The Cincinnati Bengals addressed special teams on the final day of the 2017 NFL Draft, taking kicker Jake Elliott of Memphis in the fifth round (153rd overall).
Elliott was the first kicker taken in this year’s draft. Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez (Cleveland) and Georgia Tech’s Harrison Butker (Carolina) both went in the seventh round. Elliott became the first kicker drafted by the Bengals since Travis Dorsch in 2002 (fourth round).
Unfortunately, there wasn’t an outrageously early kicker selected, which always makes the draft fun. Like last year when Tampa Bay used the 59th overall pick to take Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, who ended up being the only kicker taken in the entire draft.
Elliott became the first kicker taken despite Gonzalez, the 2016 winner of the Lou Groza Award (given to the nation’s top kicker) and the consensus top kicker in the draft, still on the board.
Over four years with Memphis, Elliott made 81 of 104 of his field goal attempts (77.9 percent), while Gonzalez made 82.8 percent of his three-point tries over his four-year career with the Sun Devils. Gonzalez made 96 field goals at ASU, most in NCAA history. Elliott is in a tie for eighth on the all-time list with Luis Zendejas, who was the last NFL kicker to miss three consecutive extra points until Mike Nugent dubiously did so last season with the Bengals.
Elliott had to bounce back from a sub-par sophomore season when he made a career-low 65.6 percent of his field goal attempts. Over his final two years, Elliott went 22 of 26 from 40-plus yards.
With 11 picks coming into the draft, it was considered highly likely the Bengals were going to draft a kicker at some point. Especially with the headaches that came on special teams in 2016.
Nugent, the highest-drafted kicker (47th overall) since Sebastian Janikowski went in the first round in 2000, started 12 for 13 last season but struggled in his final nine games. The Ohio native missed 12 total kicks, finishing tied with Seattle’s Stephen Hauschka for most missed extra points (6).
Despite leapfrogging Doug Pelfrey for the number four spot on the Bengals’ all-time scoring list, Nugent was released in December.
His replacement, Randy Bullock, made all six of his PAT tries over the last three games of the season. His lone missed field goal in six attempts was a game-winner as time expired on Christmas Eve in Houston. Bullock re-signed with Cincinnati on a two-year deal last January, but will now face off against Elliott for the starting spot this season.
With the decreasing value of touchbacks in today’s NFL, Bullock vs. Elliott may come down to long-range accuracy. Elliott went 10 for 16 from 50-plus yards out at Memphis, Bullock hasn’t made a 50-yarder since 2014.