By Reid McEvoy
Young sports talent is sweeping the nation once again. There’s always young stars in sports, but it’s very rare you get this many at the same time frame. Of course, there’s Aaron Judge, Dak Prescott and Connor McDavid, among a host of others, but here we’re talking about the likes of Aldrick Rosas, Jake Elliott and Ka’imi Fairbairn.
This season, many new kickers have overtaken the roles previously held by seasoned veterans with a lot of success, and some not so much as well. Let’s take a look at the influx of young talent at the kicker position in the NFL.
Jake Elliott, 22: This is a name all Giants fans will remember, as he banged through a 61-yard field goal for the win this past Sunday, and set the record for longest kick made by a rookie in the process. Out of Memphis, he was drafted in the fifth round by the Bengals, but didn’t win the competition against former Jet Randy Bullock. So he was signed to their practice squad. When Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis had hip surgery, putting him on IR, the Eagles claimed Elliott off the Bengals’ practice squad, and now he’s the talk of the town in Philly and New York.
Zane Gonzalez, 22: The Browns drafted him in the seventh round out of Arizona State and put him up against Cody Parkey. Triple-Z is currently 2-for-2 in field goals, and while he still has a lot to prove, the Browns believe they have a good one for years to come. Parkey is in Miami.
Ka’imi Fairbairn, 23: Coming out of UCLA in 2016, he went undrafted and signed with the Texans. But he spent all of 2016 on the IR with a quadriceps injury. This year, though, he beat out Nick Novak, and is so far 6-for-6 with a long of 42 in field goals.
Aldrick Rosas, 22: The kicker for the New York Giants this year, coming out of Southern Oregon, he was originally signed by the Titans, but didn’t make the team. This year the Giants signed him, and he has been the solution for the Giants at a position where they had many questions.
Harrison Butker, 22: This kicker out of Georgia Tech was taken in the seventh round of the draft by the Panthers. He was put into a competition against steady veteran Graham Gano, and while there was talk of trading Gano and going with Butker, Carolina ultimately went with Gano and put Butker on the practice squad. Cairo Santos of the Chiefs recently was placed on IR with an undisclosed injury, and the Chiefs claimed Butker, and now he will get to show if he has what it takes on the big stage against the Redskins in the spotlight on Monday Night Football.
Younghoe Koo, 23: This kicker out of South Korea is an exception to this new trend. He was great at Georgia Southern, setting a school record for career kick conversion percentage and received All-Sun Belt First Team Honors his senior year. He hasn’t transferred that success to the NFL, however. He is currently 2-for-5 in kicks and missed a potential game-winner against the Dolphins. The fourth Korean-born NFL player may not be in the league for much longer, though if the Chargers think he’s worth it, he is practice squad eligible.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that multiple veterans are losing their jobs around the NFL. Maybe it has something to do with the veteran minimum not being worth it in the eye of an owner. Or maybe kicking as a whole will change, and kicks like Jake Elliott’s 61-yarder will start to become the norm. No matter what it is, one thing can be stated when it comes to NFL kicking: Veterans, watch out.