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Revisiting the value of long snappers ahead of this week’s draft

With 8 long snappers having been drafted since 2015, there’s a good chance we see another one selected by an NFL team on Saturday

NFL: Washington Commanders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Long Snappers

It’s not often that a given NFL team needs a long-snapper. That’s because a good one typically plays for 9-12 seasons, and they often stay in one place for a long time. The Commanders currently have a 24-year-old long-snapper, Cameron Cheeseman, who is a 3rd year player; the guy who had the job before him was Nick Sundberg, who spent 11 seasons in Washington (2010-2020).

Washington fans, more than fans of any other team in the NFL, have a reason to celebrate the LS position. While every team in the NFL has a specialized long snapper now, it wasn’t always that way. The trend was born on the Washington Redskins in 1971, when head coach and general manager George Allen made George Burman the first modern long snapper— someone whose roster spot was based on the long snap, and not other positions.

My interest in the long-snapper position

Personally, I hadn’t always found the long-snapper position to be an interesting one. My interest dates to the time when Sundberg was injured in 2018, and the team gave a contract to Andrew East, who filled in until the end of the season. During the subsequent offseason, I wrote an article that explored the question of whether the Redskins should take the opportunity to move on from Sundberg, who was having back problems, in favor of East, who was 4 years younger and $450,000 cheaper than the incumbent.

The team ultimately decided to stick with Nick, but he continued to struggle with health, and needed offseason surgery that may have played a part in Ron Rivera making the decision not to extend Sundberg after the ‘20 season.

My interest in Cameron Cheeseman

I had written an article in 2017 that highlighted Nick Sundberg along with the kicker and punter, Dustin Hopkins and Tress Way. In the 2021 offseason, I became intrigued with the question of who would replace Sundberg as the team’s long-snapper, so I did some research and wrote an article titled, “Camaron Cheeseman: top target as Washington’s next long snapper?

I closed that April 2021 article with these words:

It seems like there’s a good chance that Cameron Cheeseman could be on the field for the next decade or more as the Washington long snapper, and may be the franchise’s future longest-tenured player of 2032.

The only thing I really got wrong was that I predicted that Ron Rivera would use a 7th round pick to get Cheeseman; in reality, he used a 6th round selection.

The importance of long snappers

Because Cheeseman will likely be the long snapper for the Washington franchise until the new stadium is 4 or 5 years old, we don’t really need to worry about the state of the long-snapper market in 2023, but as we approach the draft, it seemed like a good time to revisit the importance of the position, and why teams invest draft picks into acquiring the best long-snapper available.

First, a long-snapper is actually an important role player on any NFL team, and getting the guy you want locks down a roster spot for the next decade. Some fans ask why teams “waste” a spot on the LS instead of just having the normal center do the job.

One reason why this isn’t a good idea is that a long-snapper is not an offensive lineman as much as he is a coverage man on the punting unit. Remember that, after he snaps the ball and secures his block, the long snapper sprints 30 or 40 yards downfield and helps corral the punt returner or down the loose ball. This is not a 300-pound big-ugly; a long snapper usually has the build of a linebacker. The prototypical LS is between 6’2” and 6’4” and weighs around 245 pounds.

Okay, so if we don’t give the job to an offensive lineman, why not save a roster spot by giving the long-snapping duties to a linebacker? Well, there is a clear practical reasons why all 32 NFL teams devote a roster spot to the LS position. Everyone is on the field(s) practicing at the same time. While the offense and defense are practicing their skills, the punter and kicker are practicing theirs. Imagine the logistical issue if coaches had to choose between having Khaleke Hudson working with the defense as a linebacker or the special teams guys as a long-snapper.

Second, the long snapper is a critical part of punts, extra points and field goals. Only two guys on the punt team are guaranteed to touch the ball on every punt — the punter and the long-snapper. Likewise, the LS is one of the three people who will contact the ball on field goals and extra point attempts. The mechanics of the FG & PAT are critical to success in the NFL. A ball that reaches the holder (the punter) 8 inches to high, too low, too far inside or too far outside can result in a missed scoring opportunity.

Fans tend to always blame the kicker for a miss, but there are three people involved in the operation, which has to be executed with precision placement and timing in every type of weather and all field conditions. Having a guy who can mesh with the other two specialists, perform consistently, and avoid injury is critical.

On field goals and extra points, the snap should reach Tress Way’s hands with the laces already pointing straight up. This saves the holder the split-second adjustment of spinning the ball around to put the laces out, which gives the kicker a split-second longer to see the ball upon his approach.

Look at the list of the highest scorers in the NFL and you’ll see a long list of placekickers. FGs and PATs are critical to winning football games, and the long snapper is critical to the kicking game.

The reality of life as a long snapper is that you’re only noticed when you make a mistake. The only statistic that matters is the number of snaps that sail over a punter’s head.

The Commanders are set

I learned this from reading what MattinBrisVegas writes:

Round 6 & 7 picks have less than 5% chance of turning up a starter. Most of the guys you pick late on Day 3 will not make it in the NFL regardless of which position you choose.

