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Stats show Bengals should trust a rookie kicker

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Darrin Simmons favors veteran kickers as opposed to rookies. But there’s plenty of reason to try out and trust a rookie kicker.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Larry French/Getty Images

One of the biggest questions for the Bengals coming into the offseason is the kicking situation. Randy Bullock, who took over from a struggling Mike Nugent in 2016, was re-signed a few weeks ago but Marvin Lewis said he wants to hold an open competition for the job. Darrin Simmons, the Bengals’ special teams coordinator, also said he favors veterans over rookies because of their experience, so it’d be hard to envision somebody coming out of college and getting the job. But the team also has 11 draft choices in the spring and could use one on a kicker.

Is Simmons right to be wary of rookie kickers? Since he arrived in Cincinnati in 2003 the team has only employed two on the 53-man roster, both in 2010: Aaron Pettrey out of Ohio State (2 games played) and Clint Stitser of Fresno State (5 games played), when Nugent went down with a season-ending injury. Pettrey only attempted four field goals and missed two, including one from less than 30 yards out. Stitser fared a bit better, connecting on seven of his eight tries, but missing two extra point attempts. When Nugent got injured again in 2012 the team went with a veteran in Josh Brown, as they did last season when Nugent’s struggles proved to be just too much for the Bengals to handle.

The last kicker the Bengals drafted was Travis Dorsch in the fourth round in 2002, just two years after selecting Neil Rackers in the sixth round. Dorsch only played one game for Cincy and didn’t attempt a field goal, but Rackers was ineffective for three seasons before moving onto Arizona, where he became a much successful kicker and was named first team All-Pro and the Pro Bowl in 2005.

Overall, 27 kickers have been drafted into the NFL since Simmons arrived in Cincinnati in 2003, including Bullock in the fifth-round in 2012 by Houston. Most were day three picks, but some, like Roberto Aguayo in 2016, have actually gone as early as the second round. Nugent was also a second-round pick by the Jets in 2005.

According to Pro-FootballReference.com up to 52 rookie kickers have attempted at least one field goal in the regular season since 2003, including Bullock in his second year in Houston, as he was injured for his entire first year with the Texans. The best year for rookie kickers year was 2015, as eight of them made their debuts, while in 2006 only Stephen Gostkowski tried one field goal as a rookie. The success of rookie kickers early on typically isn’t great, but overall, rookie kickers have improved up until 2016, when Aguayo helped sink the numbers due to a rough start to the year.

