Do Kickers Ever Deserve to Be First-Round NFL Draft Picks?
When it comes to the NFL draft, kickers rarely get selected. It’s even more stunning to see a kicker get drafted in the first round. While most NFL teams use first-round picks on premium positions, others have invested an early selection on a position that doesn’t typically carry a high value. While younger NFL draft aficionados may remember the Oakland Raiders selecting Sebastian Janikowski in the first round, it’s time to take a look at the other kickers who hold the distinction of being first-round NFL draft picks. And considering 229 placekickers have been drafted, you may be shocked at the results and their overall lack of impact.
Charlie Gogolak drafted sixth overall by Washington Redskins in 1966 NFL draft
Until the 1966 NFL draft, no NFL team had ever spent a first-round pick on a kicker. In fact, up until that point, only two kickers ever got drafted as high as the third round. That all changed when the Washington Redskins selected Charlie Gogolak with the sixth-overall pick. Considered a pioneer in the kicking game, the former Princeton star gained notoriety for introducing a soccer-style kick in football.
The Hungarian kicker lasted just three seasons in the nation’s capital. As a rookie, the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder converted just 22 of his 34 field-goal attempts. In his second season, he played just one game and missed three field-goal attempts. It didn’t get any better for Gogolak in 1968, as he converted just 47.4 percent on field goals, including a dismal 0-for-8 from 40-plus yards.
The NFL’s first first-round kicker finished out his career with the New England Patriots. He made just 55.6 percent of his field-goal attempts over the course of three years before retiring after the 1972 season.
Steve Little drafted 15th overall by St. Louis Cardinals in 1978
It took another 12 years before another NFL team decided to use a first-round pick on a kicker. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Arkansas kicker Steve Little with the 15th pick in the 1978 NFL draft. Unfortunately, that decision proved to be a major blunder. In choosing Little, the Cardinals eschewed the chance to select future Hall of Fame tight end and longtime Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who went just eight picks later. The Cardinals also passed over a number of quality NFL players such as quarterback Doug Williams (17th overall), linebacker John Anderson (26th overall) and defensive tackle Al Baker (40th overall).
In hindsight, the selection looks like an abject disaster. However, Little actually put together a fantastic college career with the Razorbacks. The 6-foot, 180-pounder still holds the NCAA record for the longest field goal at 67 yards. In his senior year, he led the NCAA with 19 successful field-goal attempts and was a consensus All-American.
Unfortunately, Little’s NFL career did not measure up to his draft pedigree. He lasted just three years with the Cardinals and managed to hit just 48.1 percent of his field-goal attempts. Sadly, right after the Cardinals cut him, Little got into a horrific car accident that left him a quadriplegic. The Arkansas native died in 1999 at the age of 43.
Sebastian Janikowski drafted 17th overall by Oakland Raiders in 2000 NFL draft
The most famous first-round kicker is certainly Sebastian Janikowski. In fitting fashion, Raiders owner Al Davis kicked off the new millennium by making big-legged lefty the 17th pick of the 2000 NFL draft. The Poland native entered the NFL after a highly successful career at Florida State. Janikowski led the NCAA in field goals made in both his sophomore and junior seasons with the Seminoles.
Despite character and maturity concerns, Oakland still drafted Seabass ahead of future NFL stars such as Shaun Alexander (19th overall) Keith Bulluck (30th overall) and Chad Clifton (44th overall). Janikowski actually turned out to be quite a solid NFL kicker. He spent 17 seasons in Oakland and made 80.4 percent of his 515 field-goal attempts before spending the 2018 season in Seattle.
Janikowski retired with just one Pro Bowl selection in his 18-year NFL career. Ironically, the Raiders landed an even better specialist in the 2000 NFL draft when they selected seven-time Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler in the fifth round.