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DENVER — Ryan Stonehouse is the best NFL prospect that nobody seems to be talking about.
Colorado State’s starting punter from 2017-2021, Stonehouse leaves Fort Collins as one of the most decorated individuals to ever play the position collegiately. His career average of 47.8 yards per punt is an NCAA FBS record. And he’s coming off of a banner season in which he set a program record with an average of 50.9 yards per punt in 2021 — a career-high for Stonehouse.
In 2020 Stonehouse became the first punter in Mountain West history to be named first-team all-conference in three consecutive seasons (2018-2020). Had it not been for a breakout year by Matt Araiza, Stonehouse would have made it four straight in 2021, but he ended up being named second-team All-MW despite having one of the best seasons of his career.
Out of Stonehouse’s 244 punts over his five years at CSU, 106 of them went 50 or more yards (43.4%), 90 were placed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (36.8%), 42 were fair caught (17.2%) and just 32 went for touchbacks (13.1%).
His ability to not only flip the field with a big, booming punt, but also bury opponents with his accuracy would make him a legitimate weapon for any team at the next level. So, why isn’t Stonehouse getting the same attention as guys like Araiza?
Don’t get me wrong — Araiza is an incredibly talented specialist — being San Diego State’s starting kicker and punter last fall was pretty impressive. His numbers were great in 2021 as well, so the hype is justified.
The thing is — what Araiza did this past season as a punter — is what Stonehouse has been doing for half a decade now. Yet for some reason, Stonehouse did not receive an invitation to the NFL Combine, while Araiza did.
Again, the point of this is not to take shots at Araiza, Jake Camarda (Georgia), or any of the other punters that got a chance to show off their skills in Indianapolis, Indi. last month. Logically, though, how do you justify picking them over the FBS’ all-time leader in yards per punt? It just doesn’t make sense.
Following CSU’s Pro Day last week, Stonehouse was honest when asked if he was surprised about not getting invited to the NFL Combine. “Yeah, for sure. I think a lot of people were disappointed to not see me there.”
Stonehouse also explained that it’s just more fuel for his fire, though.
“I use it. It’s like a chip,” Stonehouse said. “I’ve always carried a chip on my shoulder, ever since I was in high school.”
Stonehouse continued, explaining that Mike Bobo gave him a shot to prove himself out of high school when many other programs would not. Ever since that moment, since getting his opportunity, Stonehouse has used his skeptics as added motivation. And he believes at least to a degree, it’s played a factor in his success to this point.
While not getting a chance to shine at the combine was definitely a bummer for ‘Stoney’, and for the Ram fans that wanted to cheer him on, the silver lining is that he performed well at the East-West Shrine Game and got what he needed out of CSU’s Pro Day. Really, all he can do now is try to perform well during his private workouts with NFL teams and just keep faith in his process.
Unlike other positions, where teams try to stockpile as many bodies as possible, there is typically only going to be one punter on the active roster at any given time. Additionally, when NFL teams get good punters, they tend to stick around a long time. So, the difficult thing for specialists is just remaining patient until they get their opportunity and then taking advantage of it when it comes. None of this is news to Stonehouse, though.
“I think you’ve gotta keep a level head through it all. And I think that’s kind of what today represents is like, you know, you’ve put all this work in. And yeah, this is an important day. But there are so many more days that are coming that it’s like, okay, this is one check. Let’s keep going… There’s a lot of pressure but I think at the same time, that’s how you manage this stuff is keeping a level head consistently throughout.”
Stonehouse said at CSU’s Pro Day that he already had meetings lined up with the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans, though he did not specify when exactly they would be. He obviously hopes to be drafted at some point during the three-day event but also recognizes that there are many paths to the league. So, really, he just wants to keep an open mind.
“A lot of things happen within the draft,” Stonehouse said. “Deals are cut before the draft even happens, and especially for punters and kickers, it’s a different draft day. There’s some teams that are like, hey, we want you right after the drive is over (and) that’s before the draft even starts. They know they’re not going to draft a punter.”
So what can he do other than wait it out? Be as informed as possible. Stonehouse emphasized the importance of recognizing the roster situation for various teams and whether they’re realistically going to be in the market for a new specialist or not. That way if he doesn’t end up getting drafted, he’ll at least have an idea of where he may end up signing.
The path to the NFL tends to be different for everyone but nobody more so than specialists. Because of this it’s tough to say whether Stonehouse will be on an NFL roster next fall or not. If he does come up short, though, it certainly won’t be for a lack of talent. The process can just be wonky.
What I will say — as someone that invests far too much of his time consuming this sport — is that the ball just sounds and looks differently coming off of Stonehouse’s foot than it does with other punters. Who knows what exactly that will mean to NFL scouts but there are very few punters I’ve ever seen that can compare to Stonehouse.
Hopefully he’ll get a chance to show at the next level what Ram Nation was fortunate enough to watch for the last five seasons. And at the very least, it’s about damn time people start showing Stonehouse the respect that he deserves.