Who will be the Lions’ new kicker?
Imagine it’s the opening week of the NFL season and the Detroit Lions need a last-minute field goal to win.
In recent years, there was always a longtime veteran kicker with as much as two decades of experience to rely on in those situations.
This year, it appears they could be taking their chances on a relative unknown.
The Lions’ offseason workout program begins next week. Jason Hanson is still in retirement. David Akers wasn’t re-signed. The team’s top two kickers at this point are John Potter and Giorgio Tavecchio.
Potter, 24, is a local guy from Grand Haven who played in college at Western Michigan. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Buffalo Bills in 2012.
Tavecchio, 23, was an undrafted free agent two years ago coming out of the University of California.
They have a total of three field goals in the NFL (all by Potter).
Hanson and Akers, the Lions’ last two kickers, combined for 881 field goals during their careers (495 by Hanson).
Hanson retired after the 2012 season following 21 years with the Lions. Akers then struggled at times last season as Hanson’s much-scrutinized replacement.
There are still more than five months before the season opener. The Lions might decide they need to invest a draft pick on a kicker, much like they did in selecting a punter in the fifth round last year. They also could bring in a young kicker who goes undrafted.
Or, if they’re uncomfortable with what they see from the youngsters, they could always revert to one of the veteran free agents who goes unsigned or gets released.
But for now, the options are Potter and Tavecchio, who were signed a couple months ago. Both were more impressive during their workouts than fan favorite Havard "Kickalicious" Rugland, the Youtube sensation that got released late in training camp last year.
"We’ve got two young guys that we like … that we had done some work on and we felt really good about," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew told reporters. "We’re going to work with those guys for a while and see what those guys do."
Potter appeared in six regular-season games with the Bills in 2012 as a kickoff specialist. He then kicked in three games last season with the Washington Redskins, making 3-of-4 field-goal attempts, before getting released again.
Potter (6-foot-1, 219 pounds) is one of more athletic kickers around. During his Western Michigan career, he made 36 tackles, recovered two fumbles on kickoffs, ran for a touchdown on a fake field goal and scored on a two-point conversion run. He is Western’s all-time career scoring leader.
Tavecchio, who was born in Milan, Italy, was with the San Francisco 49ers during training camp in 2012 and the Green Bay Packers during training camp last year. He’s 2-for-3 on field-goal attempts in preseason games, but has no regular-season experience.
The Lions will evaluate both of them throughout this offseason, but what they won’t know is how they can handle the pressure in a NFL game, especially when the outcome is on the line in the final minutes.
The top free agents who remain unsigned include Rob Bironas (Tennessee), Rian Lindell (Tampa Bay) and Akers.
Meanwhile, Rice’s Chris Boswell and Texas’ Anthony Fera are considered the most likely kickers to get drafted, presumably in the final round or two. Other top prospects that could go undrafted include Northwestern’s Jeff Budzien, Tulane’s Cairo Santos and Boston College’s Nate Freese.
The Lions will spend less money toward the salary cap if they go with one of these younger kickers, but there’s a definite risk involved.