The Rams 3 Kickers; This May Be The Most Important Competition In Camp
Kickers in the National Football League have evolved, becoming a crucial part of any team’s success. Despite this, it seems as though finding consistent and reliable kickers nowadays is a daunting task for many teams. According to the Washington Post, kickers have been extremely inefficient in recent years, “making field goals at the [League’s] worst rate since 2003” (Walker, Teresa. “Kickers making field goals at NFL’s worst rate since 2003” Washington Post).
With the recent departure of Greg Zuerlein, the Rams’ kicker of eight years, Los Angeles is on the hunt for a replacement. Zuerlein’s 82% field goal accuracy, along with his 97% extra point accuracy, gave him a reputable career on the Rams – not to mention his first-team All-Pro appearance in 2017.
The Rams have addressed some important needs this past offseason with the signing of OLB Leonard Floyd, the re-signing of DT Michael Brockers and LT Andrew Whitworth, and through the drafting of RB Cam Akers. However, the kicker position remains to be had. The new position competition involves three newly acquired players: Sam Sloman, Austin MacGinnis, and Lirim Hajrullahu.
Sam Sloman of Miami University in Ohio, was the Rams’ seventh-round draft pick this year and appears to be the early favorite to succeed Zuerlein. Throughout his four seasons with the Miami RedHawks, Sloman demonstrated great progression. In his last two seasons, Sloman was a starter. In 2018, his first season as a starter, Sloman displayed 77% accuracy with his kicks, making 10 of the 13 attempted field goals and only missing one extra point. His senior year illustrated a spike in production as Sloman made twenty-six of the thirty field goal attempts and successfully executed 34/34 extra points. At 53 yards, his longest field goal this past season demonstrates his big-leg potential.
Sloman also does not shy away from games that come down to the wire, shining in, arguably, the biggest game of his career. In the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship game against Central Michigan University, Sloman kicked a perfect four of four field goals, including two field goals within the last few minutes to seal the game. He is a young prospect and lacks the experience relative to his competition, but Sloman shows great potential to be the Rams starting kicker for years to come.
Austin MacGinnis, 25, is a newly signed player for the Los Angeles Rams this offseason. Coming out of high school, MacGinnis was considered a very talented prospect and named as one of the Nation’s Top 3 Kicker Prospects of his recruiting class. He committed to the University of Kentucky and had a successful four years with the Wildcats.
As a freshman, he was named first-team All-SEC and also set a University of Kentucky record with a 54-yard long field goal. He finished his career as a Kentucky Wildcat successfully kicking 51 of 64 field goals and 102 of 104 extra points, leaving a lasting legacy as the All-Time Leading Scorer.
However, his calling as a professional kicker did not end at the collegiate level as he signed with the Xtreme Football League (XFL) to play for the Dallas Renegades. He quickly established himself as one of the best kickers in the XFL, kicking a perfect 10 for 10 during the short-lived season. In addition to his on-the-field accolades, MacGinnis also coaches for the well-established kickers’ camp, OneonOne Kicking Camp, where 95% of their attendees receive college scholarship offers.
Although still young, MacGinnis has shown that he is a reliable kicker and has translated this through his college and professional performance. He is looking to extend his time as a professional kicker and compete for the starting spot on Rams’ roster this upcoming season.
Candian footballer, Lirim Hajrullahu has established himself as the most experienced kicker amongst the competition, racking up six seasons as a kicker and punter for the Canadian Football League (CFL). He was an 83% field goal kicker, making 239 of 287 kicks throughout his days in the CFL. From the 56-yard line, his career-long contributes to his 83% accuracy in field goals from 50+ yards.
Hajrullahu’s six seasons in the CFL provide him the advantage of acclimating to harsher weather conditions. In fact, his game-winning field goal in the 2017 CFL Grey Cup took place in snowy-weather conditions, on top of the already immense pressure of a championship game. Despite his successes, questions remain in regards to Hajrullahu’s ceiling, especially in comparison to the younger prospects in the running. Hajrullah has proven himself to be a consistent and unphased kicker. He is a true competitor and has overcome adversity outside of football as well; he and his family were forced to flee war-torn Kosovo in the late 1990s. Coming to the NFL, expectations are high for the experienced Hajrullahu, but do not be surprised if he is able to turn heads during training camp.
The Los Angeles Rams may have one of the most diverse kicking groups coming into the 2020 Season. All three kickers come from distinct backgrounds, each with ample experience under their belt and the potential to become full-time NFL starters. Rams’ Special Teams Coach, John Bonamego should be keeping a close eye on these three candidates.
Although it is too early to tell, we can assume that one of these contenders will be cut by the preseason. The remaining two will go head-to-head in the four preseason games, showcasing their abilities to the maximum. All of them show promise to be successful in the league, but which one of them will be able to break away in this race?