The Observer’s top 5 specialists available in the 2017 NFL draft:
1. Zane Gonzalez
College: Arizona State
Ht.: 6-foot-1. Wt.: 190.
Projected round: Fourth.
Comment: Gonzalez is the reigning Lou Groza award winner for the nation’s best college kicker and a unanimous All-American. He specializes in kicks over 50 yards, making seven of nine attempts from 50-plus yards in 2016.
2. Austin Rehkow
Ht.: 6-foot-3. Wt.: 214.
Projected round: Fifth.
Comment: Rehkow was a Lou Groza finalist as well as a Ray Guy finalist for the nation’s best college punter – and his skill as a punter combined with his solid kicking ability boosts his stock as a two-for-one pickup.
3. Jake Elliot
Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 176.
Projected round: Sixth.
Comment: Elliot never missed an extra point in college (out of 144 attempts). While he missed five field goals on 26 attempts in 2016, his strength is in the 40-yard range (10/12).
4. Matt Davis
College: UNC Pembroke.
Ht.: 6-foot-1. Wt.: 190.
Projected round: Sixth/Seventh.
Comment: Davis is a relatively unknown name since he comes from a Division II school, but he’s an All-American who hit 27 of 32 field-goal attempts last season with a 58-yard long.
5. Adam Griffith
Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 192.
Projected round: UDFA.
Comment: Adam Griffith was the top kicking prospect in the country in high school and followed that up with a solid career at Alabama. He is extremely accurate in short- to mid-range distances but hit just three of seven attempts from 40 to 49 yards last season with a 48-yard long.
Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed eight field goals last season, a career-high with Carolina – but he also suffered a broken bone in his foot that he played through for the latter third of the season. Head coach Ron Rivera said at the end of the season that the team would look to bring in competition for Gano, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will draft a kicker. There will be plenty of solid options available to the Panthers for minicamp workouts and UDFA acquisitions. Additionally, NFL reporter Aaron Wilson recently reported that the team recently worked out Davis.
Backup punter Michael Palardy recently signed his tender and starter Andy Lee has recovered fully from a hamstring injury in November that ultimately sent him to Injured Reserve, so Carolina likely won’t look for a punter in this draft.
Davis is a North Carolina native, and there are a few Carolinas-college products in this draft class including North Carolina’s Nick Weiler (also a very good sleeper pick) and South Carolina’s Elliot Fry.
Conrad Ukropina, a kicker from Stanford, was a former walk-on that earned a scholarship with the team in the midst of an All-Pac-12 honorable mention campaign. He is still honing his skill as a kicker but set school records for consecutive extra point makes (108) and for career field goal percentage (82.4).