AROUND THE NFL

The Highs and Lows of Being a Kicker in the NFL

NFL kickers are hard to judge. They’re usually good or really bad and much to their fans’ dismay, they do play an important role in their teams’ success.

Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs

Recent History

On Draft Night, teams often look ridiculous if they “waste” a pick in the first, second or third round on a Kicker. Even with a great resume in college or international, it’s still taking a risk. There’s a reason why it’s rarely happened in the span of a decade, and it’s not just because there are far better-skilled position players available at the time.

Only seven kickers have been drafted in the first three rounds since 2000, according to the NFL’s draft history. The most successful that’s still around to this day is Sebastian Janikowski, drafted 17th in the 2000 draft by the Oakland Raiders. Since then, he’s converted on 436-542 field goal attempts (80 percent) and 605-614 extra points (99 percent).

Back in 2016, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a bold move by drafting Roberto Aguayo in the second round. At the time, it seemed like an OK selection, dominating the college scene for the Florida State Seminoles. Clearly, it didn’t translate to the professional level. He made it one season with the Bucs, converting on 22-31 field goal attempts (71 percent), and was 17-26 from beyond 30 yards, worst in the league.

Judging an NFL Kicker

When it comes to NFL Fantasy drafts, it could easily be joked about to pick someone retired, a free agent in the league, or a kicker for Mr. Irrelevant. Why is that? Part of it could be the fact kickers haven’t seemed to serve much purpose until recently. Granted, in the fantasy world, most formats allow three points per made field goal and one point per successful extra point. Those can add up quickly and can make a difference from week to week.

This isn’t focused on fantasy football though, per se, though it does branch out to the point of how kickers affect the viewer or fantasy player. No, this is focused on how kickers have become more relevant to the league and their generic impact.

Kickers must be one of the harder positions to grade week in and week out for a couple of reasons. One, they don’t get consistent time on the field. Some weeks they’ll have as many as six field goal attempts from varying distances, the next week they might have one or none. Too many factors play into their time on the field, including how their teams’ offense and defense plays in giving them a chance.

Secondly, kickers have some of the longest leashes in the NFL. It’s rare for a team to have more than two kickers on their active roster. That second kicker is more for emergency use, with their starter getting injured rather than just having a bad day. Plenty of times coaches tend to stick with their kicker even on an off day, instead of trying to pick up the first down. Sometimes they’re right and their kicker succeeds, and if not, well the fanbase lets them know what they think.

Kickers tend to be Diamonds in the Rough

At least several examples exist of NFL teams currently finding success with their kicking game, and not having drafted them early. Look at guys like Ka’imi Fairbairn, Justin Tucker, Robbie Gould and Jason Myers. All four had incredibly successful seasons last year and made it to the NFL as undrafted free agents. Gould, Tucker and Myers are veteran kickers in the game, with Gould starting in 2005, Tucker in 2012 and Myers in 2013, while Fairbairn was brought on in 2016.

Fairbairn converted on 37-42 field goal attempts, including 27-32 from beyond 30 yards. He helped the Texans win the AFC South with an 11-5 record. Five of their wins came by three points or less. Fairbairn made two field goals in overtime to beat the Colts, which started a nine-game win streak.

Another name that flew under the radar until last season was Harrison Butker. Drafted in 2017 during the seventh round by the Carolina Panthers, Butker failed to make it past the practice squad. After being waived mid-September, the Kansas City Chiefs swooped to pick him up after Cairo Santos went down with injury and needed to fill the position.

Butker burst onto the scene with a game-winning field goal against the Redskins and followed that up with a perfect five of five field goals over the Denver Broncos. He set several franchise records his rookie year including most field goals made in one season (38), most points by a rookie (142) and most games with more than five field goals made, accomplishing the feat three times.

Other successful kickers from the 2017 draft include Jake Elliott of the Philadelphia Eagles and Zane Gonzalez of the Cleveland Browns, with Elliott being taken in the fifth round and Gonzalez in the seventh. Elliott was 26-31 (84 percent) in field goal attempts and 33-35 (94 percent) in extra point attempts. Gonzalez hasn’t had much chance to prove himself after converting on 15-20 (75 percent) in his rookie year for the Browns. Since then, he’s played in seven games, with five in an Arizona Cardinals uniform, converting 9-14 field goals.

The 2018 draft saw two kickers drafted and four punters drafted, the most punters since 1999.

According to Walter Football, there are seven kickers who possess the talent to make it in the NFL. Only one of them, Cole Tracy, is predicted to be drafted in the fifth round. Other kickers that are eligible include John Barron II (San Diego State), Matt Gay (Utah), Austin Seibert (Oklahoma), Justin Yoon (Notre Dame), Louie Zervos (Ohio) and Emmit Carpenter (Minnesota).

Chicago understands

Last year the Chicago Bears had a major pitfall in their kicking game, leading to them cutting Cody Parkey. As many will remember, it was Parkey who had his kick tipped and doink off the upright, ending the Bears’ postseason chances early.

Not wanting to go through a similar situation for the upcoming season, the Bears currently have three kickers vying for a spot. Redford Jones, Chris Blewitt and Elliott Fry all have an opportunity and recently Gould’s name surfaced as a possible addition, if not taking one in the 2019 Draft.

Now there’s a team that knows the importance of a good kicker. Will the others, especially those who have kicking struggles themselves, follow suit?

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