Moore: The biggest standout from Seahawks rookie minicamp? Punter Michael Dickson
Some fans think Rashaad Penny was the Seahawks’ best pick in the NFL draft, and I get it. He’s a first-rounder who should make an immediate impact with the running game.
Others think Shaquem Griffin was the best choice because of the storyline – he’s the first player in league history to be drafted with only one hand. But not only that, he’s a value pick in the fifth round, a kid who could become a starting weak-side linebacker in the next few years.
But if this were a poker game, I’d call your Penny and Griffin and raise you with Michael Dickson. The punter from Texas might be my favorite pick in franchise history, and I’m guessing when we analyze the 2018 class years from now, Dickson will turn out to be the top selection of all.
There are many reasons why I’m this sold on Dickson, though to be honest, I’d never heard of him until the NFL combine in March when the Seahawks asked him to see how long he could stare without blinking. The fact that he obliged not once, not twice but three times tells me something about this kid. What, I’m not sure, but a sports psychologist would no doubt tell you it’s a sign of something good.
Part of the fascination has to do with “football” guys downplaying the importance of punters and kickers because they’re not “football” players. I’d argue that they’re football players more than position players because they actually use their foot, or feet, to play the game. If there weren’t punters and kickers, what would they call it, the NBL for National Ball League?
I’d argue that punters and kickers are more important than a backup guard or third-string quarterback and just as important as some of the starters. If you don’t believe it, you will when your favorite team has a bad punter or bad kicker. When a punter has one go off the side of his foot or doesn’t get adequate hang time, you cringe when the other team gets good field position. I don’t have to tell you about the consequences from having a subpar kicker – you saw it with Blair Walsh last season.
When the Seahawks announced that they were picking Dickson with the 149th selection overall, I was shocked because they picked a punter for starters – usually football guys like general manager John Schneider feel like they can find punters off the street and don’t want to “waste” a draft choice on one.
Then you throw in the other factors, like that the punter they selected declared early for the draft – and for some reason, I find that amusing. Dickson could have returned to Texas for his senior season this year, but he decided to leave because there was nothing more he could prove as a punter apparently. To his way of thinking, he had reached the pinnacle of college football punting.
And since he was in such high demand, the Seahawks were so concerned that some other team might swoop in and take him before they did, Schneider traded up to get him. When was the last time a team traded up to pick a punter? I’m going to guess it’s never happened. (Editor’s note: Almost, Jim.)
While everyone else is reading about Penny and Griffin and maybe even third-round pass-rusher Rasheem Green from USC, I’m going to be reading everything I can find about Dickson. I know this – no one is talking about Penny and Griffin as being the best players at their respective positions in the last 10 years. With Dickson, that’s the case. Pro Football Focus gave him its highest punting grade ever and called him “the Aaron Donald of punters.”
Dickson’s from Australia and specializes in having an assortment of punts that he learned from being an Australian Rules Football player ion high school. He can do it all – at Seahawks’ rookie minicamp over the weekend, Dickson had an 80-yard punt and also drop-kicked a ball 60 yards through the uprights. Don’t call it a trick shot that won’t matter in an NFL game; it actually could.
From reading Bob Condotta’s Seahawks’ blog in the Seattle Times, I learned that if a player makes a fair catch on a kickoff or a kickoff after a safety, a player can legally take a chance at a field goal with a drop kick. In other words, Dickson is so good he doesn’t even need a holder.
After watching him at minicamp, Schneider said: “This guy does stuff with the ball that’s amazing.” And coach Pete Carroll said: “He does have an array of things he can do with the ball.”
John Clayton of 710 ESPN Seattle said the way that Dickson punts the ball could make it difficult for returners to catch it. I don’t know how that works exactly, but maybe the ball knuckles differently when it comes down than it does from other punters. It adds to the other-worldly punting lore of Michael Dickson.
At Texas last season, Dickson led the country with a 44.2-yard net average and 21 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. He was named the Texas Bowl MVP after 10 of his 11 punts were downed inside the 20.
Need more? OK, last month while wearing a black “Punters are People Too” T-shirt, Dickson threw a perfect ceremonial first pitch before the Baylor-Texas baseball game.
As far as I know, there are only two people who really didn’t like the pick – longtime Seahawks’ punter Jon Ryan and his wife, comedian Sarah Colonna, who after Dickson was drafted said she was going to stay off Twitter for the rest of the day.
Ryan is still with the Seahawks – Schneider and Carroll say it’s an open competition with Dickson, but everyone knows they’re going to go with the rookie unless he falls on his face. If they release Ryan, they’ll save $5 million against the salary cap the next two years. So they’ll not only save money but have a better punter to boot. To boot – get it? Never mind.
Dickson knows the “football” guys aren’t so sure about Schneider using a fifth-round pick on a punter, saying: “I’m going to do everything I can to make that pick worth it to the Seahawks. I’m going to work my butt off every day to make the organization proud that they chose me.”
Between now and the start of training camp in late July, all that’s left to do is come up with a nickname for Dickson. Am I soliciting suggestions? Heck yeah. An Aussie punter this good needs a nickname, doesn’t he? Something that rhymes with “mate?” Something with “Vegemite?” I don’t know, got any ideas?
Whatever it is, it’s bound to be better than the worst-case scenario. If it doesn’t work out, if Dickson turns out to be a novelty act instead of a reliable punter, he could be remembered as Schneider’s Down Under Blunder.