COLUMBUS, Ohio — You have to go back to 2005 to find that last time a specialist was drafted out of Ohio State, and a year earlier to find the last time that ex-Buckeye punter was picked by an NFL team.
Could Cam Johnston become the first Ohio State punter to be drafted since the Green Bay Packers selected B.J. Sander in the third round of the 2004 draft? We’re about to find out.
It appears unlikely, given that just three punters were selected a year ago and just one the year before. Complicating matters are Johnston’s status as a rugby-style punter, which hasn’t traditionally translated well to the next level.
Yet when it comes to pure talent, Johnston’s booming ability is apparent. And the fact that he was invited to the NFL combine shows that, at the very least, teams are willing to give the Australia native a shot to prove himself as a pro.
How did Johnston get to this point and what could lie ahead? Let’s take a look.
Johnston was a late addition to Ohio State’s famed 2013 class, after future Florida punter Johnny Townsend de-committed on National Signing Day.
“Go find your punter,” Urban Meyer had told Ohio State cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs. “I don’t care where you find him, go find your punter.”
Entering the summer without a scholarship punter on the roster, the Buckeyes searched the world — literally — before finding Johnston, then a 21-year-old Aussie Rules Football player. Ohio State had its reservations about bringing in a player without traditional football experience, but the risk was rewarded.
Ohio State career
A four-year starter, Johnston served as one of the Big Ten’s top punters for the entirety of his college career. In 2013, he led the Big Ten with an average of 44 yards per punt, a year before upping that average to 45.08 yards.
As a junior, Johnston’s average dropped to 43.33 yards per punt, second best in the Big Ten. In 2016, Johnston saved his best for last, averaging a career-high and Big Ten-best 46.68 yards per punt.
Johnston was a finalist for the 2016 Ray Guy Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top punter. Utah’s Mitch Wishnowsky won the honor.
What his coaches said
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer: “He’s really, really good at his job.”
Ohio State special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs: “I don’t know that there can be anybody better in the country at doing what he does.”
What draft experts are saying
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein: “Rugby-style kickers simply don’t translate well to the NFL because the league doesn’t employ that system, but Johnston has a shot. As a placement kicker, he has displayed decent hang time and a functional operational time to get rid of the kick.”
At this point, the expectation is for Johnston to go undrafted, which doesn’t mean much given the position he plays. But even as he attempts to prove he can kick in a more conventional manner, Johnston should get a shot with a team as an undrafted free agent. How he performs this summer will go a long way toward determining whether he will have a future in professional football.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller compares Johnston to New York Giants punter Brad Wing. After going undrafted in 2013, Wing caught on with the Philadelphia Eagles and has since enjoyed an NFL career that has also included stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers.