NFC West Writer
The transition from veteran Robbie Gould to rookie Jake Moody at kicker has not been a smooth one for the San Francisco 49ers.
The 40-year-old Gould was one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL. However, due to financial constraints because of the need to pay premium players like edge rusher Nick Bosa, who continues to hold out, San Francisco chose not to bring back Gould after six seasons. He remains available on the open market.
Instead, the 49ers surprisingly selected Moody in the third round of this year’s draft. A kicker had not gone that high since Roberto Aguayo was picked in the second round of the 2016 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He flamed out of the league after a disastrous rookie season.
The 49ers are obviously hoping for better results with Moody. A 2021 All-American at Michigan, Moody looked good in practice during training camp, but he struggled during preseason play, missing two field goals and an extra point.
Making matters worse, Moody suffered a quad injury to his right (kicking) leg in a practice leading up to San Francisco’s final preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The injury forced Moody to miss the exhibition finale, and it could be a significant setback that could linger throughout the year.
San Francisco’s other kicker in training camp, Zane Gonzalez, suffered a calf strain during pregame warmups. Gonzalez could not kick in the game against the Chargers, forcing punter Mitch Wishnowsky to serve as the team’s kicker.
San Francisco placed Gonzalez on injured reserve during final roster cuts. The 49ers worked out free-agent kickers Tristan Vizcaino and Taylor Russolino last week and signed Matthew Wright to the team’s practice squad as insurance in case Moody cannot kick in the team’s season opener on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wright played for Pittsburgh in 2020 and 2022, so he is familiar with the kicking conditions at Heinz Field.
Moody practiced last week, and the 49ers are hopeful he will be available on Sunday.
“At first he thought it was fatigue,” San Francisco GM John Lynch told reporters when asked about Moody’s injury. “It turned out to be a little more than that. And I’m just glad he talked with the trainers.
“We were able to address it, and now he’s on the path to getting better. I still believe we’ve got a rare talent at that position who’s going to be our answer there for a long, long time.”
Could Seahawks overcome stacked 49ers team for NFC West title?
The last time a team in the NFC West drafted a kicker was when the Los Angeles Rams selected Miami of Ohio product Sam Sloman in the seventh round of the 2020 draft. The Rams cut Sloman midway through his rookie year in favor of eventual Pro Bowler Matthew Gay.
Much like the Rams a few years ago, the 49ers are in win-now mode. In Gould, they had an experienced kicker who was effective in the highest-pressure situations. Gould is perfect 29 of 29 in the postseason, tops in league history. In six seasons with San Francisco, he converted 161 of 184 field goals (87.5%) with a long of 53 yards. Gould currently ranks No. 8 in league history with an 86.5% conversion rate on field goals.
Along with Gould’s production, the 49ers lost valuable institutional knowledge of kicking conditions in stadiums across the league from his 18 NFL seasons.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, rookie kickers converted 83% of their field-goal attempts from 2018 to 2022, which would have ranked 24th among kickers last season.
For Kyle Shanahan’s team, in the conversation to make a deep postseason run where the margin between winning and losing is razor-thin, moving forward with a rookie kicker dealing with a lingering quad injury is another obstacle to overcome. San Francisco has reached the NFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons, and three times in a four-year span.
Last week the 49ers traded former No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance to the Dallas Cowboys, ending the San Francisco tenure of a player who represents a monstrous error in judgment by the Niners. And San Francisco has yet to reach agreement on a new, high-dollar contract with the team’s best defensive player in Bosa, who could miss the season opener at Pittsburgh.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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