Like the Avengers, the NFL draft is approaching its endgame. By this time next week, teams will have their new players, and focus will shift to the coming season. Roughly 800 billion mock drafts are out there, but no one really knows what teams will do. Myself included.
There isn’t much more to be said about the early rounds, in which the Green Bay Packers have six selections in the first four rounds. Draft fans have their favored picks and their unfavored. So much data and discussion regarding these early round prospects is out there; at this point, no one is changing their minds. Instead, let’s talk about the later rounds and special teams. Specifically, let’s talk about kickers.
Ain’t that a kick in the head?
Special teams is rarely what anyone wants to talk about. Bringing up punters and long snappers usually gets the same reaction I did in high school when I brought up World of Warcraft. But the Green Bay Packers were the worst special teams unit last year and hadn’t been much better in previous years of the Ron Zook era. Return fumbles, missed field goals, and undisciplined penalties cost the Packers more than one game.
The front office clearly agreed. Zook is gone and Shawn Mennenga is taking over, along with three assistants. The regime change, along with one extra assistant than the norm, shows Green Bay’s commitment to improving the unit.
The Gutekunst-era Packers aren’t afraid to use draft capital on special teamers, either. In 2018, the Packers selected punter J.K. Scott in the fifth round and long snapper Hunter Bradley in the seventh. It’s too early to give a grade on these choices, but the selections prove the importance of special teams to this front office.
Late round picks are wild cards. Teams go for small school players, boom-or-bust types, less experienced players, or gamble on those with red flags. Instead, could the Packers use one of their late-round selections on a kicker?
The obvious counter to this is Green Bay Packers all-time leading scorer Mason Crosby. Crosby is one of the longest-tenured players on this team, with a lion’s share of heroic moments. No one will soon forget his two last second bombs against the Cowboys in the 2016 divisional round. But Crosby had a very tumultuous 2018.
In week 2, Crosby was iced and missed the potential game-winning field goal against the Vikings; the game eventually ended in a tie. In week 5, Crosby had a meltdown against the Lions, missing kick after kick. In week 13, he missed the game-tying field goal in a brutal loss to the hapless Cardinals, leading to the firing of Mike McCarthy.
On the positive side, the foot of Mason Crosby won a week 6 tilt against the 49ers. His 81.1 field goal percentage was better than his career 80.4% average.
It’s worth noting that Crosby is the seventh-highest paid kicker in the NFL, and the Packers are not swimming in cap space.
Mason Crosby is a phenomenal Packer: he’s showed up big in multiple moments and enjoys a good relationship with his quarterback. But after a down year and while commanding a significant amount of cap space, the Packers may look to the future.
Should the Packers desire to spend capital at kicker, Utah’s Matt Gay and San Diego State’s John Baron II are both big-legged options that could thrive in the cold weather, and both have impressive accuracy beyond 50 yards.
Green Bay also claimed Sam Ficken from waivers, showing they aren’t afraid to at least give Crosby competition. Adding seventh-round or UDFA kicker to give even more competition would be a wise move. The new coaching staff and a bit of competition could rejuvenate the Silver Fox and help him bounce back in 2019.
Finding a franchise kicker isn’t easy. Ask the Vikings. But special teams needs to improve. Whether that means bringing in competition to keep Crosby sharp or to look for the new kicker of the future, the Packers would be wise to invest in the position this week.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.