With one minute and 29 seconds left to go in the week one matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins, the consensus reaction among those watching was one of bewilderment as to why exactly Doug Pederson was going for a two-point conversion in this situation. The Eagles were up by 11 points after a fumble recovery was returned for a 20-yard touchdown by Fletcher Cox, and the difference between a 12 and 13 point lead was almost meaningless. Regardless, the play resulted in a successful conversion with Carson Wentz completing a pass to Alshon Jeffery, but that did not make the play call any less confusing. In the post game press conference, Pederson confirmed that placekicker Caleb Sturgis had been injured, which was more or less the reason they went for two in that particular situation, and that he would need to be evaluated the next day. Unfortunately for the Eagles, and for Sturgis, he reportedly suffered a hip flexor tear that will cause him to miss an extended period of time long enough to justify the team placing him on the injured reserve list. This injury could continue the almost bi-yearly Eagles kicker carousel that has plagued the Eagles since the days of former placekicker David Akers came to an end.
Injury Continues the Philadelphia Eagles Kicker Carousel
In 1999, the Eagles claimed Akers off of waivers from the Redskins and assigned him to the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe, which at the time was an existing NFL affiliate that allowed teams to assign players comparable to a minor league system. After earning the kicking job in 2000, he became an Eagles special teams unit fixture and one of the top kickers in the National Football League.
Akers’ tenure lasted until he missed two chip shot field goals that would have won the Eagles an NFC Wild Card round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers in 2010. The next NFL draft, the Eagles had selected placekicker Alex Henery from Nebraska in the fourth round to replace Akers who had signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent. Akers was beloved by the city, but those two missed kicks in the playoffs stuck with fans. Henery would go on to set a new NFL record for field goal accuracy by a rookie kicker and help ease the transition for fans.
The Era of Henery
It looked as though the Eagles had found themselves a new franchise kicker after such a promising rookie year. In a second year, Henery set a franchise record by making 22 consecutive field goals. After a subpar third season, showing off his lack of leg strength on long field goal attempts and kickoffs, Henery continued to struggle the following preseason which led to the team making a trade with the Indianapolis Colts for undrafted rookie placekicker Cody Parkey.
Parkey eventually took over for Henery as the kicker by the beginning of the season and set a new NFL rookie scoring record as well as being tied for the highest average of points scored per game with Stephen Gostkowski of the New England Patriots. After suffering a groin injury in 2015, Parkey was placed on injured reserve which prompted the initial signing of Sturgis.
The Caleb Sturgis Era
Sturgis, who started his Eagles career off with a missed extra point as well as a missed 30-yard field goal attempt, finished the season strong and was given the opportunity to compete with Parkey for the kicking job the next training camp. After beating out Parkey, Sturgis was rewarded with a one-year extension to keep him around through the current season and into the next one.
He followed receiving the extension with the best season of his young career and looked to solidify himself as the kicker of the future with another strong outing in 2017. Unfortunately, he now finds himself in a very similar situation that both Parkey and Henery found themselves in years prior. Sturgis will watch as a replacement is brought in to do his job while he is on the IR and will hope that he does not suffer the same fate as his predecessors.
Instead of signing a stopgap veteran to put his mind at ease a bit while he recovers, the Eagles decided to go with a rookie kicker, who will be motivated to show that he not only deserves a spot over Sturgis on this team but a spot in the NFL.
The rookie kicker that the Eagles decided to sign is Jake Elliott, fifth round draft pick from the University of Memphis. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals where he lost in a competition for the kicker spot to veteran Randy Bullock and was re-signed to their practice squad after being waived. He set numerous records for the Memphis Tigers, most of which were previously held by New England’s Gostkowski, and was generally regarded as the second ranked kicker in the 2017 NFL Draft.
As the first kicker that was taken in the draft, Elliott had a lot to live up to as he was instantly tabbed as the kicker of the future for the Bengals. The pressure may have been there from being chosen in the fifth round, but it seemed as though the choice to go with the veteran was more about the way Bullock looked in training camp, practices and in the preseason than the lack of potential shown by Elliott.
Being six years younger than Sturgis, Elliott finds youth as an advantage currently with the Eagles when it may have been a detriment in Cincinnati. Without the worry of a veteran competing with him for playing time and kicks in practice, he finds himself in a more relaxed environment. If he can show the same kicking ability on field goals, extra points and kickoffs as he did at Memphis, he could land himself a long-term position as the Eagles kicker.
In his four-year collegiate career, Elliott had a 63.7 kickoff touchback percentage, made 202 consecutive extra points, and kicked four of the five longest field goals in the program’s history at 53 yards twice, 54 yards and 56 yards, respectively. He also had only one kick blocked in four years, went three for six in his onside kick attempts and never missed a field goal attempt from inside 30 yards during his collegiate career. The biggest knock against him was that the distance and hang time of his kickoffs needed to improve in the NFL, which hopefully can be worked on.
The fact of the matter is, no matter how well of a season Sturgis had last season, it seemed to be the exception more than the rule when it comes to his NFL career. And even though seeing a player lose his job due to an injury is awful, this may have been a blessing in disguise for the Eagles. If Elliott can show glimpses of his collegiate kicking game and at least average abilities on kickoffs, he deserves the chance to be considered the new long-term solution at kicker. At the young age of 22, Elliott can be a staple for years to come in a part of the kicking game which has been in need of some serious consistency for almost a decade.