— The Kansas City Chiefs lost veteran kicker Cairo Santos for at least half of the season, but the team hopes it has found a diamond in the rough with rookie kicker Harrison Butker.
Butker, a seventh-round draft pick from Georgia Tech by the Carolina Panthers, nearly unseated veteran Graham Gano during a pitched training camp battle. Butker demonstrated a big leg, average 64.5 yards on kickoffs with seven touchbacks in 11 preseason kicks. Opponents averaged just 26 yards on kickoff returns against him.
The 22-year-old native of Atlanta also connected on field goals of 46 and 51 yards during the preseason while perfect on four extra point attempts.
Butker received one of just four invitations to kickers at the NFL combine this year. That proved a bit of an upset itself. Head coach Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech offense doesn’t provide kickers much of a chance to make field goals, with a penchant to go for it on fourth down. Scouts saw Butker’s big leg, however.
He completed 15-of-17 field goals his senior season. Butker proved perfect on extra points his junior and senior season, connecting on 90 straight attempts. He missed only two extra point tries in 210 college attempts.
“My senior season, I wanted to show teams I could be accurate,” Butker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The past three seasons, I had made big kicks, but I hadn’t put together a good season. That’s what they need in the NFL – a kicker that can hit 80 to 90 percent.”
The Panthers held on to Butker entering the regular season, hoping to find a buyer for the rookie or Gano. The team eventually settled on sticking with the veteran, and released Butker on Sept. 13.
Kansas City owns a rich recent history in finding success with rookie kickers. Connor Barth took over kicking duties during the 2008 season. He moved to rank as the most accurate field-goal kicker in franchise history for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rookie Ryan Succop won the kicking job in 2009, and his 81 percent field goal accuracy ranks second in team history for kickers with more than 60 attempts with the team. Santos ranks first in franchise history an 84.8 percent success rate.