A wise man once said that wisdom and insight come with age. It’s certainly true, yet the philosopher may have left out one more accouterment of seniority: unsuccessful field goal attempts.
Coming off his 15th season with the Green Bay Packers, Mason Crosby‘s 2021 campaign was filled with the good, the bad, and, unfortunately, the ugly. The longest-tenured Packer had his walk-off moments with game-winning field goals over the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals early on in the season. Crosby was as solid as ever on short-range field goals, going 4/4 within 30 yards. His long-distance wasn’t bad either. He knocked in all but one of his attempts from 50-plus yards. His season-long was 54 yards and his game-winner against the Bengals was a 51-yard shot. To top it off, Crosby was good (and just below his career average) on extra-point attempts, going 49/51.
Yet with the highs came the lows. Crosby’s 2021 field goal percentage (FG%) was just 73.5 in 2021. That’s the second-lowest in his career and his worst showing since 2012, when he missed 12 attempts and finished at 63.6%.
The 37-year-old’s mistakes in 2021 weren’t necessarily consistent. He was perfect in 10 games this season and went 8/9 on his attempts from Week 14 on. Instead, the blunders hit like thunderstorms, not sprinkles. Weeks 5 through 12 were catastrophic for Crosby. He missed nine of his 21 attempts, lowlighted by 4/7 and 0/2 outings against the Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs. That stretch contributed to him being ranked 31st in the league for FG% among kickers in the league (at least 0.75 attempts per game).
It would be foolish to place all the blame on Crosby. Special teams hurt the Packers all season, and Crosby appeared to have a strained working relationship with punter and placeholder Corey Bojorquez. Bringing in new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia should certainly address some of Green Bay’s woes. But we have to start asking what life in Green Bay looks like after Mason Crosby.
Crosby will probably be back next year. Kickers age more gracefully than other positions, and Crosby’s trajectory was headed in the right direction before this year. This year will likely be viewed as a blemish in a decade-and-a-half-long career that has mostly been a success.
Yet Crosby, 37, won’t be in Green Bay forever. Whether that means one, two, or three more seasons, the Packers need to think about the future at a position that requires consistency.
Crosby was chosen in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Since then, only 26 kickers have been selected in the NFL draft. While it was a bold move for a niche position, the art of drafting a kicker can pay off significantly. Names like Stephen Gostkowski, Greg Zuerlein, and Harrison Butker were all drafted and have become game-changing players. Cincinnati took Evan McPherson in the fifth round last year, and he has been arguably the strongest kicker in the league. He’s one of the main reasons the Bengals are headed to the Super Bowl.
Conversely, drafting a kicker can be costly. Spending a pick on a kicker that could be used on a position player can be viewed as colossal mismanagement by a front-office staff. The Bucs took a chance with Florida State standout Roberto Aguayo in 2016 and cut him after a year.
The Packers would be making a bold move by drafting a kicker. Yet the front office took Jordan Love and Eric Stokes in the first round and A.J. Dillon in the second. Two of those three have turned out incredibly. However, Love’s legacy is yet to be determined.
If they opt to draft a kicker, the following would be strong candidates. These names are all juniors and/or younger, considering that Crosby still has gas left in the tank.
Noah Ruggles, Junior, Ohio State
After three years at North Carolina, Ruggles transferred to Ohio State and was electric for the Buckeyes, knocking in all 45 of his extra-point attempts and going 20/21 on field goal attempts. With the second highest FG% in the FBS (.952), Ruggles will be returning to Columbus for a final year of eligibility. Ruggles kicked the game-winning field goal for OSU in the Rose Bowl and has a career long field goal of 49 yards (career long at Ohio State is 46).
Given the nature of college football, it’s likely that Ruggles’ leg has the capability to stretch much longer than what we’ve seen in games. This season should provide the graduate transfer an opportunity to showcase his distance for one of the nation’s premier programs.
Jonah Dalmas, Sophomore, Boise State
The Meridian, Idaho native had a breakout season in 2021, punching in 26 of his 28 field goal attempts in 12 games. His .929 FG% ranks seventh in the nation, and his season-long was a 47-yard boot against Fresno State. Dalmas is young but has emerged as one of the sport’s brightest kickers. A successful 2022 could put him on multiple teams’ radar.
Cade York, Junior, LSU
One of the strongest legs in the nation, York was 5/7 on field-goal attempts over 50 yards. His season long in ’21 was a 56-yarder but the McKinney, Texas native booted a career-long 57-yard field goal in 2020. York went 15/18 in 2021 on field goals and was perfect from within 40 yards. Twelve of those kicks came from outside of 40 yards, and he went 8/11 on those. Naturally, a young kicker is going to miss more with distance, yet the confidence to give him those opportunities is promising.
The chances of Green Bay drafting a kicker in the 2022 Draft are slim to none. Yet as this front office has shown, it’s never to early to start thinking about the future.