While there were many issues that plagued the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016, few fell under the spotlight more than the team’s kicking situation. After sticking with veteran Mike Nugent through ups and downs since 2010, the team finally released him after 13 games last season.
Nugent finished the year with a 79.3 percent accuracy rate on field goals and was an identical 23-of-29 on extra points, which had been moved back to increase difficulty last offseason. While there were a number of factors that led to a disappointing 6-9-1 finish, having six of those games decided by one possession—with Nugent missing critical kicks in three of those contests—loomed large as the team plodded to a finish.
This led the Bengals to reassess the position greatly this offseason. They brought back veteran Randy Bullock this offseason, who finished the rest of 2016 with the team last year, but they also made the rare move of investing a draft pick in Memphis’ Jake Elliott in the position this spring in round 5.
For a variety of reasons, we think the rookie could be one of the team’s breakout year. After all, the kicking game couldn’t get much worse than it was last year, right?
Why he could break out:
Stellar college career: A lot of folks thought the Bengals might draft a kicker, but that it would have been Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez, not Elliott. While his 77.9 career percentage on field goal opportunities in his collegiate career doesn’t incite immediate confidence, his perfection on extra points should quell any fears lingering from last year. And by “perfection” we’re talking 202-of-202 in his time with the Tigers.
A lack of quality competition: Jonathan Brown was in the mix early in camp, but he has since been let go, leaving Elliott and Bullock duking it out this summer for the kicking gig. For the most part, the coaches know what they have in the veteran, so really, Elliott just has to be solid with the opportunities he’s given in training camp practices and preseason games.
What he needs to prove in 2017:
A strong leg: Aside from the great accuracy on extra points, Elliott was 10-of-12 on kicks between 40-49 yards in 2016, as well as 2-of-3 from 50-plus yards. While Nugent made a number of big kicks in his Bengals career, his ability to nail long kicks was often called into question. Aside from being able to convert the pedestrian kicks with regularity, Elliott will need to prove he can hit the long ones if he is to be an upgrade in 2017.
Accuracy in poor weather and tough environments: Aside from playing eight games at Paul Brown Stadium, which becomes treacherous to kick in as the winter months get underway, whoever is manning the place kicker position will also have three games in the outdoors and likely poor weather. With an additional Week 11 game in Denver likely providing poor conditions, either Elliott or Bullock will need to prove they can make critical kicks in a variety of different scenarios to be an effective kicker for the Bengals.
Everyone in Cincinnati is pulling for Elliott, who will hopefully do enough in 2017 to prove he’s worthy of being the Bengals’ long-term kicker.
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