Over past year or so, we’ve been providing an in-depth scouting report for every player added to the Jets roster. The lone exception from the players still on the roster is kicker Sam Ficken, who joined the Jets after week one last year and remained with the team throughout the season. Let’s assess his chances of retaining his job.
Ficken was a soccer player in high school, but also started placekicking for the football team and was an all-state selection in his senior year.
He played his college football at Penn State, although he was only a backup in his first season, kicking off three times and making one of two field goals and his only extra point attempt.
As the full time kicker for the first time in 2012, Ficken got off to a rough start. He reportedly received death threats after an early season game against Virginia in which he missed four of five field goal attempts and an extra point in a one-point loss. That included a potential game-winner from 43 yards as time expired. In all, he missed seven of his first 11 field goal attempts.
Impressively, he was able to turn his career around almost immediately, as he started being mentored by NFL pro Robbie Gould. Ficken made his last 10 field goals of the season and 15 in a row overall to set a school record.
Although he only made 10 of his last 18 field goals in 2013, Ficken made 41 of 42 extra points.
He had a career year as a senior as he was a second team all-Big 10 selection. He made all 28 of his extra point attempts and 24 of 29 field goals (83 percent).
After going undrafted, Ficken didn’t manage to sign with a team in his rookie season, although he attended rookie camp on a tryout basis with Kansas City. In 2016, he signed with Jacksonville but was released in final cuts and then in 2017, he signed with the Chiefs and was again released in final cuts.
In December 2017, Ficken finally made his NFL debut as the Rams signed him to fill in for the injured Greg Zuerlein. He made four of five field goals, including two in the wild card game, and four of five extra points.
Having re-signed with the Rams as an exclusive rights free agent, Ficken was again released in final cuts, but Zuerlein got injured again and Ficken was once again signed by the Rams as a stand-in. This time he made 10 of 10 extra points but missed two of his three field goal attempts and was released a few games later.
In 2019, he spent time with the Seahawks and Packers before signing with the Jets after Kaare Vedvik missed three kicks in the season opener. He remained with the team throughout the season despite missing a total of 11 kicks. He is scheduled to compete with Brett Maher for the placekicker role in 2020.
Now let’s break down Ficken in more detail, divided into categories:
Ficken’s accuracy to date has been substandard. His senior year in college was the only time he has made over 80 percent of his field goals in any year and only three kickers with more than 10 field goal attempts had a lower success percentage last season. (Worryingly, Maher was one of the three).
Ficken has made eight of nine field goals in preseason action over the course of his career, including all eight from within 50 yards. That’s perhaps a sign he’s capable of a higher percentage.
Ficken hasn’t been particularly effective on extra points either, as he missed three last year. He had, however, made 14 of 15 in his two stints with the Rams and missed just three of 122 attempts in college.
Prior to last season, Ficken had never attempted a 50-yarder in a regular season game, although he missed one in preseason action.
In 2019, he made three of six from beyond 50 yards, with the longest being a 54-yarder against the Steelers. On longer attempts, he kicks with a longer trajectory, which can lead to some being blocked or tipped.
The Rams seemed to lack faith in Ficken from distance, as they once attempted a fake punt rather than having him attempt a 50-yarder.
When Maher had made 15 a row at Penn State, his streak was broken on a missed 57-yard attempt. His longest make in college was also from 54 yards, which was tied for the fourth longest in school history.
So far, Ficken doesn’t have much experience in cold weather games, but hasn’t fared well in such conditions. He’s missed both field goal attempts and two of his six extra point attempts when kicking in temperatures below 40 degrees in his career.
As noted, Ficken’s college career got off to a rough start but he eventually won the fans over. He wrapped up his career with some heroics in a bowl game win over Boston College as he hit the game tying field goal from 44 yards and then won the game on an extra point in overtime.
With the Jets last year, Ficken made his biggest kick of the year, a game-winner over the Dolphins. He also made some key kicks in the wins over the Steelers and Cowboys.
While he didn’t cost the team any games with any of his misses, Ficken missed two field goals in the 13-6 win over the Bills, which could have given Buffalo a chance to tie. His miss in the other game against Miami also came back to haunt the Jets because they had to settle for a last minute field goal to make it a one-score game rather than being in a position to go for the touchdown to send the game to overtime.
With the Rams, he missed a field goal and an extra point in his first game so the Rams led by just four instead of eight late in the fourth quarter, but they were able to hold on for the win.
He earned his contract with the Jets by outkicking four other contenders for the job, including Greg Joseph and Younghoe Koo.
Ficken’s kickoff numbers are not great, as he had a touchback rate of below 50 percent last year. However, this may have been by design as the Jets’ coverage units did a good job of limiting the average return yardage to just 18 per runback. By contrast, Jason Myers allowed over 24 yards per return in his pro bowl season with the Jets.
Earlier on in his career, his touchback rate had been higher (76 percent), which again indicates that the Jets had him laying the ball up short of the goal line by design.
He attempted three onside kicks last year but all three were unsuccessful.
In college, Ficken was also temporarily listed as the first string punter, but never actually punted in a game and told the media he wasn’t very good at it. Nevertheless, he punted 13 times in preseason action with the Rams.
Based on his numbers, he was right, because his gross average was below 40 yards and his net average was below 35. He put four inside the 20 yard line but had a low hangtime and this one was blocked for a touchdown.
Nevertheless, at least it’s something he has experience of, in case he gets called into emergency action.
Ficken has average size and ran a 5.06 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. However, he sometimes contributes in kick coverage with three tackles in college and four at the NFL level.
He twice earned all-Big 10 academic honors while he was at Penn State.
Ficken is an interesting story, but the fact is that he didn’t perform very well last season and lacks the kind of elite traits you’d ideally like to see from a kicker at the NFL level.
Maher also didn’t have very good numbers but he has a bigger leg and more of a body of work in terms of his career numbers, so he has to be penciled in as the favorite to win this role.