Rookie kickers' recent track records

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

From the FanPosts -Joel

I love special teams. (This should not be a surprise.)

There are a lot of interesting storylines coming out of the Chiefs’ training camp. Which quarterbacks will stay on the active roster? How’s the depth of the secondary? Will anyone in the receiving corps besides Dwayne Bowe be somewhat competent this year? Will Dwayne Bowe be somewhat competent this year?

I don’t care about any of those storylines.

The biggest question for me as camp continues? Who will win the leg-powered, no-holds-barred, kick to the death competition between undrafted rookie Cairo Santos and "can we just stop calling him Mr. Irrelevant it’s been five years" Ryan Succop.

You can put your faith in Andy Reid, John Dorsey, and special teams coach Dave Toub to make the decision that’s best for this team. But if Cairo Santos comes out the victor, kicking off a tee made from the bones of his defeated opponent, should Chiefs fans be concerned about going into the season with an untested rookie kicker?

Kickers often deal with the most pressure each game, and while one week they might be the hero, they can just as easily wind up tossed out with the trash seven days later. If we take a closer look at how rookie kickers have fared over the past two years, we can get a good idea of whether it’s more important for kickers to have raw talent (like Santos) or experience (like Succop).

2013: Caleb Sturgis replaces Dan Carpenter in Miami

FGM FGA FG% FG% 0-30 FG% 30-40 FG% 40-50 FG% 50+ Long Salary
Caleb Sturgis '13
26 34 76.5% 100% 83% 80% 43% 54 $441,140
League Average '13
27.0 31.2 86.5% 98% 90% 82% 67% -
Dan Carpenter '12-'13
27.5 31.5 87.3% 100% 100% 86% 55% 55 $2,700,000

This table (and the ones later in the fanpost) measure the rookie’s performance relative to the league average, as well as any appropriate comparison to the team’s former kicker. In this case, the Dolphins selected Caleb Sturgis in the fifth round of last year’s draft and decided to let go of Dan Carpenter. Sturgis didn’t perform well last year, hitting just barely ¾ of all his attempts. Carpenter was only a league-average kicker, much like Succop is, but considering his numbers over the past two years, he was clearly superior to his replacement.

Sturgis also didn’t perform well in high-pressure situations. He kicked just one important field goal in the 4th quarter last year, a 44-yarder to force overtime against the Bengals. (The Dolphins would go on to win with a safety in the extra period.) He also missed a 41-yard kick against Baltimore that would have forced overtime.

Carpenter, meanwhile, signed with the Bills, and exacted his revenge by kicking a game-winning field goal with less than a minute to go to beat Miami 23-21. Choosing the cheaper, inexperienced option didn't quite pay off for the Dolphins.

2012: Blair Walsh replaces Ryan Longwell in Minnesota

FGM FGA FG% FG% 0-30 FG% 30-40 FG% 40-50 FG% 50+ Long Salary
Blair Walsh '12
35 38 92.1% 100% 89% 78% 100% 56 $419,483
League Average '12
26.6 31.8 83.6% 96% 88% 80% 62% -
Ryan Longwell '11
22 28 78.6% 100% 88% 60% 67% 53 $1,750,000

No one will question that Ryan Longwell was a good kicker, but he was getting relatively old (he was 37 in his last season with the Vikings), so it was understandable that Minnesota wanted to find a younger leg. They drafted Blair Walsh in the 6th round of the 2012 draft and immediately reaped the rewards. Walsh would lead the league in field goals in 2012. In his first game, he kicked four field goals, including one to force overtime and another to win it. Walsh would later put the Vikings into the playoffs with a game-winning kick as time expired in Week 17.

What was most impressive about Walsh was his record on kicks from 50+ yards away. Walsh went 10-for-10 in that range, and was justifiably named to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro 1st team. However, he regressed in 2013, converting just 40% of those longer kicks, well below average.

2012: Justin Tucker replaces Billy Cundiff in Baltimore

FGM FGA FG% FG% 0-30 FG% 30-40 FG% 40-50 FG% 50+ Long Salary
Justin Tucker '12
30 33 90.9% 100% 100% 77% 100% 56 $390,000
League Average '12
26.6 31.8 83.6% 96% 88% 80% 62% -
Billy Cundiff '11
28 37 75.7% 100% 83% 78% 17% 51 $2,200,000

Like Walsh, Justin Tucker was perfect from beyond 50 yards in his first year. Unlike Walsh, Tucker got even better in 2013, setting the pace for kickers with 38 FGs converted out of 41 attempts. In 2012 alone, Tucker kicked two game-winners and another to force overtime. His range is just as good as his accuracy, converting from 61 last season.

