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Are Bengals scared of good, young kickers?

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Have the Bengals’ historical failures at drafting kickers pushed them to the point of a young kicker phobia?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Historically the Bengals’ have selected eight kickers in the NFL Draft with rather abysmal results. Of the eight kickers selected, five of them combined for a career mark of one made field goal on four attempts (25%), and only three of them actually lasted for more than a quarter of an NFL season. Among the three who did manage to stay on an NFL roster for any period of time, they certainly weren't kickers to write home about.

In 1976 the Bengals burned two draft picks on kickers, including a second round pick for Chris Bahr. After four seasons of making less than 60% of his kicks, the Bengals moved on from Bahr. Sadly, there were three Hall of Fame players drafted in 1976 shortly after the Bengals drafted Bahr.

In 1993 the Bengals drafted Doug Pelfrey who remained their kicker for seven seasons despite rather subpar results. Not only were his extra points an adventure, but he failed to make more than 85% of his field goal attempts in any of his seven seasons with the Bengals.

In 2000 the Bengals drafted Neil Rackers as Pelfrey’s replacement. As bad as Pelfrey had been, Rackers was even worse in a Bengals’ uniform. Only once in his three year stay in Cincinnati did he make every extra point attempt, and his field goal accuracy as a Bengal was under 66%, which was actually worse than Pelfrey’s.

Over the last 13 seasons, since the failed tenure of Rackers, the Bengals’ kicking duties have been performed by veterans cast off from other teams, in the form of Shayne Graham and Mike Nugent. Both of those kickers have been more or less average during that span, never as bad as the kickers the Bengals previously drafted, but never very good.

While neither Graham nor Nugent have been as bad as the kickers drafted by the Bengals, they have never been good enough to seemingly secure the long-term employment they have enjoyed. Despite the kicker position being one that could apparently use an upgrade from the middle of the pack, the Bengals have essentially held firm with mediocre players, unwilling to challenge them with quality youngsters selected either in the draft or brought in as undrafted free agents.

The Bengals have not attempted drafting a kicker since whiffing with Rackers 16 years ago. And the most recent undrafted free agents, Tom Obarski and Zach Hocker, are players who were never good enough in college to warrant a real challenge to the incumbent. Their most recent signing, Jon Brown from Louisville, who just started kicking two years ago after a long history of playing soccer, only solidifies the point that the Bengals have no interest in bringing in young kickers who stand a chance of pushing the entrenched veteran for a roster spot.

Looking at each of their last two seasons, Nugent has nothing to fear when considering the competition from Hocker or Brown.

Team 0-39 40+ Lg
Mike Nugent, Bengals 27 30 90.0% 22 31 71.0% 52
Zach Hocker, ARK 17 20 85.0% 7 13 53.8% 54
Jon Brown, Louisville 0 0 0.0% 0 0 0.0% -

But when you compare Nugent to the better kickers who were not drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, but signed as free agents elsewhere, you see that he could have faced some actual competition.

Team 0-39 40+ Lg
Mike Nugent, Bengals 27 30 90.0% 22 31 71.0% 52
Brad Craddock, Mary 13 14 92.9% 13 15 86.7% 57
Ross Martin, Duke 32 35 91.4% 13 16 81.3% 53
Kaimi Fairbairn, UCLA 30 31 96.8% 8 15 53.3% 60
Jaden Oberkrom TCU 27 32 84.4% 16 20 80.0% 57
Marshall Koehn, Iowa 16 21 76.2% 12 15 80.0% 57
Marshall Morgan, UGA 24 29 82.8% 8 15 53.3% 53

Craddock and Martin were both a little better from inside of 40 yards, and were much better from 40 yards or more. Oberkrom was a little worse from inside of 40, but much better beyond 40. Fairbairn was almost perfect inside of 40, but struggled outside of 40, although he did make a 60 yard kick at UCLA. And every single kicker listed managed to make a field goal longer than Nugent’s longest over the same span, despite attempting fewer kicks.

When almost one-quarter of all NFL games are decided by three points or less, it makes you wonder why the Bengals have such an adversity to quality, young kickers. Especially with a field goal made here or missed there can make a difference between a win or a loss in almost a quarter of a team’s games, making the difference between going 10-6 or 6-10.

Were the recent failures of Rackers and Pelfrey, plus the historical failures of their other drafted kickers, enough to scare the team away from putting their trust in a young kicker? Was their 2010 experience, when Nugent was injured for the final seven games of the season, and they had to rely on rookies pulled off the street in Clint Stitser, who missed two extra points, and Aaron Pettrey who only made one of three beyond 20 yards, enough to reinforce this fear of young kickers?

If you bring in a good, young kicker, and he comes with a great track record, and impresses enough in camp, the logical conclusion would be to make him your starter. But if you are afraid of relying on a young kicker, then you would make sure not to bring in good, young kickers so you are not faced with this dilemma. Could this be why the Bengals sit idly, content with mediocrity at a position that can mean the difference between a win or loss?