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2019 NFL Draft: Evaluating kicker prospects the Bears could target

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The Bears are expected to take the younger route for their kicker position, so let’s take a look at what some of the top kickers in the draft have to offer.

NCAA Football: Utah at UCLA
Utah kicker Matt Gay could be a potential target for the Bears.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Kickers!

Kickers are some of the most underappreciated players in football. The good ones rarely get the respect they deserve, and the bad ones often become the pariah of their respective cities. Sure, they may not be the most important players in the game, but a good kicker can be a valuable asset who can end up winning games that teams with bad kickers would not be able to win.

Unfortunately for the Chicago Bears, they know that sentiment all too well.

After releasing Robbie Gould prior to the 2016 season, the Bears have had a revolving door of failure at the kicker position. Connor Barth, Cairo Santos and Mike Nugent all fell flat, while Cody Parkey proved to be a way more expensive—yet equally as horrendous—replacement. Gould was coming off of a lackluster 2015 campaign for which he was paid too much when he was cut, so the move made sense. His successes since then, as well as Chicago’s inability to find a long-term replacement, have come back to bite the team.

Barring an unforeseen signing in free agency, the Bears will likely abandon their previous strategy of signing veteran kickers in favor of bringing in several young prospects. Even though Redford Jones and Chris Blewitt are currently on the roster, Chicago will presumably draft or sign a rookie—or even two—to create some competition.

Only three collegiate kickers were invited to the Scouting Combine this year: LSU’s Cole Tracy, Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert, and Utah’s Matt Gay. These names have been thrown around by numerous people as potential targets, but what do each of these kickers actually bring to the table? Let’s figure that out.

Austin Seibert, Oklahoma

When you’re looking at kickers, it might be a good idea to start with the NCAA all-time leader in points.

An Illinois native hailing from Belleville, Austin Seibert was a four-year starter for Oklahoma. A career 63-for-79 on field goal attempts, he missed only two of his 19 attempts this past year. He also put up insane extra point numbers, nailing 310 of his 315 attempts on high-powered Sooner offenses led by the likes of Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Seibert made all but one of his field goal attempts from 49 yards out or fewer in 2018.

Seibert offers versatility as a specialist, having excelled as both a kicker and a punter in college: he was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist in 2015, which is given to the best punter in college football. He has a strong leg on kickoffs and had an impressive 83 percent of his kickoffs end up as touchbacks. For reference, Dustin Hopkins of the Washington Redskins led the NFL in touchback percentage with 80 percent this past year. Training videos online have shown Seibert easily booting kickoffs into the end zone from the 30-yard line, as opposed to the 35-yard line, where kickoffs take place. His reliability on extra points is reassuring, too. He kicks from a distance of three steps back and two and a half steps over, and his approach—the steps he takes towards the ball—is consistent.

Seibert may have fantastic production as an extra point kicker, but his field goal production leaves a lot to be desired. He has only attempted nine field goals from 40 to 49 yards in the past three seasons and has only hit four of them. Even more concerning is his production from long range: he has a career mark of one-for-three from 50 yards out or more. The five-foot-nine, 213-pounder could stand to get better at squaring his shoulders towards his targeted portion of the space between the goalposts, too.

Though his point totals and kickoff work are impressive and his improvement late in his collegiate career is notable, Seibert is an unproven field goal kicker from long distances. He will end up on an NFL roster heading into training camp, but he’s probably less of a sure-fire prospect than his other two companions, if there is such a thing.

Cole Tracy, LSU

From the all-time leader in points to the all-time leader in field goals, Cole Tracy is another intriguing prospect in this year’s draft.

Tracy spent the first three seasons of his collegiate career at Division II Assumption College in Massachusetts. During his time there, he broke essentially every kicking record in school history and was named the winner of the Fred Mitchell Award, which is given to the best kicker outside of the FBS. Despite the jump from Division II to the SEC being a daunting one, Tracy made a smooth transition, going 29-for-33 on field goal attempts in 2018 and making all 42 of his PAT attempts. He made six of his seven attempts from 40 to 49 yards out, and he nailed three of his five attempts from more than 50 yards out.

The five-foot-ten, 184-pound Tracy certainly has the mentality of an NFL kicker, which is an extremely underrated trait for a specialist. His confidence is apparent when he steps on the field, and he is able to shake off rare misses easily. This mindset helps him in clutch situations, like his two overtime field goals against Texas A&M and his game-winning kick against Auburn. He is also unfazed by the movement of defenders before the snap.

From a mechanical standpoint, Tracy may be the smoothest kicker in this year’s class. He has a repeatable stroke and great footwork on his approach. He doesn’t exaggerate his strides, which allows him to get full momentum out of his leg and maintain a consistent, pendulum-like motion. Tracy keeps a traditional distance of three steps back and two steps over, and his footwork matches that very well. He is consistently able to square his shoulders and head to his target when kicking from the middle of the hashes.

While Tracy is a mechanically sound kicker, his biggest weakness comes from his leg strength, or lack there of. Of his five field goal attempts from 50 yards or more, two of them hit the crossbar, even though one of those kicks ended up good. He also had a 49-yard attempt against Texas A&M bounce off of the goalpost. Tracy didn’t do kickoffs for LSU last year, either, which is a bit of a concern.

If you’re looking for a smooth and confident kicker in this class, then Tracy is your guy. While he doesn’t have the strongest leg in the world, his résumé warrants him a lot of looks as an undrafted free agent.

Matt Gay, Utah

Matt Gay was not invited to the Senior Bowl, unlike the two aforementioned kicker prospects. However, he may be the best kicker in the 2019 draft.

Gay only has two seasons of collegiate football under his belt, as he was a soccer player at Utah Valley College before he started playing football at Utah in 2017. He is a combined 56-for-65 on his field goal attempts in those two seasons, as well as an impressive 85-for-85 on extra point attempts. While he missed three of his six field goal attempts in the first two games of the 2018 season, he only missed one attempt in the remaining 12 games of the year.

As far as leg strength goes, Gay takes the cake in this year’s class. The ball leaves his foot with impressive velocity and distance, and he doesn’t always need to shorten the trajectory of his kicks to hit field goals from long range. Despite his relative lack of experience, Utah trusted him to nail deep kicks and he delivered, going 8-for-11 from 50 yards or more in his two seasons with the team. With completed field goals from 55 and 56 yards out, he clearly has the strength in his six-foot, 232-pound frame to boot the ball far. 71 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks, which was better than all but five NFL teams in 2018. Gay is also reliable from short distances, as he has made 35 of his 36 career attempts from under 40 yards. He also has proven reliability in unfavorable conditions, as shown especially in Utah’s matchup against Colorado in the snow this past year. He went three-for-three on his PAT attempts and three-for-four on his field goal attempts, with his lone miss coming from beyond 50 yards. He made that up with a completed 51-yard kick, though.

Gay is a bit shaky from the 40-to-49-yard range, having hit just a career 11-for-17 from said range. Unlike Tracy and Seibert, his approach isn’t very quick and will need to be sped up in the pros without sacrificing accuracy. He tore his ACL and MCL and damaged his meniscus in high school, and though significant time has passed since the injuries, it’s still something worth monitoring. Plus, as is the case with all kickers out west, Gay had the privilege of kicking into thin air at Utah, which results in his kicks facing less air density, therefore making kicking from long distances easier than in areas with lower altitude.

Gay is a big-legged kicker who has the strength necessary to combat the harsh conditions of Soldier Field. Though he isn’t as mechanically polished as his peers, he is the most physically gifted. If any of the kickers in this year’s draft class get drafted this year, it should be Gay.