ST. LOUIS – New Rams coach Jeff Fisher doesn’t remember ever drafting a kicker in his near 30-year career as an NFL coach.
“I don’t believe I have,” Fisher said.
Must say something about how he and the Rams feel about Greg Zuerlein.
The Rams drafted Zuerlein out of Missouri Western with the first pick of the sixth round (No. 171 overall) in the recent NFL Draft, making him the first kicker from a non-BCS school to be drafted since Stephen Gostkowski of Memphis went to the New England Patriots in the fourth round in 2006.
And while he may come from a small school, he apparently has quite the leg. Zuerlein was a perfect nine-for-nine on field-goal attempts from beyond 50 yards last season, twice hitting them from 58 yards. He was named a NCAA Division II All-American after making a Division-II record 21 straight field goals and leading the nation with 2.3 field goals per game.
Asked what they liked about Zuerlein, Fisher pointed to his productive college statistics and a pair of workouts with Special Teams coach John Fassel.
“Coach Fassel went out and did private workouts with a number of kickers and punters and he came back and literally was blown away at the leg, the distance on the kickoffs and the distance and accuracy in the field goal game,” Fisher said. “Twenty-three-of-24 and nine over 50 yards. Two over 58 in one game – that’s extraordinary. We felt like this was going to be a need. We need to upgrade the position and we couldn’t pass on this opportunity.”
The Rams felt enough of Zuerlein to not only draft him in the sixth round, but to immediately cut ties with veteran kicker Josh Brown by releasing him the next day. The move signals the rookie’s place as the starter from Day 1.
After kicking in the East-West Shrine Game, Zuerlein performed in private workouts for the Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings. And after his workout for the Rams about a month before the draft didn’t go as well as he would have liked, the Nebraska native wasn’t sure what would happen.
Then came a phone call from Fassel just a week before the draft, asking if he could come to the Missouri Western campus in St. Joseph, Mo., to see Zuerlein kick again. This one went much better.
“My first workout, I wasn’t happy with my kickoffs,” “Zuerlein said. “My second workout … I thought it went decent. It can always go better until I hit every ball perfect. Then I’d be happy with it. But it went alright.
“I didn’t feel I hit the ball that great that (first) day. It must have been just good enough. They saw something that they liked, so I think that’s encouraging going into the future. I can perform better than what they saw, I feel, and hopefully I can do that.”
The Rams obviously liked what they saw, making him the first kicker from Division-II or lower to be drafted since Paul Ernster of Northern Arizona went to the Denver Broncos in the seventh round of the 2005 draft.
Zuerlein kicked at Nebraska-Omaha for three seasons before a hip injury forced him to miss the 2010 season. When Nebraska-Omaha ended it’s football program, Zuerlein transferred to Missouri Western for his final year of eligibility.
But despite kicking at the Division-II level last year, Zuerlein doesn’t figure to get spooked by the bright lights of the NFL when he takes the field this fall.
“It doesn’t matter what class you’re in, in high school or what division of football you play, the field goal posts are the same,” Zuerlein said. “If you can do it at any level in college, it should translate to the NFL.”