Why Wil Lutz fits with Sean Payton as Broncos kicker
Sep 3, 2023, 11:37 PM
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Looking back, it seems as if the Broncos had Wil Lutz in mind all along.
It would be quite understandable, really. For Sean Payton, there is a comfort zone with Lutz, whose arrival in New Orleans stopped a decade-long revolving door at the kicker position.
The feeling is mutual.
Yes, Payton puts pressure on his kicker. But that’s just fine by Lutz, whose worst season came without Payton stalking the sideline.
Coincidence? You decide.
But Lutz embraces it.
“He tries to get the best out of everyone, and I truly feel like my best years were with him, because I was kind of scared to let him down,” Lutz explained. “And I think that’s how a leader is, right?
“But look, he’s a proven winner. He’s won a Super Bowl down in New Orleans. We should have had another one, but we won’t approach that situation,” he added, referring to the 2018 NFC Championship Game that turned on a ghastly non-call for pass interference.
“But yeah, he’s a leader. He’s an offensive guru. Guys want to win for him.”
IT WASN’T THE SAME FOR WIL LUTZ WITHOUT SEAN PAYTON
But it wasn’t so much the absence of the long-time coach that mattered.
Wil Lutz’s 2021 season with the Saints — which was also Sean Payton’s last year — ended before it began due to a core-muscle injury injury.
“That was tough. I was a guy who’s never had surgery in my life, and I went to two in a three-month span,” Lutz said. “Mentally, more than anything, it was the hardest thing I’ve gone through.”
What followed in 2022 was the worst season of his career. He failed to hit at least 82 percent of his field-goal attempts for the first time. And from the 30-to-49-yard range — where he hit 89.1 percent of his attempts from 2016 through 2020 — his success rate slumped to 68.4 percent.
Lutz endured an outlier season. New Orleans subsequently added competition in undrafted rookie Blake Grupe. But Lutz didn’t use the recovery from injury as a justification for his down year.
“But look, 2022, no excuses. I didn’t have a good year. And that’s all on me,” he said. “Mentally, I didn’t feel like I was in the right space. I kind of felt like a rookie again after missing a year.”
FINDING THE RIGHT MENTAL SPACE
So, if the Broncos get pre-injury Lutz, they ought to be pleased. In his first five seasons, he never failed to hit at least 87 percent of his field-goal attempts from closer than 50 yards. Three of those five years, he drilled at least 92.6 percent of his tries from that range.
Further, when calculating all placekicks from within 40 yards — including extra points — his career success rate is 96.6 percent. For comparison’s sake, Brandon McManus — one of the league’s most accurate short-to-intermediate range kickers — has a success rate from that range of 94.3 percent since the 2015 season.
It is a discipline as mental as it is physical.
So, after the worst season of his career, Lutz spent the past offseason working on the mental aspect of his game.
“To me, it was just kind of (to) reset. Understand what I’ve done in the past in my career,” he said. “I’ve had a successful few years in the NFL, and that’s not on accident. You don’t make it in this league by mistake. So, I know what I have done in the past has worked.”
It didn’t win him the competition in New Orleans this summer. But the Broncos tracked his form from afar, and felt comfortable with his work to make the roster-deadline deal.
“I was very comfortable and very confident in what I was doing,” Lutz said. “Now I’m here, and hopefully I get to show that off.”