Two years ago, the Commanders made great use of a 6th round pick acquired in a trade back (5th round pick traded for a 6th & a 7th) to select Cheeseman, who was the 2nd LS selected in the ‘21 draft, but the better of the two players.

Thomas Fletcher, who was drafted ahead of Cheeseman by the Carolina Panthers, suffered an injury prior to his rookie season and never played a down in the NFL; he is now playing for the Seattle Sea Dragons in the XFL.

Cameron Cheeseman, having reached his third season as an NFL long-snapper, is likely to play for Washington for another 7 to 10 seasons, meaning the Commanders are set at LS until sometime in the 2030s.

But some teams need long snappers in 2023

Although NFL teams drafting long-snappers isn’t that common, it’s also not unheard of. In fact, there have been eight long snappers drafted since 2015:

  • 2015: Joe Cardona, New England Patriots, fifth round (166th overall)
  • 2016: Jimmy Landes, Detroit Lions, sixth round (210th)
  • 2017: Colin Holba, Pittsburgh Steelers, sixth round (213th)
  • 2018: Hunter Bradley, Green Bay Packers, seventh round (239th)
  • 2019: Austin Cutting, Minnesota Vikings, seventh round (250th)
  • 2020: Blake Ferguson, Miami Dolphins, sixth round (185th)
  • 2021: Thomas Fletcher, Carolina Panthers, sixth round (222nd); Cameron Cheeseman, Washington Football Team, sixth round (225th)

I haven’t made a study of which teams need a long-snapper and are likely to draft one this week, but at least one college long-snapper thinks there’s a market. UCLA Football Long Snapper Jack Landherr IV recently declared for the NFL Draft, forgoing his final year of eligibility in favor of turning pro. Unless he’s getting very bad advice, it seems reasonable that to think there are teams that may be looking to add a LS to the roster.

BNB football is the site that I used in 2021 to identify Cameron Cheeseman as the right guy for the Washington front office to target as Sundberg’s replacement. Interestingly, they rank Landerr (the UCLA LS) #6 in their top-25 at a position where only the top one or two guys have any real chance of getting drafted, but where a half-dozen or so (at the most) could get signed, with most of those joining training camps as undrafted college free agents.

Top-five long snappers in the 2023 draft

Here’s what BNB Football has to say about the top-5 LS NFL draft prospects for ‘23:

1. Alex Ward, LS, UCF

Alex Ward has been on the NFL draft radar for a few years, and is in the best position to be drafted. The 6’4” 240 pound 6th year senior was the only long snapper invited to the NFL Combine this year, and had a good performance as one of two snappers at the Senior Bowl. He was one of three finalists for the Patrick Mannelly Award each of the last two seasons, given annually to the nation’s best long snapper. Through his four years as a long snapper he was credited with no botched snaps, while displaying ideal snap speed and consistent placement. Ward is fairly active in coverage and has plus-character.

2. Chris Stoll, LS, Penn State

Chris Stoll was the winner of the Patrick Mannelly Award, named a team captain, and earned the Big Ten sportsmanship award as a 6th year senior in 2022. Stoll is a consistent 4 year starter with good size at 6’2” 255 pounds, and is respected as a leader in the locker room. He was a consistent part of Penn State’s successful special teams group, offering above average snap speed and great placement on deep and short snaps. He should be able to step in and help a team from day 1.

3. Robert Soderholm III, LS, VMI

Robert Soderholm III is an impressive athlete at the long snapper position who started all 5 years at Virginia Military Institute (D1 FCS). He participated in the Senior Bowl and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and took the opportunity to really showcase his strength and toughness. The FCS All-American has impressive power in his blocking, and finds work in punt coverage. He can power clean 405+ pounds, do 20+ reps of 225, and is probably the most physically impressive member of the long snapper draft class. His snap speed and placement are good enough for the NFL, and his additional traits and experience will help him stand out from other prospects.

4. Matt Hembrough, LS, Oklahoma State

Matt Hembrough of Oklahoma State was the final of the 3 Patrick Mannelly Award finalists, and was one of two snappers to participate in the East-West Shrine Game. Hembrough has received All-America recognition multiple times in his 6 year career, and started for 4 seasons. At 6’3” 220 pounds he has good length with a fairly narrow frame, while being very active generating tackles as part of the coverage unit. He’s been credited with 0 botched snaps in his career, and offers the placement, snap speed, and character expected from an NFL long snapper.

5. Bradley Robinson, LS, Ohio State

Bradley Robinson is a 7th year long snapper who just finished his 3rd year starting for Ohio State. He’s coming off a season ending knee injury, but is expected to be fully healthy before the start of training camp. Robinson has a strong build with a quick snap speed and consistent accuracy. He was integral to a successful Ohio State kicking game, and has performed without issue in some high-pressure scenarios. He comes from a long snapping family, and has been credited with 0 botched snaps in his career.

If you’re looking for a different kind of bet to place in an effort to keep the later rounds of the draft interesting, now you should know enough to place an educated wager on which draft-eligible long snapper(s) — Alex Ward — will hear his name called on Saturday. If you place your bet and hear his name called, you’ll have something to celebrate while everyone else is just trying to stay awake until the end.