Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Two. The number of kickers the Detroit Lions had between 1980 and 2012. Sure, they occasionally had someone sub in when injuries happened, but Eddie Murray and Jason Hanson kept the Lions off the kicker market for 33 years. A disastrous stint in 2013 with a stopgap and the Lions wisely opted to draft Nate Freese from Boston College to take up the torch of one of the most storied franchises in kicking.
Long time Lions fans were mixed when they saw Freese was donning Steady Eddie’s #3. Twenty years of Jason Hanson was followed up by one season of David Akers and fans are not wrong to be skeptical of the Lions recent approach to kicking. What are they getting with Freese that they didn’t get with Akers (Besides his AARP card)? Plenty.
Nate Freese hit every field goal he attempted in 2013. While impressive by itself, he also hit 90% of his attempts in 2012 and 88% in 2010. His only poor year was 2011 where he went 10/16. Accuracy is the name of the game, clearly, and Freese has that in spades. His career 70 out of 81 (86%) at Boston College is legendary and bests both Lions greats, Jason Hanson (65.6%) and Eddie Murray (62.5%).
It should come as some comfort to fans that at least one Lions great has already given his seal of approval to Freese. Like Detroit Lions punter Sam Martin, Freese also pulled double duty as both a punter and a kicker in college, giving the Lions more versatility than probably any team in the league. You always hope your players stay healthy, but I think we may have seen the last of Ndamukong Suh attempting extra points.
Was Nate Freese the Best Choice?
Only one other kicker, Zach Hocker out of Arkansas, was drafted. Hocker may have a slightly bigger leg than Freese (5/6 from 50+ as opposed to Freese’s 3/4), but there’s no comparison with accuracy. Only Freese’s out of character 2011 was worse than ANY of Hocker’s seasons, meaning Freese’s second worst season was better than Hocker’s best.
There’s always the chance the Lions could have targeted a Kicker as an undrafted free agent, such as Tulane’s Cairo Santos or FSU’s Chris Boswell, but there’s no guarantee they would have been able to sign either. Lions ST coach John Bonamego also worked out Furman kicker Ray Early, which was likely a fall back option if they couldn’t get Nate Freese.
Lions fans won’t know if Freese was the right choice until he’s actually made some kicks at the NFL level. I would avoid trying to put the kind of lofty expectations we tend to have for players trying to fill some very deep shoes on the 23 year old Ohio native, but his accuracy and dependability are obvious reasons to be confident the Lions have done everything they could to try and continue Murray and Hanson’s legacy.