Lions' kicking competition down to two

Posted May 13, 2014

Detroit has decided to go young and hope either Nate Freese or Giorgio Tavecchio is their next Jason Hanson.

When long-time Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson retired last offseason, the Lions wanted to sign a veteran in hopes of keeping the same level of consistency Hanson brought to the organization for 21 seasons.

Giorgio TavecchioK Giorgio Tavecchio (Photo: AP Images)

The team signed veteran David Akers, a player with 15 years NFL experience under his belt. They were hoping the veteran Akers, just two years removed from a Pro Bowl season, could help stem the loss of Hanson.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like the Lions had planned. Akers was 19-of-24 kicking field goals (79 percent), which isn’t a terrible percentage by any means, but the Lions were hoping for better.

In 21 seasons, Hanson finished a season with a field goal percentage lower than 80 percent just six times.

It’s why there’s been a philosophy change for the Lions this offseason. No longer looking for a veteran kicker, the Lions are going young, now hoping to find their kicker for the next 20 years.

The Lions think Nate Freese, 23, who was drafted in the seventh round out of Boston College on Saturday, can be that player. The job isn’t quite his yet, however.

As a result of Freese's selection in the draft, the team released John Potter, who had been competing with Giorgio Tavecchio this offseason.

Now, it’s Freese and Tavecchio, also 23, who’ll duel for the job this summer.

“He kicked outside his whole career,” Mayhew said of Freese, who was a perfect 20-for-20 kicking field goals as a senior at Boston College.

“I think he’d be great in our division. He didn’t miss a field goal last year. I think he missed two in 2012 (18 of 20). A very accurate guy. (He is) very consistent, and I visited with him when he came here for his visit. He was not invited to the combine, so we brought him here for a physical.

“We talked about him in the sixth round and we decided to wait. He was still there in the seventh, so we’re glad that we got him.”

Tavecchio was in training camp with Green Bay last year and pushed Mason Crosby to the very end for his roster spot, but Crosby won the job during final cuts.

Freese and Tavecchio have great upside, but neither has ever kicked in a regular season game in the NFL.

In Freese’s case, recent draft history has been hit or miss with drafted kickers.

Teams like the Vikings with Blair Walsh, the Rams with Greg Zuerlein and the Eagles with Alex Henery have all found their kickers of the future the last four drafts. All three of those players have a field goal percentage of at least 83 percent in the NFL, and Walsh has been to a Pro Bowl.

There’s also been some misses along the way, too. The Bills drafted Potter in 2012 and he's bounced around to three teams since.

The Lions like the accuracy and intangibles Freese brings to the table and Tavecchio has shown great promise in beating out Potter this spring.

Detroit has decided to go young and is hoping Freese or Tavecchio is their next Hanson.