Los Angeles Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein has been a polarizing figure throughout his career with the Rams.
He earned the nickname "Greg the Leg" due to his cannon leg and long-range accuracy, hitting seven field goals from 50+, along with 10 of 10 (100%) field goals from 40-49, in 2012, and 92.9% of field goals, including 18 of 19 (94.7%) from 30-49, in 2013. Zuerlein finished 5th in FG% in 2013.
This was the start the Rams hoped for when they drafted him in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Remember this Dude Perfect with Johnny Hekker?
When he’s hitting from 50+, he’s one of the most exciting kickers in the NFL. Few have his power and ability to mask a bad offense. Many times the Rams crossed midfield, and folded it in to have Greg kick it from across the Mississippi River.
In recent years, however, there are real concerns about sustaining his long-range accuracy. In 2014, he was fine, hitting 7 of 10 from 40+ and an overall 80% field goal percentage.
But in 2015, he made only 8 of 17 (47%) from 40+, including only 3 of 9 (33%) from 50+. Zuerlein had several kicks blocked, including a game-winner at San Francisco. He also missed two games with a groin injury, which would explain some of the accuracy and timing issues if it was bothering him during the season.
After allowing him to hit free agency, the Rams re-signed Zuerlein to a 1-year, $1.25M base deal worth a maximum of $3.3M, which is basically "prove-it" deal. They also brought in UDFA Taylor Bertolet from Texas A&M to provide competition.
The Rams want to see if he can regain the magic of 2012-2013, when he was one of the more promising kickers in the NFL.
Zuerlein will face real competition for the first time in his young career, with Bertolet representing another young leg capable of hitting from long distances.
In 2015, Bertolet was a perfect 38 for 38 in extra point attempts and hit a long of 55 vs. Mississippi State.
The Rams didn’t bring in Bertolet to just give Zuerlein a breather. They want Zuerlein to prove he is healthy and re-gain the confidence of his coaches and teammates. He has work to do.
The Rams will play in the LA Coliseum (grass), where he is 29 of 32 (90.6%) on extra point attempts and 32 of 48 (66.7%) on field goal attempts. This is concerning, since indoors he is 56 of 65 (86.2%) on field goal attempts, a 20% increase.
Obviously, kicking outdoors is more of a challenge. For comparison, Green Bay’s Mason Crosby is 188 for 240 outdoors (78.3%) and 46 of 52 indoors (88.5%). Weirdly, Seattle’s Steven Hauschka is actually better outdoors (90.7%) than indoors (89.5%).
Zuerlein needs to show that he can be more successful kicking on grass, since all of the Rams’ home games will be outdoors.
Chances of Making the Final Roster (7/10)
We think that the Rams will believe that last year was a bit of a fluke, with Zuerlein (possibly) nursing a groin injury for some time and eventually missing two games.
He can clearly be both accurate and powerful with his kicks when healthy, so we think the Rams will lean his way. But if Zuerlein struggles in preseason, the Rams shouldn’t hesitate to give Bertolet the opportunity.