Being a kicker in the NFL is a tough task, to say the least. These men must place an irregularly-shaped ball through a set of uprights 18 feet, 6 inches wide and ten feet above the ground. Kicks are usually taken from anywhere from 18 yards (54 feet) to 60 yards (180 feet) away from the uprights, and the kicker usually has less than a second to boot the ball after it is snapped to the place-holder. An inordinate amount of pressure is placed upon these players, who often step onto the field carrying the hopes of an entire city on their shoulders.
Many a time, kickers are entrusted with the responsibility to kick a field goal as time expires and their team trailing by one, two, or three points. If the ball goes through the uprights, the kicker is a hero, who will forever be treated to free drinks at sports bars in that particular city. If the ball veers wide right, left, or comes up short, the kicker is the goat, forced to endure hateful vitriol at the hand of the city’s fans, and he would be lucky to show his face in the town without encountering the disappointment and anger of its fans (just ask Billy Cundiff). If the team loses, the kicker is the scapegoat, and if they win, the credit is deflected to the coach and quarterback. By the way, these under-appreciated players make their job look easy, which based on their career description, is no simple task.
Jets’ kicker Nick Folk may just be the most underrated kicker in the NFL. He is as consistent and reliable as place-kicker’s come in the league, yet he receives a disproportionately small amount of praise for his talents compared to other celebrated kickers like the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein. His effect on the Jets is profound, and with his 4-year, $12 million extension, he will be a member of the team for the foreseeable future.
The Jets obviously appreciate the value of Nick Folk, based on the contract he was given by the team, even if the rest of the league doesn’t. Though only 17.5% of the deal is guaranteed, (approximately $2.1 million out of $12 million), his contract is the 10th best out of all kickers in the league in terms of total value per year. Last season, he really gained the respect of the front office and teammates, and was awarded with the contract for his efforts. Out of 36 field goals attempted, Folk nailed 33, a 91.7% success rate. He was tied for 5th in the league with his 33 made field goals, which was a career high for him. During the season, his self-confidence increased, as did Rex Ryan’s confidence in Folks’ abilities.
Drafted by Dallas in the 6th round in 2007, Folk was thrust into a vital role early, converting 26 out of 31 attempts in his first season. His second season was successful as well, but in his third campaign, a misdiagnosed injury and a hurried recovery ultimately led to his downfall and release by the Cowboys in 2009. In the offseason before the 2010 season, Folk was signed by the Jets, who helped him to regain his health and confidence, even after Rex Ryan poked fun at Folk’s performance in the offseason workouts and training camp. He has been the Jets’ kicker ever since his signing, even as the team has brought in other assorted kickers to compete against him for his roster spot.
This past season, Folk delivered for the Jets in numerous “clutch” situations. In their first game of the season against the Buccaneers, Folk was called upon to take the game-winning kick with 7 seconds remaining and the Jets trailing 15-17. Folk performed up to the task, striking the ball from 48 yards through the uprights, leading the Jets to a 1-0 start. In Week 5, Folk was needed to kick a 44-yard field goal with three seconds left and the Jets down 27-28, and boy, did he deliver. In Week 7, Folk converted a 42-yard attempt in overtime against the much-hated Patriots. These instances of Folk coming through for the Jets when they most needed him incurred the team’s trust in him, and showed his talents as one of the elite kickers in the NFL.
Jets fans take note; Nick Folk has a bigger effect on the team than you may think. When he is playing well, Coach Ryan can trust him to take a game-winning field goal attempt, which takes the pressure off of incumbent quarterback and likely starter Geno Smith to make a spectacular play to get the Jets closer to the uprights. His reliability is so often overlooked because he was always there when the Jets needed him, but his performance can mean the difference between a playoff berth and an open calendar in January in the highly competitive AFC. Jets fans should learn to appreciate Folk’s performance before he leaves or regresses in skill because in the NFL, consistency is rare, and even more so in arguably the most pressurized position on the field.