The Patriots need a new punter after giving Jake Bailey the boot Friday afternoon. The odds of them targeting one in the 2023 NFL Draft are high.
New England’s coaches surely will spend the next several weeks evaluating potential replacements, but a cursory glance at this year’s draft class yields one obvious fit: Rutgers’ Adam Korsak.
In addition to playing for one of Bill Belichick’s favorite programs, Korsak won the Ray Guy Award this past season as the best punter in college football and put up what qualify as video-game numbers for a player at his position.
According to his official Rutgers football bio, the 25-year-old Australian this season:
— Led the nation in punts that pinned the opponent inside its own 20-yard line (32)
— Ranked third in the nation in net punting average (43.57 yards)
— Recorded just two touchbacks on 75 punts and once held a streak of 150 consecutive punts without one that spanned parts of four seasons
— Had 14 punts that traveled 50-plus yards, including on 77-yarder
— Held opponents to a seemingly impossible -11 punt-return yards all season (yes, that’s minus-11 total return yards on 75 punts), with just one return gaining positive yardage
— Became the all-time NCAA leader in career punts and punting yards after helping the Scarlet Knights set the NCAA record for net punting in 2021
Korsak also checks a few other Patriots boxes as a three-year captain who played in the Senior Bowl — a game that’s produced an average of more than three New England draft picks per year since 2008. His head coach at Rutgers, Greg Schiano, is a longtime friend of Bill Belichick, and he had this to say about Korsak last offseason:
“He’s the best I’ve ever coached. I’ll tell you he is phenomenal. He’s good at every part of his job. Whether it’s pooch punting, booming the ball, ripping it to roll — he can do it all. And he’s a special player, a special young man.”
NESN.com’s first 2023 Patriots mock draft, released earlier this week, had New England taking Korsak in the sixth round.
After releasing the struggling Bailey, whom they signed to a contract extension just seven months earlier, the Patriots no longer have any punters under contract for the 2023 season. Michael Palardy, who replaced Bailey after the latter landed on injured reserve in November, is an impending free agent.
Bailey’s release capped a stunning fall for a player who was a first-team All-Pro just two years ago. But the 2019 fifth-round draft pick ranked last in the NFL in both yards per punt and net punting average this season and received a rare team-imposed suspension, over which his camp filed a grievance.
The Patriots hinted at potential changes to their specialist group when they included special teams coordinator Cam Achord and special teams assistant Joe Houston in the small collection of coaches they sent to the NFL Scouting Combine. Joe Judge, who has a background in special teams, also attended.
Korsak was one of five punters invited to Indianapolis, joining Michigan State’s Bryce Baringer, Tennessee’s Paxton Brooks, Michigan’s Brad Robbins and Oklahoma’s Michael Turk.
New England also could experience turnover at kicker and long snapper this offseason, as Nick Folk is 38 years old and Joe Cardona is set to hit free agency.
The NFL draft begins Thursday, April 28. If the Patriots want to add a veteran punter to take Bailey’s spot on the roster, they can do so once free agency opens on Wednesday.