How many times have you thought to yourself, “Man, I should’ve just been a kicker in the NFL, they just have the easiest jobs on earth.” Well lace ‘em up and get kicking because there’s a decent chance that next Monday, some team is going to be hosting open tryouts for a new kicker.
If it seems like kickers have become more inaccurate this year than ever before, it’s because you’re partially right. An article written by Mark Craig of the Star Tribune, showed the alarming it rate that kickers are missing this season. Craig reflects on the lack of accuracy in kickers this year by stating, “For the season (through Week 5), teams are making 82.6 percent of their field goals. If it stays that way, it will be the worst mark since 2010, when teams made 82.4 percent.”
During Minnesota Vikings Training Camp, (coincidentally) I spoke with former Viking and current Oakland Raider kicker, Daniel Carlson about pressure situations impact a kickers performance, “Over experience you get better and better at it. I was fortunate enough to play at a very big school where each game as 80,000 plus fans and millions watching on TV. You know you play a lot of good teams and games are close, obviously in the NFL its the same thing.” Sadly Carlson was cut from the Vikings just over a month after that interview for having a disastrous first game in the NFL. The Auburn alum currently kicks for John Gruden and the Raiders and has seemed to have landed on his feet.
As a student at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, I was lucky enough to have Golden Bear senior kicker and Fred Mitchell Award finalists, Jonas Schenderlein with me on the CSP Bears Podcast. Jonas is one of the top kicking prospects in next springs 2019 NFL Draft and has had a great year at CSP, including earning All-American honors. I asked him about confidence and how that plays a role in kicking and he exclaimed with passion that, “Confidence is huge! If you don’t have confidence in yourself, it’s not going to work out. You have to have confidence in every kick you go out there with. If you have even a slight bit of [doubt], I feel like that is when you miss.”
Carlson, after his opening day against the Packers, did admit that he was lacking confidence when he came out to kick the what should have been game winner against the Packers in the fourth quarter. He went on to miss that kick and was released the next day.
So why does this explain to why kicking numbers are down this season? Confidence. The season started with two young kickers (the other kicker being Zane Gonzalez of the Cleveland Browns) going out and losing their jobs after their dreams quickly turned into nightmares. In psychology, we use the term self efficacy to describe one’s confidence in themselves achieving a desired outcome. When someone is lacking self efficacy, they are much less likely to achieve what they’re aiming to do. So on day one of the season, two of the leagues most promising kickers lose their job in the blink of an eye. How do you think that makes the rest of the league’s kickers feel? I would say a little nervous. Even being nervous on the field (as Jonas said) could have a major effect on kicking outcomes. After shanking a kick, confidence can quickly be shot, leading to less confidence, therefore more misses and potential loss of a job.
It will be interesting to see how this offseason works out with free agency and the NFL Draft. How will teams address the kicker position? Will they reach for the top kicking prospect in hopes that they will be the next Justin Tucker or Adam Vinatieri? Or will they refuse to use a pick on a kicker that could easily be backfire? We have seen it in years past with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reaching for Roberto Aguayo in the 2nd round and as I mentioned earlier, the Vikings taking Carlson in the 5th round.
As the kicks start to flail right and left, go dig in the garage and find your old cleats, because open tryouts may become more popular than ever. If kickers in the NFL continue to lose confidence, maybe even you could be the NFL’s next kicking disaster.
If you are interested in hearing more about my conversation with NFL kicking prospect, Jonas Schednerlein, here is a link to the CSP Bears podcast episode with him, featuring yours truly as the host.