NFL DRAFT 2010: SPECIALISTS

Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin, widely considered the top specialist in the April 22-24 2010 NFL Draft, said the pressure of playing at an elite-level collegiate program may have helped prepare him to play professionally.

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Leigh Tiffin of Alabama Could be First Specialist Selected in 2010 NFL Draft

INDIANAPOLIS – As Leigh Tiffin sees it, he's as ready as possible.

Because as Tiffin and other elite-level college kickers see it, a major key for specialists – particularly for kickers – transitioning from college to professional football is an ability to perform in critical situations.

In the NFL, kicking is all about pressure – i.e., performing under it.

Tiffin played collegiately at Alabama.

So, yeah, he said, he knows a bit about pressure.

"I think a lot of guys that go to the NFL don't come from a high-pressure environment," Tiffin said during the NFL Scouting Combine, held in late February at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.

"They may come from a small school, they may come from a lot of different situations. I think I would be used to the pressure that you play under in the NFL. That's one thing that would help me. . . .

"I think you have such a passionate fan base, such an intense head coach (Nick Saban), so many things that are high pressure. I just don't see how it could be any more intense, you know?"

One thing on which many analysts and observers agree:

While this is a relatively normal season in that there aren't expected to be many kickers or punters selected in the NFL Draft, with none projected higher than the fourth or fifth round, Tiffin widely is projected to be the first of those players selected in the April 22-24 2010 NFL Draft.

With Tiffin projected as a sixth-round selection by many observers, Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey is considered by some a potential draft choice in the seventh round, with Hunter Lawrence of Texas also considered draftable by some analysts.

Pettrey said he doesn't expected to be drafted, but "I think I'll get a shot somewhere."

He also said he agrees with Tiffin, that playing at a high-profile school with extensive tradition in a large conference should only help the transition.

"There aren't too many places in the NFL you'll be playing in front of 105,000 except maybe Dallas," Pettrey said. "It's not going to be as loud and the fans might not be as crazy as they are in Columbus, or Michigan or big schools like Penn State and Michigan."

Tiffin, who said he expects the biggest college-professional adjustment to be becoming accustomed to the K-ball – the special kicking ball used in the NFL – is one of 5-to-10 kickers that some draft analysts have projected to be selected sometime Saturday in the draft's late rounds.

Tiffin, the son of former Crimson Tide kicker Van Tiffin, played 46 games collegiately, setting Alabama records with 385 points and 83 field goals. He made 30 of 34 field goals this past season, earning Associated Press All-American honors.

At 6-feet-1, 210 pounds, Tiffin has solid size for an NFL kicker, and many analysts say his combination of size and collegiate accuracy make him a solid prospect.

"I'm somewhere in the middle, between completely raw and technical," he said. "You got guys who are really natural and guys who are really technical. I'm probably somewhere in the middle."

While Tiffin is projected as perhaps the first kicker selected, Zoltan Mesko of Michigan is generally expected to be the first of 3-to-5 punters selected,

Mesko, whose family moved to America from Romania when he was 11, grew up playing soccer, but switched to football in the eighth grade.

"We were playing kickball in gym class," said Mesko, a left-footed punter who set a school record as a senior when he averaged 44.5 yards per punt. "I knocked one of the lights out. The gym teacher comes up and grabs my collar, he was the high school football coach.

"He said, 'You're either paying for that light or you're playing for me next year.'"

As much as a school record and being named All-American as a senior, Mesko said his biggest college honor was being voted captain as a senior.

"I was the first specialist in 130 years of Michigan football to be voted captain by his teammates," Mesko said. "That was probably my greatest honor this year. Even being an All-American punter and first-team academic All-American, there's nothing more rewarding than when your peers accept you for who you are and what you've become throughout the years."

And while Mesko – like Tiffin and Pettrey and most other draft-eligible specialists – have no guarantees on draft day, Mesko said being drafted early, late or not at all matters far less than getting an opunity to play in the NFL.

"Whatever happens, I will give it my all, whatever team takes a chance on me," Mesko said. "I appreciate them taking a chance on me. Nothing's for sure, even with the first-round guys. They can all flop. But one thing I can guarantee is 110 percent effort will be there from me.

"I've definitely been working on my sense of belonging. I've interviewed a lot of current NFL punters who were describing what it takes. I was like, 'I can do that.' I was checking off the list. With hard work anything can be accomplished."

BREAKING DOWN THE 2010 NFL DRAFT'S TOP SPECIALISTS
As is the case in most drafts, there are comparatively few kickers or punters expected to be selected in the April 22-24 2010 NFL Draft, with none projected higher than possibly the fourth round. Many analysts expect Leigh Tiffin of Alabama to be the first kicker selected – possibly around the fifth or sixth round – with Aaron Pettrey of Ohio State and Hunter Lawrence of Texas also possibilities. Zoltan Mesko of Michigan is projected as the first punter selected.

ON THE COLTS' ROSTER
K Adam Vinatieri, P Pat McAfee.

THE LAST FIVE
The last five specialists drafted by the Colts . . .

2009: Pat McAfee, P, seventh round, West Virginia.

2005: Dave Rayner, K, sixth round, Michigan State.

2004: David Kimball, K, seventh round, Penn State.

1999: Hunter Smith, P, seventh round, Notre Dame.

1982: Rohn Stark, P, second round, Florida State.

THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of 20 kickers/punters who some analysts believe could be selected in the 2010 NFL Draft . . .

Brent Bowden, Virginia Tech, P, 6-3, 197

Matt Dodge, East Carolina, P, 6-2, 223

Hunter Lawrence, Texas, K, 5-11, 184

Robert Malone, Fresno State, P, 6-2, 233

Zoltan Mesko, Michigan, P, 6-4, 235

Aaron Pettrey, Ohio State, K, 6-1, 198

Scott Ravanesi, Southern Illinois, P, 6-0, 195

Joshua Shene, Mississippi, K, 5-9, 167

Brett Swenson, Michigan State, K, 5-08, 173

Leigh Tiffin, Alabama, K, 6-1, 210

Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.

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