Monday, February 23, 2009

Nittany Lions in the Pros - Kickers

Today's installment of Nittany Lions in the Pros will focus on kickers. You can view previous entries in the series here, here, and here.

Below is the list of former Penn State kickers and their success in the National Football League since 1966.

Click to enlarge statistics.

Penn State has been in relatively good hands - or perhaps feet - since the mid-1970's. Every few years a great kicker comes along. The Bahr brothers were a Penn State staple through the 70's and Brian Franco and Massimo Manca had the position held down in the 80's. Manca kicked for both National Championship squads. A few years later Brett Conway would solidify the position followed soon thereafter by Robbie Gould and then Kevin Kelly, the focus of today's piece.

Not only were the Bahr's great college players they also excelled in the NFL, as demonstrated by their combined 31 year career. They never made a pro bowl but were continually solid. Chris kicked for three teams (Cincinnati, Los Angeles/Oakland, and San Diego). Matt traveled around the league, kicking for Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Cleveland, NY Giants, Philadelphia, and New England. The lone All Pro and Pro Bowl appearance belongs to rising star Robbie Gould. The Bears kicker went from unheralded college kicker to undrafted free agent to NFL Pro Bowler in about two years. Not too shabby. He has a promising future.

As of right now it has to be on of the Bahr brothers. They kicked in the league for well over a decade. Both were solid if unspectacular and looking at numbers its hard to justify picking one over the other. However, Matt Bahr did kick for two Super Bowl Champions (1979 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1990 New York Giants). Chris did win a Super Bowl with the 1980 Oakland Raiders but two rings trumps one. Keep an eye on Gould though. He is still young and is considered one of the best in the league. If Chicago fixes some issues or Gould bolts for a new team, which is unlikely to happen since less than a year ago Chicago signed him through the 2013 season and made him the leagues highest paid kicker.

2009 DRAFT
Kevin Kelly finished his career with the most points scored in the history of Penn State football. That's what kicking for four years will do for ya. He finished just a few points short of the Big Ten record. Despite these statistical achievements, Kelly had a rough start to his collegiate career. He had an average 2005 season but his inability to make kick after kick in the 2006 Orange Bowl carried into the 2006 season. After two years of shoddy placekicking, fans wanted more. Kelly delivered. He started nailing all kicks as a soon-to-be-pro should. He was almost automatic from inside 40 yards in his junior and senior seasons. His career was the exact opposite of Gould's, who started strong but finished poorly. Kelly played in all 51 games he could while a Nittany Lion, connecting on 78 of 107 field goals attempted (~73%) and 183 of 185 extra point attempts (~99%). He also had one memorable rush on a fake FG which he took to the house for a 5 yard TD. The 73% FG percentage doesn't look good to the naked eye but when you look deeper you can see his progression. Kelly was 16 of 23 (~70%) as a freshman in 2005, 22 of 34 (~65%) as a sophomore in 2006, 20 of 26 (~77%) as a junior in 2007, and 20 of 24 (~83%) as a senior in 2008. Kelly showed such improvement in '07 and '08 that the staff occasionally had him try field goals over 52 yards.

Kickers are really a top priority of teams during the offseason, especially ones with no prior professional experience. However I definitely see Kelly pulling a Robbie Gould and making a training camp roster as a challenger to an aged veteran. Who knows, maybe he'll be the next kicker to sign a 5+ year deal for millions of dollars?

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