AT LONG LAST THE MOST POWERFUL LEG IN THE LEAGUE IS ALSO ONE OF ITS MOST USED. FEW FOOTBALL OBSERVERS, IF ANY, HAVE EVER DOUBTED THE STRENGTH OF SEBASTIAN JANIKOWSKI'S LEFT LEG. BUT FOR MUCH OF HIS 11-SEASON NFL career, he simply hasn't had enough opportunities to wield it, being stuck on a Raiders offense that regularly was one of the league's worst from 2003 through '09.
Then last season, out of nowhere, Sea Bass became a top-flight fantasy kicking option. The 33-year-old Janikowski tied for the league lead in both field goals attempted (41) and made (33)—both of which were career highs—while converting all 43 of his extra point attempts, the most he has had since Oakland's Super Bowl season of 2002.
That uptick was the result of a suddenly (and somewhat shockingly) capable Raiders offense that ranked sixth in points (25.6) and second in rushing yards (155.9). Janikowski had more scoring opportunities than he had during his first three seasons (2000--02), when Oakland had one of the game's most prolific offenses. And he made the most of those chances.
"Just looking at the guys we had and how hard they were working, I knew we were going to be a much better team," Janikowski recalls. "I knew I was going to get a lot more chances."
There's good reason to think that Janikowski could be similarly busy in 2011. Running back Darren McFadden heads an offense that ran the 10th-most plays from scrimmage last season (1,039) yet struggled in the red zone due largely to an inconsistent passing game that ranked 23rd in yards per game. The air attack remains average at best, with unspectacular Jason Campbell throwing to a receiving corps whose leader in receptions and touchdowns last year was a tight end, Zach Miller. Second in those categories? McFadden.
And when it comes to long field goals, no other kicker in the league has more freedom to try them. This is, after all, the same man who was allowed to attempt a 76-yarder in 2008 (it hit the ground at about the three-yard line) and whose bid for a record 64-yard field goal in 2007 hit the right goalpost about halfway up. Last season 19 of Janikowski's attempts were from 40 yards or more, including seven from more than 50—second most from that distance in the league.
"I'm always trying to push for the longest kick I can," Janikowski says. "Every pregame I try to tell the coaches that I can kick it 65--70 yards. I always exaggerate a little because I like kicking the long field goals." Not that he's averse to short field goals, either. For his career Sea Bass is 159 of 171 (93.0%) from 40 yards or less.
Janikowski says he doesn't have to make significant adjustments from kick to kick based on distance. Whether it's an extra point or a 60-yard try, his kicking motion remains the same.
"I changed my [kicking] steps about six years ago to 1½ steps, and I've continued with that this whole time," he says. "With my leg strength right now, I don't have to change anything and I can stay consistent with the same steps on each kick."
If you're going to be picky about which kicker you select, going with the NFL's most powerful leg—and now, one of its most frequently used—is a wise way to go.