Oakland Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski, he of the devastating left leg, is built like a guy who can kick a football 60 yards. At 6’2″, 250 lbs., Janikowski could have a second career as a linebacker if his leg ever loses some of its luster. It’s no surprise when the two-time NCAA All-American, first-round draft pick nails kicks of 50-plus yards with regularity.
Greg Zuerlein is none of those things. He’s listed on the team’s website at a generous 6 feet tall and weighs just 187 pounds. Not quite a two-time NCAA All-American, Zuerlein was a first-team AFCA All-American in 2011 at Division II Western Missouri State. As such, he flew under most teams’ radars in this year’s NFL Draft, when the St. Louis Rams selected him in the sixth round. A known quantity he was not.
He’s certainly known now. After kicking four field goals in the Rams 19-13 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, there are very few people that don’t know the rookie’s name.
“Our kicker is the MVP of the season right now,” RB Steven Jackson said after the game Sunday. “He’s doing a great job.”
The field goals haven’t all been chip shots, either. Zuerlein set the Rams record for longest field goal in team history with a 58-yard kick in the first quarter Sunday and later broke his own record when he nailed a 60-yarder in the third quarter of the same game. His accuracy – he’s now 12-for-12 on field goals to start his career – is a comfort, but his strength is a weapon.
There were signs from early on that suggested he might be capable of such things. Zuerlein was a 2005 Sports Illustrated preseason high school All-American but ended up at Division II University of Nebraska-Omaha. There, he set a single-season school record with 17 field goals as a junior, including a 52-yard kick. He was poised to break the school’s all-time career record for field goals in his senior season, but the program folded before Zuerlein got the chance.
New school, same result for Zuerlein in his senior year. Upon transferring to Missouri Western State, Zuerlein made 21 consecutive field goals and broke a school record when he split the uprights from 58 yards. It was that combination of poise and potential, of ice water and iron in his veins that convinced the Rams to take a chance on him in the sixth round.
Now that he’s got a 60-yarder under his belt, the question is how much more the 24-year old has in reserve. Head coach Jeff Fisher said 60 yards is well within Zuerlein’s range, suggesting he may be comfortable letting the rookie try from longer. Jackson said the team just needs to get to midfield to be within Zuerlein’s range.
Speaking before the Rams played in Chicago two weekends ago, special teams coordinator John Fassel summed up Zuerlein’s ceiling best.
“Our line’s pretty deep,” Fassel said. “I’ll put it this way – he can set an NFL record if the conditions are right.”