Who could the Broncos turn to next at kicker?
May 24, 2023, 1:20 AM
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
So, the Broncos are looking for a new placekicker.
It’s not a need that most expected the team to have — especially this deep into the offseason. But after a season in which Brandon McManus had some uncharacteristic struggles, someone else will handle the role.
Although the Broncos have had fill-in kickers over the years — Taylor Russolino for one game in 2020, Connor Barth for half of the 2014 season and Steven Hauschka late in the 2010 campaign — the Broncos have enjoyed unique stability at the kicking position over the decades.
Since Ring of Famer Jim Turner came aboard in 1971, the Broncos have had just seven regular placekickers. Their average length of service time: 7.4 years. The shortest run in that stretch was for Fred Steinfort, who came aboard in Week 16 of the 1979 season.
But in general, long runs are typical. Jim Turner, Rich Karlis, Jason Elam, Matt Prater and Brandon McManus each lasted a minimum six seasons as the No. 1 kicker. Between Karlis and Elam, David Treadwell had a four-year hitch.
So, Broncos history says to expect a kicker to settle into the job.
But Sean Payton’s history is a bit different. Before finding Wil Lutz in 2016, Payton’s New Orleans Saints had nine kickers in 10 seasons. And when Lutz missed the 2021 campaign due to injury, the Saints shuffled through four kickers.
Who could the Broncos target?
Here are some of the top names on the market.
Let’s face it, the thing most people remember is his extra-point misadventures from last January.
Maher went 1-of-5 on PATs in the Cowboys’ wild-card win at Tampa Bay. That night earned the exasperation of Cowboys fans — and Peyton Manning, too.
Peyton Manning is all of us reacting to the Cowboys’ third missed extra point pic.twitter.com/y1VzcE5ZZ9
— Omaha Productions (@OmahaProd) January 17, 2023
Such was his night that even Merriam-Webster — yes, the dictionary people — got into the act:
yips | noun | a state of nervous tension affecting an athlete in the performance of a crucial action
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) January 17, 2023
Maher finally made his fifth PAT try that night after four misfires. But six days later, San Francisco’s Samson Ebukam raised his right arm and blocked Maher’s only extra-point attempt in the Cowboys’ divisional-round defeat to the 49ers.
According to Aaron Wilson of KPRC-Ch. 2 in Houston, Maher will work out with the Broncos on Wednesday. So, Maher sits squarely in the mix.
If the yips are curable, he could be the best candidate. And cures can happen; after all, Steve Sax overcame what was known as “Steve Sax Syndrome,” when the Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman struggled to throw to first.
Maher hit 90 percent of his field-goal attempts in the last two regular seasons. And despite his PAT woes last January, he connected on both of his postseason field-goal attempts.
But if Maher is more Chuck Knoblauch than Sax, last January’s struggles could echo and linger.
San Francisco did not re-sign him, electing to draft Michigan’s Jake Moody in the third round last month. He turned 40 last December, but his leg still appears to have plenty of life in it.
Including the postseason last year, Gould connected on 35 of 40 attempts — a terrific 87.5-percent success rate. He also hit all three of his attempts from 50 or more yards. Further, his touchback percentage remains acceptable — 49.5 percent last year. He doesn’t appear to be weakening as he ages.
Green Bay elected to not bring back the former Colorado Buffaloes standout for a 17th season, which was a mild surprise, especially given his long-term reliability in one of the toughest venues for a kicker — Lambeau Field, where the conditions are frequently foul.
But his leg strength could be waning. His touchback percentage on kickoffs declined in each of the last three seasons. Last season’s success rate of 20.3 percent was his worst since kickoffs moved back to the 35-yard line in 2011. And he went just 1-of-4 from beyond 50 yards; that 25-percent rate was his worst in a decade.
Most recently with Tampa Bay, Succop remains accurate from inside of 50 yards; from that range, he hit 91.0 percent of his field-goal attempts for the Bucs the last three seasons. But he was just 3-of-10 from 50-plus — including 2-of-7 last year — and hasn’t handled kickoffs on a full-time basis in the last three seasons.
The struggles of his first days as a Texans kicker are long gone for Bullock, who has hit at least 80 percent of his field-goal attempts in each of the last nine seasons. His leg strength remains sufficient at age 33, although he missed two games last November due to a calf injury suffered in warmups prior to Tennessee’s Nov. 13 win over the Broncos.
When last we saw the ex-Georgia and Colts kicker was placed on waivers with an injury settlement by the Cardinals in November. He kicked for the Cardinals in a Thursday Night Football win over New Orleans last season, filling in for the injured Matt Prater.
But it was how his Colts tenure ended that put his future into the void of the unknown. His struggles cost Indianapolis a Week 1 win at Houston, leaving the Colts to settle for a 20-20 draw after he missed a 42-yard attempt in overtime. He also sent two kickoffs out of bounds in that contest.
Blankenship had a promising rookie season in 2020, but then suffered a hip injury five weeks into his second year, ending his campaign. Earning a job again likely means enduring a competition.