The Tucker pick looks great in hindsight, but the Ravens didn’t really have a choice. After Billy Cundiff missed that 32-yarder at the end of the 2011 AFC championship game, Baltimore had to get rid of him to satisfy their fan base. Cundiff wasn’t even a league average kicker to begin with, and when Washington picked him up in 2012, he only lasted a few weeks before being replaced by Kai Forbath.

2012: Greg Zuerlein replaces Josh Brown in St. Louis

FGM FGA FG% FG% 0-30 FG% 30-40 FG% 40-50 FG% 50+ Long Salary
Greg Zuerlein '12
23 31 74.2% 100% 67% 100% 54% 60 $422,205
League Average '12
26.6 31.8 83.6% 96% 88% 80% 62% -
Josh Brown '11
21 28 75.0% 100% 86% 67% 0% 49 $2,700,000

Greg Zuerlein rounds out the trio of rookie kickers who started for their teams in 2012. Like the first two, Zuerlein has tremendous range- he hit from 60 yards out in his rookie season. In fact, St. Louis sent Zuerlein out to attempt field goals from beyond 50 yards 13 times in 2012, which is probably the biggest factor behind his relatively low conversion percentage.

The Rams chose a kicker who possessed a quality that their former starter didn’t: a big leg with good range. Josh Brown didn’t score any field goals longer than 50 yards in the season before Zuerlein replaced him, and while he was otherwise average, his contract was large enough for the Rams to try an untested rookie instead.

* * *

Before we pass judgment, let’s look at one more example. I’m sure you’ll find it familiar.

2009: Ryan Succop replaces Connor Barth, who replaced Nick Novak, who replaced Jay Feely, who replaced Billy Cundiff, who replaced John Carney, who replaced Dave Rayner, who replaced Justin Medlock. Hey, remember Justin Medlock?

Perhaps the greatest argument against starting a rookie kicker is this pantheon of immortal kicking greats. Those seven players (besides Succop) were all on the Chiefs’ roster over a span of just two years. Only (only) five actually kicked for the Chiefs in a game. Shall we take a closer look at that carousel of kickers?

Connor Barth was also a rookie, and he’s ended up having a pretty good career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Chiefs never gave him much of a shot, signing him as an UDFA then releasing him then signing him again in October to finish the season.

Nick Novak now kicks for the Chargers, but immediately prior to signing with the Chiefs, he played for a team called the Cologne Centurions. You can figure out for yourself which league they were in.

Jay Feely was on the roster for one day.

Billy Cundiff was only on the Chiefs’ roster for a few months in the offseason, and he’d later sign with the Ravens. The rest is history.

John Carney was already in his second year in the NFL when Justin Houston was born. He can remember the moon landing, and yet still played in the NFL during this decade.

Dave Rayner holds the record for most teams played for in the NFL. He is currently 31. He hasn’t been on a team in three years. Think about that.

Justin Medlock was drafted by the Chiefs in the fifth round in 2007. Hey, I wonder what Justin Medlock has been up to?


Medlock has also played for lots of inferior teams with ridiculous names such as the "Edmonton Eskimos", the "Hamilton Tiger-Cats", and the "Oakland Raiders".

FGM FGA FG% FG% 0-30 FG% 30-40 FG% 40-50 FG% 50+
Ryan Succop '09
25 29 86.2% 100% 100% 86% 40%
League Average '09
23.6 29.1 81.1% 98% 83% 73% 52%
Chiefs Kickers '07-'08
50 61 82.0% 100% 65% 69% 0%

It’s entirely possible that Cairo Santos could beat out Ryan Succop for the starting job. Succop, like the four replaced kickers above, has a higher cap hit, and so a cheaper option for a replaceable position such as kicker is preferable. Succop has been about league-average in his time with the Chiefs- which isn't to say he's not a good kicker worth keeping, but instead shows how good the kicking in the NFL has become- and if it appears Santos’s confidence in his range can translate into a Tucker- or Walsh-esque rookie season, the decision should be easy.

But should Santos be revealed as too inconsistent or too inexperienced, then Chiefs fans might want to brace themselves for another kicking carousel. Succop would surely be snatched up by another team, and the Chiefs would have to hope they find another average, replacement-level kicker in free agency before again exploring the draft.

Nothing is certain, though, and there is still quite a battle left to be waged between the combatants locked in an eternal struggle to determine the one victorious kicker to rule them all.

You can find further reading on the kicking battle here.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.