It’s no secret that kickers and punters largely go unnoticed, often considered unappealing positions. They don’t score numerous touchdowns, make highlight-reel catches, or bone crushing hits, but very few fans ever forget the names of those ever-so eccentric kickers who missed big time kicks (looking at you Scott Norwood, Gary Anderson, and Blair Walsh).
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What fans fail to realize is that the game of football is won and lost with? That’s right, special teams. Sure a good offense and tough defense help, but none if matters if you don’t have kickers who can’t capitalize and punters who can’t tilt the field; just ask Rams punter Johnny Hekker about the important of said position. To get to the point, the Rams have expressed interest in re-signing kicker Greg Zuerlein, who also wants to return and thus signals their mutual interest.
What head coach Jeff Fisher has made clear, however, is that Zuerlein will be expected to compete for the starting job after struggling in 2015; he was just 20/30 (66.7%) on all field goals and 26/28 on PATs. “Greg the Leg” ironically struggled from 40-49 and 50+, the same guy who made his living and reputation from drilling kicks 40 yards and beyond. He was 5/8 from the former distance (after going 7/7 and 8/9 in 2012 and 2013 respectively) and a disappointing 3/9 from the latter (7/13 in 2012 and 5/7 in 2014). Let’s take a look at two guys who could challenge Zuerlein.
Roberto Aguayo (Florida State):
An unparalleled career and undoubtedly the best specialist in college football, Aguayo has been Mr. Automatic during his three seasons for Florida State, winning the 2013 Lou Groza Award and earning consensus All-American honors in 2014. He finished the 2014 season 27-for-30 on field-goal attempts, including a perfect 18-for-18 on tries under 40 yards. Aguayo’s career 96.73 percent (267-of-273) on all kicks is the NCAA’s all-time mark and he is the first kicker in 16 years (Sebastian Janikowski) to declare for the draft early. He became just 12th kicker in NCAA history to never miss an extra point and set FBS records with 157 points scored and 94 PAT tries without a miss (2013). His 88.46 career conversion rate on field-goal attempts is the third-best among college kickers since 2000 while his touchback percentage increased each season.
Ka’imi Fairbairn (UCLA):
For starters, I would easily bet the house that even those within the UCLA program cannot pronounce the kicker’s real name, Ka’iminoeauloameka’ikeokekumupa’a. Fairbairn far outplayed his two star recruiting rating as the 2015 Lou Groza Award winner became the Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer in 2015; he finished his career by connecting on 41 straight field goal attempts from 35 yards and in. The first team All-American’s (2015) 60 yarder against Cal was the longest in school history and the longest ever in a Pac-12 game. The first Bruin to score 100+ points in four consecutive seasons was the kick off specialist from 2013-2015, forcing a touchback on 72.6 percent of his kickoffs between his junior and senior year. Fairbairn has also never had a kickoff go out-of-bounds.