2016 NFL Season

Meet the Rams: It isn’t easy to be a kicker in today’s NFL

by: Matt Wilhalme-latimes

Johnny-Hekker-RamsThe NFL just keeps messing with its kickers.

Last season, the NFL moved the point-after-touchdown mark from the two-yard line to the 15.

At first glance, an extra 13 yards (33 in total distance) seems like it should still be automatic for a professional kicker. It wasn’t.

In 2014, before the rule change, only seven of 37 total kickers missed one or more point-after attempts.

In 2015, only nine of 38 were perfect. It only takes one miss to enrage the trolls.

Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein was an imperfect human being. He was one of seven who missed two. But it could have been worse for Zuerlein. He could have missed at least three, like 10 unfortunate souls.

The league is messing with kickers again this season. This time it’s on the kickoff.

In March, team owners voted to move touchbacks up from the 20- to the 25-yard line in an effort to reduce injuries.

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Defaulting to the 25 seems like a pretty good option for a receiving team.

If you’re a kicker, that might mean more pressure as coaches could place an even greater emphasis on precision, high and short kicks in order to induce returns to pin opponents inside their own 20-yard line.

Zuerlein had 38 of his 64 kicks result in touchbacks last season. This year that would mean 190 more free yards. It’s isn’t easy being a kicker.

No. 4 Greg Zuerlein, 6-foot, 196 pounds

Zuerlein, 28, also called “Greg the Leg,” or “Legatron,” lived up to his nickname his first year when he made seven field goals greater than 50 yards, including a 60-yard split against the Seattle Seahawks — the longest ever by a rookie.

The Missouri Western State product made three of nine kicks from beyond 50 yards last season and has made 16 of 31 for his career. He’s missed five of 27 between 40 and 49 yards.

In four seasons, Zuerlein has made 78.2% of his field goals and 97.6% of his extra-point attempts.

In St. Louis, Zuerlein had the benefit of playing indoors in a controlled environment.

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This season, he’ll play outside at the Coliseum. Next year, who knows? Zuerlein is playing this season under a one-year deal signed in April.

As for the outdoors, the longest kick of his career, a 61-yarder, came outside. In Minnesota. In November.

No. 6 P Johnny Hekker, 6-foot-5, 236 pounds

Hekker, 26, has been one of the best punters in the NFL since he came into the league in 2012 out of Oregon State.

He’s been named a first-team All Pro twice (2013, 2015) and been to two Pro Bowls. Hekker led the league last season with an average punt distance of 47.9 yards and only saw six of his 96 punts go for touchbacks. Of the total, 41 were downed inside the 20-yard line.

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