XFL long snappers no NFL long shots

Christian Kuntz
Christian Kuntz, former 2020 XFL Dallas Renegade

Three long snappers from XFL 2020 made opening day rosters for the NFL in 2021: Nick Moore of the Tampa Bay Vipers (Baltimore Ravens); Scott Daly of the New York Guardians (Detroit Lions); and Christian Kuntz of the Dallas Renegades (Pittsburgh Steelers). All three unseated longtime incumbents at the position: Kuntz beat out Kameron Canaday, who had snapped in Pittsburgh for four years; Morgan Cox had been Baltimore’s snapper for 11 years before  Moore took over; and Don Muhlbach, a 17-year vet of the Lions, lost out to Daly.

That number nearly increased by one, as former D.C. Defender Brian Khoury took all of New England’s long snaps in the preseason due to an injury to starter Joe Cardona. Cardona made it back in time for the start of the regular season, forcing Khoury into free agency. He was a popular player on the workout circuit early in the season, and with COVID-19 once again ravaging NFL rosters, we could be at 50% of XFL long snappers on NFL rosters by the time the playoffs roll around.

For now though, that’s 37.5% of XFL long snappers who made NFL rosters, an oddity of a stat, but perhaps not all that shocking. “I’m not that surprised that a few of the XFL snappers have gotten NFL shots,” Kevin Gold of longsnap.com, a blog dedicated to long snapping, told me. “Sometimes it takes a few years to find the right spot at the right time…the XFL allowed snappers to show they can do it consistently at the pro level.”

Christian Kuntz made it in the NFL as a long snapper, but in college, he was a fierce linebacker at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He won numerous awards playing at the FCS level, parlaying his talent into a free-agent contract with New England following the 2017 NFL Draft.

While Kuntz was the backup long snapper at Duquesne, he didn’t turn his attention full-time to that position until after being dropped by the Patriots. According to Kuntz, it was the suggestion of a Green Bay Packers coach during a workout that led to his decision to focus more on long snapping.

Over the next year, Kuntz earned looks at that spot with the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Pittsburgh Steelers, making it to final cuts with his hometown team in 2019, at times still balancing long snapping with playing linebacker. “Kuntz is a good example of what some teams want in a snapper, which is someone who can both snap and cover and has a linebacker-type body frame,” said Gold.

A former teammate is in agreement with Gold: the player Kuntz snapped to with the Renegades, punter Drew Galitz. “Not a lot of guys can snap and be athletic but Christian can do both at the highest level,” Galitz told me. “I knew from day one he’d make it (in the NFL). He has a tremendous work ethic and has been perfecting his craft for a very long time. It’s all about timing when it comes to our position as specialists.”

Kuntz’s snapping work in the preseason of 2019 got him noticed by Dallas Renegades Director of Player Personnel Darryl Johnston, who recommended him to Kenny Perry, the Renegades coach in charge of special teams. What gave Kuntz a leg-up in his battle with Owen Gilbert was that coverage ability, honed from his time at linebacker.

Kuntz was signed again by the Steelers following the closure of the XFL in 2020. Once again he didn’t stick and bounced around the league earning practice squad time and tryouts during the season. He signed a reserve/futures contract with Pittsburgh in January of 2021 and in camp, surprised fans and analysts alike by out-dueling Canaday for the starting job. It was his consistency, per longtime NFL assistant and Steelers Special Teams coach Danny Smith, that earned Kuntz the roster spot: “His ball is the same ball…he’s very consistent in his snaps, in his location.”

Long snapping is a combination of art and science that is difficult for armchair football fans to analyze. Most long snappers and their snaps appear the same to the viewer at home, so what do coaches and scouts look for when two players are competing for a job in camp?

“At the NFL level, there are standards for size and snapping times,” Gold told me. “Most teams want a snapper to be 6’2″, 245 (pounds) and snap in the .75 (second) range on punts, although the top guys are usually .68-.72 from about 15 yards out on punts.” In other words: If you want to scout long snappers from the comfort of your own home, make sure to get out your stopwatches.

In addition to timing, accuracy is also key. “Snapping accurately and consistently with a tight spiral is the most important trait, and getting the ball to the exact same spot the punter wants it and getting the laces out on short snaps for FG/XP are the critical factors,” said Gold.

