Special teams can prove to be as much of a focal point as the rest of the team, but often times that unit goes unrecognized–unless they’re playing poorly. We’ve all been there, a missed field goal has us pulling our hair out as we scream at the TV after our team’s kicker missed a game-winning field goal. It seems like this year tops them all in that regard; especially after the NFL decided to move the ‘effortless’ extra point back to the 15-yard line–causing some controversy early on this season.
It was unclear how big of an impact the new rule change would have on kickers in the 2015 and in the future. We did, however, learn that quickly. Through 5 weeks, teams have missed a combined 18 extra points, bringing the league average to 95%, a substantial decrease to last year’s 99.3% total. Only six teams missed extra points last season, nearly half the league is already with a failed conversion from 33 yards out.
You may say, “but these guys are professionals, they should be able to make it every time from that distance.” While you may be right, CBS analyst and former kicker, Jay Feely had an interesting take on the subject and touched on how it could have an effect on field goals as well.
“Why are NFL kickers struggling? Extra Points used to be in-game practice. You didn’t have to worry about the result (it was a given) which allowed you to focus on your form and get grooved in during the game. Somewhat of a confidence builder. Like throwing a couple screens early for a QB. Now, the pressure is bigger for Ex Pts than even FG’s because there is zero room for error (100% success is demanded). The pressure intensifies and it negatively impacts FG performance as well.”
Of course I have to relate this to the NFL Draft. All this drama has me thinking, will kickers become more relevant on draft day? Will teams offer more time to scout and evaluate these prospects and make the position more sought after?
In the past decade, an average of 2 kickers have been drafted each year–none coming this past draft and a high of 4 back in 2012 during the span. The last kicker to be drafted in the 2nd round or higher was Mike Nugent all the way back in 2005. The only kicker (not including punters) to be drafted in the 1st round within the past 30 years was Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders. You all know “Seabass”, widely regarded as one of the best kickers in the game for some time now as he is in his 15th season in Oakland. At the time, a big head-scratcher and crowd-booer, but looking back, it was probably worth the investment, right?
Taking a kicker as high as the first round probably isn’t the smartest of decisions, but their longevity and consistency could prove otherwise, as Janikowski has proven. On the other hand, you could always make the argument that you could find a kicker playing Rugby in Australia or even in the Arena Football League if you wanted to. Kickers often bounce around between multiple teams in a short time duration.
However, wouldn’t you feel confident going for more of a sure thing? Looking at this year’s draft class, as many as 5 kickers could be drafted, according to both Walter Football and CBS. The leader of the pack is Florida State kicker, Roberto Aguayo. Aguayo has collected tons of accolades at Florida State and even won the Lou Groza award as the nation’s best kicker as a redshirt freshman in 2013. He’s been automatic throughout his college career and CBS has him graded as a 2nd round prospect. He looks to become the first specialist to be drafted in the top two rounds since 2005. Definitely a name worth keeping an eye on.
As the season goes on, more extra points will be missed, more field goals will be shanked. Fans will get frustrated, and kickers will be bashed. That’s just the nature of the game nowadays. Will we see a change in how teams draft? Will kickers become more of a priority on draft day? Maybe, but one thing is for sure, the placekicker is now more important than ever.