The Eagles’ Kicker Question

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Eagles fans may have seen Alex Henery line up a kick for the last time.

Alex Henery has never been held in high regard in the court of public opinion since joining the Philadelphia Eagles. There’s a saying in fantasy football drafts that you should never pay for kickers, and the same basically holds true in the real game, where most kickers that enter the league do so as undrafted free agents. So when the Eagles used a 4th-round draft pick on Henery in the 2011, expectations for him were already way off the board. Fans now like to play Captain Hindsight and point out that guys like Julius Thomas and Richard Sherman were still on the board, as if the Eagles would definitely have gotten those guys and not more players like Dion Lewis. However, the Eagles saw a guy who set the NCAA record for career accuracy at 89.5 percent, and thought they should do what it took to secure him to replace the aging David Akers, despite the fact that they were the only NFL team to even use a selection on a placekicker in that draft.

Here’s the thing: Henery has basically lived up to that billing as an extremely accurate kicker. He hasn’t strayed far from that college mark during his pro career, going 86% across three NFL seasons. He also set the NFL record for accuracy by a rookie kicker, and then went on to set a franchise record by making 22 straight field goals during the 2012 season.  So what’s the problem?

Mainly, despite his accuracy being as advertised, Henery doesn’t have the type of distance in his leg to be among the elite kickers in the league. Henery has gone just 2 of 5 from 50+ yards during his NFL career, with a long of only 51 yards. He also ranked just 24th in the league in touchback percentage in 2013, 24th in 2012, and 23rd in 2011, clearly putting the Eagles at a disadvantage in the field position game.

It didn’t help that after being released by Philadelphia, Akers went on to set the record in San Francisco for most points in a season, making the Pro Bowl, and having fans bemoan his departure despite the solid rookie season by Henery. Finally, during the Eagles’ 2-point playoff loss to the Saints, Henery missed a 48-yard field goal attempt, and had a low kickoff that allowed the Saints a 39-yard return on their winning field goal drive to end the contest. That sour taste stayed in fans’ mouth all summer in convinced many fans that a change at kicker was needed.

The Eagles seemed to agree that competition was needed, bringing in Carey Spear aka Murderleg to push Henery for the starting gig. However, Spear was inaccurate throughout training camp, leading to his release and the Eagles making a trade with Indianapolis for Cody Parkey.

As mentioned above, the rookie out of Auburn hadn’t really failed. But was he a significant upgrade over Henery? Parkey was just 73.6% over his career at Auburn, and if you think that was made up for by a booming leg, that’s just not the case. His long during his college career was 52 yards, and he was only 1-4 from 50+ yards. Still, Henery had gone just 1- 3 during this preseason and Chip Kelly looked visibly disgusted after he missed a 31-yarder against the Steelers. The time seemed ripe for someone to step in and prove himself. Then, we were treated to Cody Parkey’s victory parade down Broad Street Thursday night.

Parkey hit all 3 of his field goal attempts against the Jets, including two tries from 54 and 53 yards out. On the 53-yard attempt, it was actually Henery’s turn to take the field, but coaches pulled him back at the last second and sent out Parkey instead, basically sealing his fate in the eyes of the fan community. Both Cody Parkey and Henery were among the top trending items in the Philadelphia area, as people looked for drama where they could find it in what would otherwise be a meaningless final exhibition contest. But will Eagles brass agree with the masses and anoint Parkey the starter?

To his credit, Parkey has done everything within his power to make a professional roster. He made 2-2 field goal attempts during the preseason with the Colts, and made all three tries last night. He’s also had 8 of his 16 kickoffs go for touchbacks, and while a 50% touchback percentage would only rank around the middle of the pack in the NFL, it’s significantly better than Henery’s career numbers in that department. So Chip Kelly has a decision on his hands: go with the consistent accuracy of Alex Henery or the unproven, slightly more powerful leg of Cody Parkey? The court of public opinion has already decided.

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