NFL kickers in their rookie year

Seth Marler 2003 20 33 60.6% 53
Seth Marler 2003 20 33 60.6% 53
Josh Brown 2003 22 30 73.3% 58
Aaron Elling 2003 18 25 72.0% 51
Tim Duncan 2003 6 10 60.0% 53
2003 AVERAGES 2003 66 98 67.34%
Josh Scobee 2004 24 31 77.4% 53
Nate Kaeding 2004 20 25 80.0% 53
Lawrence Tynes 2004 17 23 73.9% 50
Ola Kimrin 2004 6 10 60.0% 41
2004 AVERAGES 2004 67 89 75.28%
Rob Bironas 2005 23 29 79.3% 53
Mike Nugent 2005 22 28 78.6% 49
Robbie Gould 2005 21 27 77.8% 45
Nick Novak 2005 8 10 80.0% 40
Todd France 2005 7 9 77.8% 44
Shaun Suisham 2005 3 4 75.0% 22
Dave Rayner 2005 0 1 0.0%
2005 AVERAGES 2005 84 108 77.77%
Stephen Gostkowski 2006 20 26 76.9% 52
2006 AVERAGES 2006 20 26 76.9%
Mason Crosby 2007 31 39 79.5% 53
Nick Folk 2007 26 31 83.9% 53
Matt Prater 2007 1 4 25.0% 45
Justin Medlock 2007 1 2 50.0% 27
2007 AVERAGES 2007 59 76 77.63%
Dan Carpenter 2008 21 25 84.0% 50
Garrett Hartley 2008 13 13 100.0% 47
Connor Barth 2008 10 12 83.3% 45
Taylor Mehlhaff 2008 3 4 75.0% 44
Steven Hauschka 2008 1 2 50.0% 54
2008 AVERAGES 2008 48 56 85.71%
Ryan Succop 2009 25 29 86.2% 53
Graham Gano 2009 4 4 100.0% 46
Ricky Schmitt 2009 2 3 66.7% 39
Shane Andrus 2009 0 1 0.0%
2009 AVERAGES 2009 31 37 83.78%
Clint Stitser 2010 7 8 87.5% 47
Aaron Pettrey 2010 2 4 50.0% 28
2010 AVERAGES 2010 9 12 75.0%
Dan Bailey 2011 32 37 86.5% 51
Alex Henery 2011 24 27 88.9% 51
Brandon Coutu 2011 0 1 0.0%
2011 AVERAGES 2011 56 65 86.15%
Blair Walsh 2012 35 38 92.1% 56
Justin Tucker 2012 30 33 90.9% 56
Greg Zuerlein 2012 23 31 74.2% 60
Kai Forbath 2012 17 18 94.4% 50
2012 AVERAGES 2012 105 120 87.5%
Randy Bullock* 2013 26 35 74.3% 51
Caleb Sturgiss 2013 26 34 76.5% 54
2013 AVERAGES 2013 52 69 75.36%
Cody Parkey 2014 32 36 88.9% 54
Chandler Catanzaro 2014 29 33 87.9% 51
Cairo Santos 2014 25 30 83.3% 53
Patrick Murray 2014 20 24 83.3% 55
Brandon McManus 2014 9 13 69.2% 44
Nate Freese 2014 3 7 42.9% 30
2014 AVERAGES 2014 118 143 82.52%
Chris Boswell 2015 29 32 90.6% 51
Travis Coons 2015 28 32 87.5% 47
Josh Lambo 2015 26 32 81.3% 54
Jason Myers 2015 26 30 86.7% 58
Dustin Hopkins 2015 25 28 89.3% 54
Andrew Franks 2015 13 16 81.3% 53
Zach Hocker 2015 10 14 71.4% 51
Kyle Brindza 2015 6 12 50.0% 58
2015 AVERAGES 2015 163 196 83.16%
Wil Lutz 2016 28 34 82.4% 57
Roberto Aguayo 2016 22 31 71.0% 43
2016 AVERAGES 2016 50 65 76.92%

In terms of success, 2011 and 2012 were outstanding, with effectiveness of 86.15% and 87.5% respectively. In those years guys like Dan Bailey and Justin Tucker entered the league. Since 2008, only in 2010 - when the pair of Bengals kickers were the league’s only rookie kickers, 2013 and this past year, the rookie field goal percentage has been less than 80 percent. There have been a few rookies who converted more than 90 percent of their tries, like Chris Boswell in 2015, Blair Walsh, Kai Forbath and Tucker in 2012 and Garrett Hartley in 2008. I’ve included every single attempt made by rookies, but the numbers could look much more polished if we account only for the regulars and not short-term injury replacements.

Before 2008, rookies were regularly achieving less than 80 percent of their field goals, but the young guys starting improving after players like Dan Carpenter, Ryan Succop and Garrett Hartley arrived in the league. Nowadays, it is strange for a rookie placekicker not to make at least 80 percent of their field goals. 24 NFL kickers better than that mark last year. Only Aguayo, Bullock and Caleb Sturgis failed to make that mark as rookies in recent years, and Brandon McManus converted 9 of his 13 attempts in 2014, but he had limited opportunities once the Broncos signed Connor Barth and was moved to a kickoff specialist role.

With the extra point moved further back and more and more teams attempting longer field goals, kickers have become increasingly tougher. The Bengals might be satisfied addressing their issues at the position with a recycled veteran, just like they did when they first signed Nugent, Brown and Bullock. But, the numbers don’t show that rookie kickers are worse than veterans.

The Bengals have 11 picks in the upcoming draft and one could go to a specialist. When drafting a kicker, there is no guarantee of success, but an already-circulated veteran also can’t guarantee results.

Maybe Simmons is still thinking of Pettrey and that’s why he doesn’t trust rookies, but there is no clear evidence that rookies fold under pressure more than other NFL kickers. It’s hard to quantify the mental factor at the position, one of the most mentally taxing positions in the sport, but the numbers say when a kicker is talented, as Tucker, Bailey and many others are, professional experience is not a must to be successful in the NFL.

You need experience to gain experience, so let’s hope the Bengals are true to what they’ve expressed and make the kicker job an open competition where the best player wins the job in 2017. And, that competition should include a high-potential rookie from this year’s pool of prospects.