The LA Rams made a surprise move in NFL Free Agency, signing both XFL kicker Austin MacGinnis and CFL kicker Lirim Hajrfullahu to compete this year
The LA Rams lost veteran kicker Greg Zuerlein to the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. That exit of a solid kicker complicated their upcoming NFL Draft, as many fans felt the need to draft a kicker. I did not share that view, particularly in light of numerous needs throughout the roster. In fact, we argued that the kicker position could be found among undrafted free agents. In my scenario, the Rams needed to set up a competition between two new kickers, and let their ability to kick for the team to be the determining factor.
The Rams compromised and signed two non-NFL veterans who will compete for the job. While that is not exactly how we anticipated their move, it is essentially an identical scenario. And we have long advocated signing XFL players as a solution for the Rams roster in 2020. The key for the Rams was to find a kicker who could boot a 40-49 yard field goal. Now that the Rams have two kickers, let’s examine how well they did.
This has the fingerprints of new special teams coach John Bonamego all over it. And I love the moves. First off, Austin MacGinnis is a 5-foot-10 165-pound 2017 graduate from the University of Kentucky. While at Kentucky, he had a 72 out of 91 field goals made, for an impressive 79 percent accuracy.
He had a brief stint with the Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football, where he made headlines in one game, kicking four or four, including a 45-yard game-winner with just two minutes left. Per Sporting News’ Jordan Heck, he followed that up with a perfect 10 for 10 in the XFL and had an impressive kickoff number of touchbacks (four) in a league where no other player booted more than two. But the key to the signing is his accuracy at 40-49 yards. He was 74 percent accurate (20 of 27) from that distance in college.
Next up is Lirim Hajrullahu, a six-year star kicker from the CFL. Per the Football Database, the 5-foot-11 205-pound kicker is just as impressive. In his career, he booted 41 out of 49 kicks from the 40-49 yard range (83.7 percent accuracy) and 14 out of 16 from the 50+ yard range (87.5 percent accuracy). Per the CFL’s own website, he was used both as a kicker and as a punter, and never fell below 80 percent accuracy in any CFL season.
His punts were boomers, averaging 44.1 yards over six season, while his noted longest punt was an 83-yard boot from 2014.
You can thank Bonamego for these signings. Both have the flair of a special teams coach who stays heavily invested in the stars of the kicking roles. The Rams literally signed two of the best kickers from non-NFL football teams in one day. While neither MacGinnis nor Hajrullahu will be sure-fire stars in the NFL just yet, their portfolio is far more impressive as “can do it” than any rookie coming out via the 2020 NFL Draft.
These are incredibly valuable signings and set the stage for a sharp uptick in the Rams special teams’ performance in 2020. The Rams needed to reinvent their entire special teams’ philosophy, as the performance has plummeted in recent years. With two kickers who have track records of strong booming kicks and solid accuracy, that trend should reverse nicely this year.