By Connor Thomas
To many, the NFL placekicker is a necessary evil; rarely celebrated, and often blamed. Last year, Jake Elliott got much more blame than even the average kicker in the NFL is used to, and for good reason. It was a rough year for the Eagles’ 4th year kicker, as he saw a significant drop off in performance, seemingly out of nowhere. And yet, he is still the only kicker currently on the birds’ training camp roster. It seems strange not to bring in any competition for a player that seems could benefit from a bit of an extra push, but there’s no guarantee that this is how the situation will stay. Even though the Eagles haven’t brought in a challenger for the position, after last year’s stats Elliott’s job is far from safe.
All you have to do to convince yourself that the Eagles’ kicker position is still undecided is take a look at some of Elliott’s stats from this past season. He was 27th in the NFL last season in the all-important FG%, hitting on only 73.7% of his field goal attempts last year. In his 3 previous seasons in Philadelphia, he had never converted on less than 83.9% of his attempts, meaning he had a greater than 10% drop off last year. That is a very troubling trend, especially considering he attempted the least amount of 40+ yard field goals in his career in 2020. The good news for Elliott is that his extra point consistency was actually on par with his career numbers. He missed 2 of 26 attempts, and though you ideally would convert all of those opportunities, Elliott missed 2 extra points in 2019, 2 in 2018, and 3 in 2017. While he wasn’t good at all on field goal opportunities, those numbers show that he has at least been consistent on extra point tries over the course of his career so far.
That being said, Elliott still made the 31st most field goals over the course of the 2020 season, which should not lend to a complete endorsement as the team’s starting kicker. About 80% of the league had a better kicker than the Eagles, and that normally means that change is an option. Of course, if the Eagles are going to look to replace Elliott though, it’s important to see who is actually available to bring in to do so. Dan Bailey is still on the street; he’s a veteran kicker but he only hit 68.2% of his field goals last season in Minnesota. Zane Gonzalez hit 72.7% of his attempts last year, close to Elliott’s, and only missed one extra point. He’s entering his 5th year just like Elliott, but has been less consistent over his career than the Eagles’ kicker. Making that move would seem more like making a move just to do it. The benefit there doesn’t seem to exist. The most interesting option is probably Stephen Gostkowski, the veteran kicker who spent 14 years as an elite option for the New England Patriots. Gostkowski was cut by the Patriots in 2019, and spent last year in Tennessee with the Titans where he only converted 69.2% of his attempts. That being said, Gostkowski’s career percentage is 86.3%, an attractive number compared to what Elliott put up last season. Gostkowski is not a sure option at all, but if Elliott struggles in camp and shows shades of how he kicked last year, his job could very much be in jeopardy, at least to the point where another kicker should be brought in to camp.