Quinn Sharp, the only three-time All-American in the history of the Oklahoma State football program, is confident he will have an opportunity to make an NFL team as a rookie this season.
But whether the Mansfield Summit graduate, who earned national acclaim as a kicker and punter in his college career, gets to training camp as an NFL draftee or a free agent is a question that puzzles Sharp (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and NFL draft analysts. He projects as a sixth- or seventh-round pick and is rated as the second-best punter available by NFL Draft Scout.com, behind UCLA’s Jeff Locke.
Sharp said he would prefer to be an NFL kicker, rather than punter, if given his choice of positions. But he understands his versatility is his greatest strength in a league where most decisions involving special-teams personnel are governed by salary-cap considerations.
That is why Sharp, who earned first-team honors at kicker and punter on the 2011 and 2012 All-Big 12 squads, stands as one of the ultimate “tweeners” among candidates from Big 12 and area schools heading into the NFL Draft. Not only could he fall anywhere from the fourth round to unselected, based on feedback Sharp has received from NFL scouts, he is not sure how his future employer would prefer to use him.
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Sharp averaged a school-record 46.3 yards per punt in each of his final two seasons at OSU and converted 84.7 percent of his career field-goal opportunities (50-of-59). On kickoffs, he led the nation in touchbacks for four consecutive seasons (70 percent for his career), including a staggering 75 as a senior.
In each of his final three seasons in college, he was selected as an All-America kicker, punter or both. That’s a unique skill set, one that has earned Sharp a trip to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine — as well as private workouts with scouts from Miami and Seattle — to showcase his talents. But Sharp understands the reality of his situation.
“Kickers are few and far between in the draft. Not a lot of us are taken,” Sharp said in a recent phone interview. “I won’t mind being a free agent, if that’s what happens. But my goal is for me to go between the fourth and sixth rounds. That would be really good. I don’t see anyone going higher than the third round [among kickers].”
Since 1999, only eight kickers or punters have been taken among the top 100 picks in any NFL Draft. Included is Jacksonville punter Bryan Anger, taken with a third-round pick (No. 70 overall) last year. Only four times in NFL history have teams used a first-round pick on a kicker or punter and it has not happened since 2000, when the Raiders selected kicker Sebastian Janikowski with the 17th pick.
But in terms of a combo package, the closest comparison to Sharp could be former Texas kicker/punter Russell Erxleben, a first-round selection by New Orleans (No. 11 overall) in 1979. The Saints envisioned saving a roster spot by having Erxleben handle both duties, but he struggled making the transition from kicking field goals off a tee in college (legal at the time) to kicking off the ground in the NFL.
At this point, Sharp said he has not received any indication from an NFL team that his stock will be significantly elevated because of his potential to handle both duties. But his versatility is an asset.
“I think I bring a lot to the table when it comes to that. That should work to my advantage,” Sharp said.
Yet he’s made it clear to NFL teams that he “definitely” wants to kick, rather than punt, at the next level.
“I wouldn’t mind being a punter, but I need to shore up some things to be a punter at the NFL level,” Sharp said. “My style is a little unorthodox for a punter.”
Sharp also has a unique hairstyle, although his signature long locks are destined to meet a pair of scissors in the name of charity in the near future.
“I’m still growing it out. I’ve been growing it out for so long now, I’m going to end up donating it,” said Sharp, who plans to give his hair to Wigs for Kids to benefit children who have lost their hair while undergoing cancer treatments. “That wasn’t my goal all along. I had long hair in high school. I didn’t think I looked that goofy with it, so I kept it going. But now, it’s time to donate it.”
Soon, it will be time for Sharp to head to an NFL training camp. By the end of next weekend, he’ll know if he’s headed there as a draftee or a free agent.