The Bengals’ 2016 campaign was a season to forget, for many reasons. The position that sticks out like a sore thumb? Kicker.
Seeing a picture of Mike Nugent in stripes haunts me. I live in Indianapolis, where I’ve seen the likes of Mike Vanderjagt and Adam Vinatieri kick for the Colts my whole life. As a Bengals fan, I only wish there was a kicker of their pedigree in our recent history.
For crying out loud, Mike Nugent’s extra point percentage last year was 79.3. Now a positive, per ESPN. Nugent’s highest field goal percentage came in 2011, a little under 87%. Furthermore, he didn’t have the leg you want in a kicker. His career long was 55 yards and he went 11 for 28 from 50+ for his career. That’s a 39.3% conversion rate. In baseball, that success rate would be a Hall-of-Famer. in football, it’s a poor kicker.
Shayne Graham was more than serviceable for the Bengals. He holds the team record for most field goals made in a season with 31 in 2007.
The Bengals currently have Randy Bullock signed to the roster. While not flashy, he filled in and was an upgrade over Mike Nugent. He went 5 of 6, with his lone miss costing us a game. However, I will argue that his miss helped us. At that point in the season, we were playing for draft positioning.
Bullock isn’t instilling a whole lot of confidence in me right now. From what we saw last year, he appears to just be an upgrade over Nugent. I, however, want more than a slight upgrade. Criticism aside, I always hope that a player proves me wrong and performs beyond expectations.
The other kicker on the roster is converted soccer player, Jonathan Brown. Brown comes largely unproven, only as another camp body to create competition.
Neither of these guys are world beaters. It’s time to find the next franchise guy at the kicker position. With a lack of quality free agent kickers available, the Bengals are better off searching through the draft.
The Zane Factor
Now for the fun part. If you’ve read any of my mocks, you know I desperately want a rookie kicker. And with 11 picks, can you blame me? It’s time for some help.
Every year, it is hard to determine exactly when the special teams guys will hear their names called in the draft. There is no Roberto Aguayo this year, which could push the kickers down to Day 3. However, a team may fall in love with a guy and take him earlier than expected.
The guy to keep an eye on is Zane Gonzalez of Arizona State. He is the top rated kicker everywhere you look. Gonzalez kicked at a 92% conversion rate last year and graduates with the 4th most points ever in the NCAA. He went 7 of 9 from 50+ yards last year, with a long of 59 yards.
A guy with that experience and leg is worth bringing onto this roster. Wherever he may go, I think the Bengals need to use a pick on him.
Okay, okay. You can maybe talk me out of using a Day 2 pick on a kicker–emphasis on the maybe. If Gonzalez is gone, the next highest rated kicker is Jake Elliott. Elliott kicked for Memphis and has a leg of his own. He was 4/5 from 50+ in the last two years.
Maybe most important of all, he leaves school with a 100% extra point conversion rate. That’s unfathomable for me to imagine after watching Nugent miss six (6!) last year alone. I know college extra points are shorter, but having the mindset that you’re not allowed to miss extra points is crucial as a kicker.
Elliott can probably be had in round 6 whereas Gonzalez is probably gone by round 5. I’d prefer to take the consensus No.1 kicker available, but if he goes earlier than expected this would be a good backup plan.
However the draft plays out, the Bengals need to walk away with a kicker. This year it’s time to invest in the position and show the fans that they won’t settle for mediocrity.