to any NFL minicamps. That’s something I really can’t explain. He doesn’t seem to have a pre-spring football Marquette King like ego and it’s not like he’s fallen into post-season yips. Maybe it’s because his mullet-mustache combo is just too rad. Either way, he would be an excellent pick for the Brahmas, especially if John Parker Romo sticks with the Lions.

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