Once the Chicago Bears figure out what their plan is in the secondary with a pair of starters on the brink of free agency, how the team addresses its need at the place-kicker position is the storyline everyone will gravitate toward this offseason.
If the team doesn’t go after Stephen Gostkowski at the top of the market, the most obvious solution is to dive into the draft-eligible kickers and find a long-term answer in that phase of the offseason. And to that end, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune recently checked in with three anonymous NFL Special Teams Coordinators while at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis for a feel on the kickers who could be on the Bears’ draft radar. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anything relayed to Biggs will leave Bears fans feeling confident about the available options.
When it came to Cole Tracy, Biggs was told the LSU standout had “poor leg strength” that left doubts if he could play in the league. That seems to vibe with the Tracy’s NFL.com prospect profile, which lists weaknesses as “ball tends to die early on deep field goal tries,” limited deep range, and “unimpressive trajectory on intermediate kicks.” And since GM Ryan Pace made it a point of emphasis that leg strength would be a priority when finding his team’s next kicker, I feel as if Tracy doesn’t fit what the team’s lead decision-maker publicly said he was seeking.
The returns for Matt Gay were a bit better, with Biggs hearing that the Utah product “had good ball flight.” I suppose that’s one way to confirm Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com write-up of Gay as he described him as “a big boy with an even bigger leg” and listed “big, booming leg” as a strength. But don’t get too caught up in Gay in a Bears uniform just yet. A special teams coordinator also noted Gay “had some misses with the field goals” and that’s not something that will put anyone’s mind at ease. Gay also has “an awkward, three-step approach” that Zierlein believes needs some work in order for him to land on an NFL roster.
Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert received the most positive reviews. Seibert received a thumbs up on having “a nice leg” and “good leg strength” when it came to kickoff attempts and field goals. It’s a shame there isn’t more of a sample on Seibert kicking from long distance. According to Seibert’s draft profile, he attempted just three 50-yard kicks (made only one) and was 4-for-9 on tries in the 40-49 range. Considering that the Bears’ season ended on a missed 43-yard attempt, that’s a tough sell. But Seibert is the leading in Oklahoma and Big 12 history, so maybe that tilts the scales in his favor.
Even after the snapshot provided from a top draft analyst and league special teams coaches, I’m still unsure how to feel about any of these prospects. Each has admirable strengths, but the weaknesses and question-marks would leave me feeling uneasy about putting my full trust in any of the options listed above.
Drafting a kicker seems like a roll of the dice, but Pace didn’t rule it out as a possibility if the right situation presented itself. However, I’m not sure things will play out for it to happen. And maybe that’s a good thing. Late-round picks tend to be high-upside picks with little risk attached to their future. But if the Bears took a shot at a kicker, they would be jumping into the risky end of the pool with a position that has left fans scarred after how 2018 ended.