Now, I realize it is difficult to find people that get excited talking about kickers, but football purists know that despite all the jokes, a kicker is a valuable part of any NFL team. Missed kicks lose Super Bowls, and made ones can be the difference between an 8-8 team that misses the playoffs and a 12-4 team that wins the division.
Our own Neil Rackers started his career with three years in Cincinnati, and in case you don't remember was the butt of many jokes. Let's face it, he played for a miserable team and was inaccurate to boot (pun intended).
His rookie year he hit on only 12 out of 21 field goal attempts, a rate of 57.1%. In today's climate he is lucky to have been invited back the following two seasons.
He started to show glimpses of his Pro Bowl form by his third season, when he improved his accuracy to 83%, but was ultimately let go anyway at the beginning of the 2003 season in favor of another eventual Pro Bowler, Shayne Graham.
Sometimes, a change of scenery is all a player needs to jump-start their career. In 2005, Rackers' third season with Arizona, he had one of the greatest seasons for any kicker in the history of the game. He shattered several NFL and franchise records, connected on 40 of his 42 field goal attempts for an amazing 95.2% accuracy, and made his first Pro Bowl.
Despite that, many Cardinals' fans wanted to run him out of town when his torrid streak ended. Rackers struggled in 2006 and 2007, but has rebounded nicely the past two seasons. Most impressively is just how good Rackers has become with his onside and pooch kicks; he is arguably the best in the NFL at this under-appreciated skill.
So now here we are, our golden leg downed by a groin tear. What should we do? Why not go out and find another player in need of a roster spot that could be another hidden gem.
Very rarely does a kicker get selected in the second round of the draft. Mike Nugent is that rare guy, selected by the Jets with just the 47th overall pick in the 2005 draft. His lofty selection raised eyebrows, including mine. That lifted brow seemed justified when Nugent not only failed to live up to expectations, he even fell short of becoming a serviceable pro kicker, evidenced by the Jets letting him go after only four years.
Take a quick look back at why Nugent was thought of so highly coming out of Ohio State, because therein lies the reasons he has a chance to turn his career around given the right opportunity. He tied or broke 22 school records. Enough said.
Cardinals' Punter Ben Graham was Nugent's holder while both were with the Jets, so Nugent had a leg up on the competition (another bad pun sorry) to fill in for Rackers while he heals. While Nugent's career accuracy is an uninspiring 78.8%, who knows? Sometimes, a change of scenery is all a player needs to jump start their careers—look what it did for Rackers.
Granted, one game does not turn anyone into a superstar, but let's give it up for Mike Nugent. Against the Lions he was not a liability on kickoffs—no he won't ever have as strong of a leg as Rackers and won't place many in the end zone, but he performed admirably nonetheless.
He was asked to try one field goal and he split the uprights from 48 yards away, matching Racker's season long, and was perfect on PAT's.
No, I am not saying Nugent was MVP of the game, but he did his job and who knows? Rackers' contract is up after this season. It is never too early to consider some other options at any position.