“Consistency” is a descriptor echoed by Galitz. “From my perspective, the most important thing for a snapper, or any specialist, is consistency and having a certain mentality,” he said. “Whether it’s kicking, punting, or snapping, coaches want a guy who is consistent on the field, day in and day out, as well as having that ‘winning’ mindset.”

LS Nick Moore - Baltimore Ravens
LS Nick Moore. Baltimore Ravens.

Nick Moore not only took a circuitous route to the NFL, but to the sport of football. He was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 30th round of the MLB Draft in 2011 and played four years in their minor league system as a third baseman. He managed to hit .211 in 653 career at-bats before being released in April of 2015. “Moore may have the best story of all,” said Gold of Moore’s baseball beginnings.

That same year, Moore joined the University of Georgia football team, playing in two games as a 22 year-old freshman. His only full season as a long snapper came as a senior in 2018. Moore signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent in 2019 to compete with Zach Wood. Wood eventually won the job and Moore was cut.

The Tampa Bay Vipers came calling during the Open Phase of the 2019 XFL Draft. He went to training camp as the only snapper on Tampa’s roster. Moore was a hot commodity after the league shut down and players were released from their contracts as he was one of the first players to sign, ending up in Baltimore. While Moore didn’t win the job during the preseason, he did earn a valuable spot on the team’s practice squad. He was often one of the Ravens’ weekly practice squad protections, which prevented another team from signing him to their active roster that week.

At the conclusion of the 2020 NFL season, the Ravens announced that Morgan Cox would not return to the team in 2021. That left Moore, having signed to the team’s offseason roster, uncontested for the long snapper position. He gave Baltimore and their head coach, former Special Teams Coordinator John Harbaugh, no reason to add competition.

There’s more to snapping than just accuracy and timing. There’s also blocking and covering. “At the pro level, unlike college, the snapper has to block,” noted Gold. “Most college snappers don’t have to block so they snap the ball and have a free release downfield in coverage. In pro style punt formations, snappers must block and protect, so that ability separates the good college guys from the ones that make it in the pros.”

Scott Daly Guardians
Scott Daly – 2020 New York Guardians

Scott Daly had perhaps the biggest uphill battle in 2021, facing a Lions legend in Don Muhlbach. Muhlbach was so well-respected within the organization that the ownership put out a statement thanking him for his service to the team after he was released. Soon after, he was hired as a special assistant to the team president.

Daly was the top ranked long snapper in high school according to Rubio Long Snapping and committed to Notre Dame. He was perfect on every snap with the Fighting Irish charted by the team site. Daly’s pedigree and collegiate accolades weren’t enough to get him drafted. He spent a summer with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018, then joined the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football the next year.

Following the demise of the AAF, Daly was drafted by the New York Guardians of the XFL. Like with the AAF, the XFL failed to make it through an entire season, leaving Daly once again looking for work. He kept his football dream alive even while putting his Notre Dame degree to work as a financial advisor at Wells Fargo. “Daly was really persistent and never gave up, and is doing well in Detroit,” said Gold.

In April of this year, the Lions came calling. And with a new head coach in Dan Campbell, everyone had a clean slate. Dally earned the spot, and was lauded by one of his new battery-mates, Lions punter Jack Fox (himself an XFL draft pick of the St. Louis BattleHawks). “He snaps a really smooth ball, a really smooth spiral, and he works really hard. He works really hard in protection and is just trying to do the right things.”

From a player’s point-of-view, the relationship between the punter (also usually the holder), kicker, and snapper is vital. “It’s the most important,” said Galitz of that bond. “As a punter, you must have confidence in your snapper because he’s the one getting you the ball. My job depends on him. You spend 100% of your time around your snapper and kicker at practice, so getting good, quality reps is what matters. You must have a good relationship with your guys or it will affect your play on the field. Christian made my job easy.”

Like with any position, these long snappers are in a constant battle to prove themselves, against competition either real or theoretical. For now, however, they are joined together as part of a fraternity of XFL graduates holding down the most anonymous, and thankless, position at the highest level of football.

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