The New York Jets have been through six different legs since Jason Myers absconded to Seattle. The next one must last.
Even with a decent free agency haul, the New York Jets still have holes to fill with the NFL Draft looming large. Contending in a crowded AFC…one whose East division likely belongs to Buffalo for the time being and one packed with established contenders…might be difficult anyway even if all those needs are satisfied.
The Jets’ first choice, second only to Jacksonville on April 29, will undoubtedly be used on a quarterback, many presuming the choice to be BYU’s Zach Wilson. Afterward, however, there’s a lot of flexibility, especially with nine further picks in a surplus gained through trading Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams, Sam Darnold, and Jordan Willis. The Jets can thus upgrade areas of major need, such as the gaps in their blocking and secondary.
But there’s one underrated area where the Jets are in desperate need of help: their kicking game.
One could be excused in overlooking the current situation. The Jets, losers of ten games decided by at least two possessions, didn’t drop any games because of a missed kick, after all. But having a reliable leg at this point of the franchise timeline is supremely vital.
For one thing, having this much turnover in a position that often takes up a single slot on the gameday depth chart is troubling. Since 2019 Pro Bowl nominee Jason Myers absconded to Seattle, the Jets have gone through a disturbingly jaw-dropping six kickers, including those who appeared only in preseason games. But the biggest reason why the Jets need to settle this is the sake of their offense.
In a modern NFL that worships a fantasy football deity, the Jets have lagged behind. In the highest-scoring season in NFL history (teams averaged 24.8 points per game, breaking a record set in 1948), the Jets ranked dead-last at an average of 15.2. New York was also dead-last in another vital category: only 16 of their (again, league-low) 38 visits to the red zone ended in a touchdown.
Time will only tell if the Jets will be able to raise any of those numbers this season. But, even with the potential of Wilson (or another rookie party like Justin Fields), there’s no doubt it’ll be tough to build on it with a freshman thrower in tow. But this year of building must end with an offense full of confidence as they try to end this perpetual rebuild. The perfect way to build that poise and assertiveness is by ensuring that drives that end within the opponents’ 20-yard-line yield points. When you’re a team that has had issues…and might continue to have issues…getting balls in the end zone, a good kicker is a must.
Right now, it’s debatable as to whether the Jets have that. They have two kickers on the roster, the most recent pair of the aforementioned six. A competition is all but assured to assume once training camp commences this summer. Each one returns from last year’s roster, with Sam Ficken, the two-year incumbent, coming back on a future/reserve contract and Chase McLaughlin being retained from the Week 17 trip to New England, meaningless if not for being the final stand of Adam Gase.
Both Ficken and McLaughlin could stick around in the NFL for a while. Ficken has floated around in gameday rosters since 2015, while McLaughlin has racked up frequent flier miles as an injury replacement since entering the league four years later. Though McLaughlin has a minuscule sample size (converting two extra point attempts in the aforementioned futile Foxboro visit), Ficken established a new career-high by converting just over 86 percent of triples (13-of-15). The Penn State alum well could’ve been the Jets’ long-term solution, but a groin injury sustained in November could prove concerning.
What the Jets need right now is a reliable, proven leg, one where fans don’t have to hold their breath as long when his name is called. It’s probably too late to turn to free agency to solve that problem. The most reliable available name, Ryan Succop, re-upped with the defending champions while veteran Matt Prater moved from Detroit to Arizona. What’s left is a group of names past their prime (Dan Bailey/Stephen Gostkowski) or inconsistent (Brett Maher/Zane Gonzalez).
Thus, the means toward a solution may come from an unusual source: the NFL Draft.
It’s true that the Jets could probably scour the undrafted free agent wire to add to the special teams festivities at camp. Four of the five most accurate kickers last season (the exception being Mason Crosby) were, after all, UDFA finds. But the Jets need to be confident in the name they have going forward, unlike the 2019 season. The team scooped up former Minnesota preseason hero Kaare Vedvik mere days before their season opener against Buffalo. Vedvik lasted just one game in green, missing an extra point and a field goal, the indirect difference in a 17-16 loss to the Bills.
In this era, the Jets need a proven name that has succeeded at a high level of football, and this year’s selection pool has some strong names to work with. Reigning Lou Groza Award winner Jose Borregales perhaps headlines the class out of Miami, while his fellow finalist Evan McPherson hails from Florida. Senior Bowl standout Riley Patterson from Memphis could also hear his name called during the four-round, final day process on May 1.
Drafting a kicker often gains your team only postmortem mockery in the immediate aftermath. Tampa Bay’s aforementioned Super Bowl triumph may only now finally end the Roberto Aguayo jokes after they chose the Florida State booter in the second round in 2016. The Jets themselves endured some of this the last time they opted for a leg in the draft, shockingly choosing Mike Nugent with their second-round choice (47th overall) in 2005 (passing on future Pro Bowlers like Nick Collins, Vincent Jackson, and Frank Gore).
This time around, though, the Jets can afford such a risk. That’s part of the gifts that come with ten draft picks, a surplus gained through trading several franchise staples. Quantity, as the Jets found out through John Idzik’s doomed dozen in 2014, doesn’t always equal quality, so they have to make the most of the extras granted to them. Drafting a kicker might be a great way to do that. There’s obviously no need to go the Nugent route…there are far greater holes to fill…but using one of their later picks could be a good way to find an immediate contributor and gain some consistency at a position where there’s been endless turnover.
Using a draft pick on special teams and valuing the group isn’t unheard of in this new era of Jets football. In his first draft at the helm, general manager Joe Douglas used his final choice on punter Braden Mann and special teams coordinator Brant Boyer is a rare survivor of the purge of Gase’s coaching staff, having also survived that of Todd Bowles’ group. Douglas knows that football is a three-pronged game, and getting the right guy at the vital positions is going to be crucial to building what he and Robert Saleh are trying to build.
Drafting a kicker’s an unusual situation in any NFL era. But desperate times, times that would welcome even the simplest form of football stability, call for unusual measures.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags