ATHENS — Jake Camarda might have been among the more overlooked heroes on the Georgia Bulldogs, but you can bet NFL teams have taken notice.
Drew Butler, a former UGA All-American punter and NFL veteran, says Camarda has exactly what NFL teams are looking for.
“I think Jake is an unreal NFL draft prospect,” said Butler, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers out of UGA in 2021 and enjoyed a 5-year NFL career.
“Everyone knows Jake has a big leg, he has gotten more explosive and more consistent throughout his career, and then you add in that he’s an elite kickoff guy.”
Indeed, of Camarda’s 102 kickoffs, 71 were touchbacks and another 16 were fair caught.
Camarda, recently ranked a sixth-round 2022 NFL Draft pick by ESPN at No. 228 overall — one spot behind Orange Bowl Defensive MVP teammate Derion Kendrick — also stunned onlookers at the NFL Combine.
Punters and kickers don’t typically show up among the leaders in combine drills, but Camarda ran a blazing 4.56-second time in the 40-yard dash that proved faster than Notre Dame safety and first-round projection Kyle Hamilton.
This is the same Jake Camarda who stunned teammates at a charity camp by jumping in the basketball dunk line and throwing a slam down himself.
Camarda’s athleticism is as undeniable as his punting skills, which left a mark in the UGA history books as he averaged 45.78 yards per punt over the course of his career, bypassing Butler’s 45.4 mark.
More important than any individual record, Camarda came through when it mattered most in Georgia’s drive for the CFP Championship Game.
Eighteen of Camarda’s 19 kickoffs in the postseason went for touchbacks, and none were returned, eliminating the prospect of momentum-changing special teams plays from Alabama and Michigan.
Camarda dropped three of four punts against the Tide inside the 20 in the SEC title game, and the other one was a touchback.
“You think about how Jake kicked in the SEC Championship Game and the postseason, and his leg looked like a jugs machine, he was booming the football,” Butler said.
“Those were high-pressure moments in big atmospheres, and he elevated his game. That’s where NFL punters gain value.”
Camarda set that tone from the onset of the 2021 season, with four of his five punts inside the Clemson 20 in the 10-3 game.
The Tigers started their drives after Camarda’s punts at their own 10, 2, 15, 13 and 25.
“I don’t know if there’s something on how to play in those moments,” Camarda said, shrugging off his greatness under pressure.
“We have really tough practices. One of the things we try to remind ourselves of is that practice is going to be harder than the game. I think with how Coach (Kirby) Smart runs practices, it really prepares us for the games”
Kirby’s confidence in Camarda
Smart sets high standards for special teams, no doubt.
“We come in this (meeting) room and sit here and say, ‘Okay Camarda, what is your percentage downed inside the 20?’ " Smart said. “And our goal is for him to hit is around 70 percent. Since he’s been here in his career, he’s batting about 75-80 percent.”
Smart has carried great faith in Camarda through the Norcross product’s career, starting him as a freshman, and allowing him to run on a fake field goal in the 26-14 Sugar Bowl win over Baylor.
The Bulldogs were up 19-7 in the second quarter at the Bears’ 19-yard line when Camarda took the snap to hold for Rodrigo Blankenship, and suddenly sprung up to run with the ball.
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Camarda used his 4.5-second speed to get behind the lead blocks of former UGA tight ends Eli Wolf and Charlie Woerner and gained 6 yards, sustaining what would be a touchdown drive.
Projecting the future
Butler doesn’t just think Camarda will be drafted; he also believes he’ll stay in the local market.
“The Falcons might need a punter, and that could be a perfect landing spot for Jake,” Butler said. “If that happens, he’ll be there for a long time.”
ProFootballNetwork.com agrees with Butler’s assessment:
“Camarda’s scouting report reveals a player who is at the peak of his position and primed for a long, professional career.”
ProFootballNetwork.com has Camarda ranked No. 241 among all draftable players and No. 1 among special teams targets.