What a difference a year makes. Last year, some were clamoring for David Akers to get MVP consideration.
Akers signed a three-year, nine million dollar contract with the 49ers and was the lone bright spot in Jim Harbaugh’s debut as a professional head coach when he kicked a 59 yard field goal against the Saints in the 49ers’ first preseason game. In 2011, it seemed like he was almost the best weapon for the 49ers.
Although the three million dollar per year price was high, Akers had performed to a level where it was a bargain. The 2012 season brought some stormy weather to the 49ers special teams unit, specifically their field goal kicking. The 49ers have now officially released David Akers due to his inconsitencies when kicking field goals.
Akers needed only one season to kick the longest field goal ever at Candlestick Park, a 55-yarder against the Cowboys. He broke the 49ers’ record held by Jerry Rice for most points scored in a season when the 49ers beat the Steelers 20-3 in a Monday Night Football matchup on December 19, 2011. Additionally, he broke the all-time record for field goals in a season, surpassing Neil Rackers’ 40 in 2005.
Akers established an NFL record for most points by a kicker in a single season, finishing with 166 points in 2011. In a 2011 game in St. Louis against the Rams, Akers extended his NFL record for most field goals made in a single season and threw a touchdown to Michael Crabtree on a fake field goal. Akers made his sixth Pro Bowl at the end of the season.
In the season opener of 2012, Akers tied the NFL record for the longest field goal by kicking a 63-yard field goal off the crossbar against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
What happened to David Akers this past year is a mystery. He did sustain an injury believed to be a hernia and one would have to think that it had taken a toll on Akers. It was mind boggling how he missed field goals and he was no longer the reliable kicker that he used to be.
What should the 49ers do to fix this glaring hole that they have now? There is not really much that can be done via free agency.
Phil Dawson did a decent job last year with the Browns as he posted a solid 29 of 31 attemots and was 7 – 7 in field goals over 50 yards. He is the lone free agent kicker that may warrant interest from the 49ers. He is 38 years old though.
However, the draft is an area where the 49ers can improve. There are a few kickers that will be pretty good for the NFL. Dustin Hopkins is actually the first option that should be considered. He won the Lou Groza Award, which is given to college’s top kicker. Hopkins holds the NCAA record for career points and he made a 60 yard field goal in an inter squad spring game with Florida State.
Hopkins has the ability to consistently make long field goals and has the leg strength to push the ball into the end zone for kickoffs. He is a threat to be a serious weapon on special teams. Hopkins has gotten 137 of his 347 kicks to result in a touchback. He impressed many scouts with his performance at the Senior Bowl and at the combine. As a sophomore, Hopkins hit a game winning 55 yard field goal. After all, a kicker that wears gold spikes has to be the real deal!
Caleb Sturgis from Florida is the other option at kicker in the draft. For starters, Sturgis had 45% of his kickoffs become touchbacks. He shined at the East West Shrine game, with many of his kicks of 50 yards going right down the middle during practices.
Bottom line: David Akers was cut because he was not reliable enough to make field goals last year. The 49ers saved three million dollars by releasing him.
Dustin Hopkins should continue to be the top kicker coming out of the collegiate rank. The success of Blair Walsh with the Vikings and Greg Zuerlein with the Rams are examples of how a rookie can come in and be impactful. Not many teams will be drafting kickers, but the 49ers have two good options that should be able to come in and sure up the kicking game.