The Cincinnati Bengals will likely have a new kicker this season.
This year, for the first time in the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals acquired a kicker through the NFL Draft. It came when the Bengals selected Memphis’ Jake Elliott in Round 5. While not a high selection, it was nevertheless a big break from how the Bengals have traditionally acquired kickers and Elliott was the first player selected at the position this year.
The Bengals usually rely on cheaper retreads and outcasts from other teams, including Shayne Graham, Josh Brown, Randy Bullock and Mike Nugent. Those are the kind of kickers the Bengals have used on for almost two decades, as the last kicker they drafted was Neil Rackers in 2000. But in 2017, the Bengals will likely be relying on a rookie.
Elliott is ready for the challenge, though he knows nothing will be handed to him. He’ll have to beat out Bullock for the right to be the Bengals’ full-time kicker for the foreseeable future.
“I’m looking forward to competing,” Elliott told Bengals.com. “Nothing in this league is given and everything has to be earned. I look forward to competing and hopefully winning the job.”
Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has been working with Bengals kickers for more than a decade now. He likes what he’s seen in Elliott dating back to when the two first met during a pre-draft workout.
It came when Simmons was set to work out Elliott at his pro day. Weather nearly derailed those plans, but they actually helped Simmons gain respect for the unfazed Elliott, who was also very adaptable to the situation.
“I think he’s very coachable,” said Simmons. “That was easy to see right away with a couple of adjustments that we tried to make right after the workout was over. When I made suggestions, he picked up on them right away.
“He has a very calm demeanor. It was a tough day in Memphis that day that I worked him out. The wind was probably blowing 15 to 20 miles per hour and he never flinched. Some specialists have a tendency to be, ‘Woe is me,’ because of the weather.”
How well a kicker adjust to being thrown into a less-than-ideal situation is often what separates the good kickers from the great ones. Succeeding in an uncomfortable situation helped Elliott win over Simmons.
“We were supposed to start kicking around two o’clock and there was a torrential downpour,” said Simmons of the workout. “We just stayed inside and watched video for a little bit and went out when the weather was nice. He never flinched with any of that and it was good to see that he’s got some composure.”
It’s safe to say Elliott came up big in the clutch for his most important job interview, though coming up big under pressure is something he did every year in college. During his freshman year (2013), Elliott was the only FBS kicker to attempt three or more field goals of 50-plus yards and convert every attempt (50, 52, 56 yards). He was also 7-for-8 on 40-plus yard field goals (.875).
Elliott never missed an extra point or any kick from less than 30 yards in his college career, while 63 percent (210-of-330) of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. In 2016, Elliott had an average of 63.7 yards per kickoff, which resulted in 64 touchbacks in 94 attempts (68.09%).
The Bengals have previously said a big reason why they liked Elliott so much was because of his kickoff ability, in addition to putting the ball between the uprights. It sounds like his composure during an unexpectedly challenging workout helped sell the team as well.
Let’s hope that continues to play out in real games this season. It’s about time the Bengals found a kicker they can rely on in any situation. Kicking easily cost the Bengals one, if not more wins in 2016, so just having a stable kicker could be the difference between making the playoffs and falling short.