You have to give it to Bucs general manager Jason Licht. If he believes in something strongly enough, no number of poor results from the past will dissuade him from doing what he believes to be right. That could not be more apparent than when he took punter Jake Camarda in the fourth round of the NFL draft in April.
Camarda was not the first or the highest selection Light has used on a specialist. That honor belongs to kicker Roberto Aguayo, who Licht selected in the second round of the 2016 draft. More recently Licht took a swing on another kicker in Matt Gay. Licht decided to select him in the fifth round of the 2019.
Both of those selections turned out to be less than successful ones. Aguayo made it just one season with the Bucs where he converted 22 of 31 field goal attempts. His 71% field goal percentage was the worst in the NFL and Tampa Bay released him in training camp the following season. Aguayo has bounced around several practice squads in the years following his release, but has not had an opportunity to kick in a regular season game since he was discharged from the Bucs roster.
Gay similarly only lasted a single season with the Bucs, after hitting on 27 of his 35 field goal attempts as a rookie. His sub-80% success rate was due in large part to struggles he had with the south end zone at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs waived Gay during the 2019 pre-season following the signing of current placekicker Ryan Succop. Lui’s gay career following his time in Tampa Bay has been much more successful as he has become a Pro-Bowler with the Los Angeles Rams.
Bucs Licht Not Dissuaded By Past Mistakes
Despite both of those draft disappointments, Licht took the swing on Camarda this past offseason. Camarda’s talents are many and varied. But he faced his fair share of struggles to begin the year. Through the first six weeks of the season, Camarda had posted a negative expected points added to punt in all but one game (week three vs. Green Bay). The crux of Camarda’s struggles came down to consistency.
In the vast majority of these games Camarda would post solid results for most of his attempts, only to be done in by a single poor punt. And much like the kickers drafted before him, when your job offers you very limited attempts per game, you cannot have an off attempt or two per game. It sinks your effectiveness.
But something has changed for the Bucs rookie specialist over the past four weeks. Over that time period
Camarda has posted positive epa/play in every game. Camarda posted at 0.0871 epa/punt over six punts in Charlotte against Carolina. This was followed by a 0.0346 mark over five punts at home against the Ravens on Thursday Night Football. Then came Camarda’s near historical performance against the Rams where Camarda averaged 0.847 per punt over six punts.
Bucs Rookie Has Been One Of The Best In The NFL
While he did not have much occasion to be used in week 10 against Seattle (only two punts), it did not stop Camarda from making the most of those opportunities. Camarda set a single-game personal best for epa/play while in Germany (1.11). Both of his attempts went well over 50 yards and prevented Seattle from attempting a return.
The first came on the Bucs opening drive when Camarda launched a 59-yarder from the Bucs 16 that went out of bounds at the Seattle 25. He followed that up with a 63-yarder in the second quarter from his own 7-yard line that Seahawks punt returner DeeJay Dallas called a fair catch for at the Seattle 30. While Camarda was known as a coffin-corner specialist coming out of Georgia, these two punts were two more examples that he can launch bombs when needed.
Camarda now ranks sixth in the NFL in EPA/Punt. With his newfound consistency over the past month-plus, Camarda is starting to prove his draft status. While many were shocked, confused, and downright upset that Licht and the Bucs selected him so high, the truth is getting a potential four-year starter on day three of the draft is a successful pick. And it is an especially successful pick if Camarda can continue his ascension into the upper echelons of the NFL’s punting ranks.