Matt Araiza is the greatest collegiate punter I have ever watched.
That says two things in particular: one, that I am a sad enough person to have scouted dozens of punters, and two, that Araiza is a special talent at his position.
The term “generational talent” is incredibly cliche and should be avoided more often than not, as hyperbolic analysts can throw it around to simply describe prospects who are very good, regardless of whether they’re far and away better than other players at their position over the last few decades.
That said, Matt Araiza is a generational talent at punter.
He was an unanimous All-American and the Ray Guy Award winner in 2021, making FBS history as the single-season leader with 51.19 yards per punt. In this past season alone, Araiza had the following:
- 39 60-yard punts
- 6 70-yard punts
- 2 80-yard punts
- 38 punts downed inside the 20-yard line
I have not seen a punter with the sheer power that Araiza displays on a consistent basis. He showcases very good touch and a repeatable delivery. For this reason, I believe it’s time for me to do something I’ve only done once before: a special teamer breakdown.
Before we get into the sexier traits of punter scouting — if such a thing exists — I want to get into San Diego State’s punt formation being a benefit for Araiza.
Some collegiate punters — especially Australian punters with Aussie rule backgrounds — work out of a rugby-style delivery, which includes wider splits between blockers and a running approach from the punter before kicking it low with the intention of having it bounce and be difficult for returners to field. The likes of Mitch Wishnowsky and Max Duffy from recent draft classes utilized this style of punting before entering the NFL.
However, this style doesn’t really translate to the NFL. For starters, college football allows for any player to go downfield after the snap on a punt. The NFL only allows the two end defenders to do so. With only two defenders shooting downfield, returning teams don’t have to worry as much about initial pressure up the middle and have more of an opportunity to rush the punter. That, combined with the more condensed splits in the NFL, makes a rugby-style delivery tough to impossible to pull off consistently.
That isn’t the case with Araiza, who ran pro-style formations at San Diego State. He only makes two steps upon catching the ball, as opposed to a running start that some college punters use. This provides for a quicker delivery and is the standard in the NFL. He has a repeatable and pro-ready approach with consistently polished footwork. While a running start can provide for more power, power is far from an issue with Araiza.
You’ll see here part of what makes Araiza so special. He gets the ball off quickly and generates an insane amount of force from his left leg. From his own end zone here, he manages to kick the ball roughly 70 yards through the air, and it bounces enough to make it an 86-yard punt in the stat book.
Punting out of the end zone can be tough for some punters, as there isn’t much margin for error if pressure gets into the backfield, and there is more of a condensed space to operation out of. That isn’t the case for Araiza, whose naturally quick delivery makes it easy for him to get the ball out and seriously flip field position for his team.
Did I mention that Araiza has a powerful leg? This next punt traveled 88 yards through the air, landing from his own 12-yard line to the literal goal line. Hawai’i had two returners lined up — with one much farther back than the traditional return distance — and the punt still went over both of their heads. The punt went for a touchback, but when you still factor the flipping from San Diego State’s 21-yard line to Hawai’i’s 20-yard line, that’s still a 59-yard flip with the touchback. Not too shabby.
San Diego State wasn’t prepared for this 10-man rush of the punter, but that didn’t matter to Araiza. He maintained composure in a penetrated backfield, and he was able to send the ball 65 yards through the air with ease. You can’t even tell that traveling more than 60 yards through the air is a difficult task for a punter by how easy Araiza makes it look.
A minor nitpick in Araiza’s game is that a quick delivery like his can make it tougher for his teammates to cover significant ground in coverage, but when you factor in how much stronger his leg is than the average punter, it doesn’t even matter. He kicks returners back a considerable amount that the potential for big returns is still limited.
Araiza has a pure fourth-round grade on my board, and he is one point away in my grading scale from what would be considered the greatest punting prospect of all time. That said, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if somebody took him as early as Round 3. I can’t see him falling past Round 4, which seems like a weird thing to say about a punter, but that’s definitely the case with him.
The Bears find themselves not only needing a new punter to replace Pat O’Donnell and compete with Ryan Winslow, but they also have several other needs on the roster. They also don’t currently have a fourth-round pick, barring some wheeling and dealing on Draft Day. That said, it appears unlikely that Araiza will be a realistic target for them unless he somehow falls to Round 5.
I’ll make a bold statement and say that, if the Bears trade down and acquire a pick in Round 4, I wouldn’t be furious if they took Araiza with that selection. Special teamers are usually able to be secured as an undrafted free agent or in Round 7, but an elite punting prospect like Araiza who can flip field position at an incredible rate is worth that investment.
Such a talented punter can serve as a valuable asset for a defense, as burying the opposing offense deep into their own territory makes their lives a lot easier. It also helps that Araiza is a quality kickoff specialist, as he has finished in the top-5 in the FBS in average distance on kickoffs in 2020, and his touchback percentage of 84.9 percent was the fourth-most in the nation in 2021.
Simply put, Araiza is the best punting prospect to enter the NFL Draft in quite some time. That might scare some people given the hype and eventual failures of Roberto Aguayo, but some team will still take a shot on him earlier than the average punter. Whoever drafts him could be ending up with a perennial All-Pro talent.