Grant Halverson - Getty
It’s often said that place kicker is the loneliest of all positions on a football team, especially after a miss. There’s a certain ring of truth to that when you consider there’s usually only one kicker on a team, the holder is usually the punter or backup quarterback, and the longsnapper has to split his time between the punter and the kicker.
Well, during the offseason, it’s not so lonely – especially in Kansas City. The Chiefs currently have three kickers participating in OTAs - veterans Nick Novak and Billy Cundiff and undrafted rookie Connor Barth.
There may be no harder road to the NFL than that of the undrafted kicker. Last year, three rookie kickers attempted field goals, and they were all drafted.
Most kickers that actually make an NFL roster as a rookie are drafted, but there are success stories out there, like that of Steelers kicker Jeff Reed. Barth is well aware of Reed’s history.
“He was an undrafted guy out of college, went down and kicked with New Orleans, with John Carney,” said Barth. “He knew he wasn’t going to make the team, but he just wanted to get some tape on him in the preseason. So, he gets cut after the preseason. Eight to ten games into the season, Pittsburgh calls him and needs him to come in and, you know, the rest is history. He’s been there for six years, and he led the league in percentage last year, so that’s a great story.”
While the road to an NFL roster can be a treacherous one for undrafted kickers, and Reed’s story is a best-case scenario, nothing’s going to discourage Barth from chasing his NFL dreams.
“It might take a few years to get in, so that’s my goal,” he said. “I’m hoping that I kick well enough to get into the preseason to where I can get some tape on me. Then, if I’m not fortunate enough to make the team this year, all the other teams will be able to see me kick and they’ll know I can do it, and hopefully I can get picked up somewhere else.”
“It’s all about finding that niche. I said I’d give myself two to three years (to make a team), and after that, that’s a good shot. I just don’t want to leave anything on the table.”
Life in the NFL can be a bit crazy for a kicker. They’re here today and gone tomorrow. In two years, there’s a pretty good chance most Chiefs fans will have forgotten the name Connor Barth, that is, if they’ve even bothered to remember it in the first place.
Kickers are picked up and dropped as fast as greeting cards, so is it hard for college kickers to adjust to that kind of lifestyle?
“In college, I was a first-string guy,” said Barth. “I didn’t have much competition. Here, it’s different. It’s really cool to see the competition, because I never really had that in college. It’s really cool to be able to compete with top guys like this who have been around. I’m just kind of following their lead and trying to stay with them, because they’re tough. They can kick the ball and I’m just trying to hang with them.”
Barth is holding his own according to Chiefs special teams coach Mike Priefer, who has been impressed with the young kicker so far. Priefer said when Lawrence Tynes was in Kansas City, he knew he was working with an average kicker, so he expected him to miss a few. With Justin Medlock a year ago, Priefer was working with a fifth-round pick, so he really wanted him to work out, and therefore hoped for fewer missed kicks.
This year, Priefer gets mad when any of this three kickers miss – Novak, Cundiff, and Barth - because feels he has three guys who can really kick.