In the 2000 draft the Oakland Raiders stunned the rest of the NFL by choosing a kicker, Florida State's Sebastian Janikowski, with the 17th pick. Janikowski, who signed a five-year, $6.05 million contract, displaced an undrafted 27-year-old journeyman, Joe Nedney, who'd been playing for about $350,000 a year. The prime reason why teams rarely draft kickers is best illustrated by the two kickers' stats over the past three seasons. Nedney, who played for the Denver Broncos, the Carolina Panthers and, most recently, the Tennessee Titans, has made more field goals (79 to 71) and been more accurate (.814 to .763) than Janikowski.
The drafting of Janikowski and the selection of Martin and Bill Gramatica in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, in 1999 and 2001 were exceptions to the NFL rule of late. Of the 17 kickers who made at least 23 field goals last season, only four were drafted. The rest joined the league as free agents. "You don't draft kickers, because you can find them if you look hard enough," says the New York Jets' Mike Westhoff, a special teams coach for 20 years.
Last season, a league-record 25 regular-season games went into overtime and 112 more were decided by one score or less. So with more than 51% of the games decided by eight points or fewer, landing a reliable kicker is a necessity, no matter where you find him. No kicker is expected to be selected on the first day of next weekend's draft. The highest-rated kicker is Tulane's Seth Marler, who last season made 18 of 28 field goals and averaged 42.7 yards per punt. Despite an impressive workout at the scouting combine in February, he projects as a fourth-round choice at best.
Another reason that kickers are rarely drafted is the salary cap. Many low-round selections make rosters because they are the cheap labor that teams often need to get under the cap. It's easier to get a kicker off the street than it is to find a young third or fourth cornerback who can play a prominent role on special teams as well.
Also, coaches want to give kickers extended tryouts, because kicking in college is so different from that in the NFL. In the pros the rushers are quicker and the pressure is greater. And in 1999 the NFL began using K-balls, fresh, out-of-the-box balls reserved for kicking and punting situations. The material of the K-balls is much harder than that of the balls kickers are accustomed to booting in college. "New balls do not compress, which makes a huge difference in distance and accuracy," Westhoff says.