The road to the professional ranks is a bumpy one for kicking-game specialists, but Toledo's Jeremiah Detmer is at least on his way.
The Hilliard, Ohio native emerged as perhaps the steadiest kicker in the MAC during his four years in Toledo, but will face an uphill climb to find a home in the NFL at such an exclusive position.
What can Detmer expect as he hopes for a chance to prove himself in the offseason? First of all, he is unlikely to be drafted.
That isn't exclusively a knock on Detmer. Even in a generation with advanced scouting techniques, predicting kicker success remains such a crapshoot that many teams are unwilling to commit draft capital to the position. Just nine kickers have been taken in the last four drafts. Of those nine players, only four ended the 2014 season on an active roster.
What's more, every Pro Bowl since 2001 has featured at least one undrafted kicker, and even 2001's event honored Matt Stover, who went in the long-defunct 12th round in 1990. Since then, the likes of Adam Vinatieri, David Akers and Justin Tucker have shown that an elite NFL kicking career has only limited correlation to getting drafted. Detmer doesn't even have to look far to see that going undrafted can work out just fine for a specialist, as fellow ex-Rocket Brett Kern has carved out a successful career punting for the Broncos and Titans after going undrafted in 2008.
So even if he doesn't get drafted, Detmer will look for a chance to impress a team in training camp. Fortunately for him, there exists evidence that Detmer stands in a position to receive an camp invite from a team with legitimate interest.
While Detmer's ability to showcase his talent took a hit when he was left off the invite list for February's NFL Combine, just five kickers made the cut. Eagles Pro Bowl kicker Cody Parkey, an undrafted rookie in 2014, didn't get invited the Combine in his draft year either, so failing to make that list is anything but a dead end (Eagle-eyed Hustle Belt readers will recall that Parkey was traded during the preseason for former Toledo running back David Fluellen).
In lieu of the Combine, Detmer seems to at least have the attention of the scouting world. He is ranked as the seventh-best kicker in the 2015 class by CBS Sports, and he earned an invitation to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl opposite Combine invitee Josh Lambo of Texas A&M.
Scouts that dig into Detmer's college stats and accolades will find an encouraging résumé. His career 84.4 percent mark on field goals is well above-average for a college kicker and he boasted a remarkable 19-for-20 on field goals in a junior year that earned him First-team All-MAC honors, MAC Special Teams Player of the Year and a semifinalist finish in the running for the Lou Groza Award, recognizing the top college kicker.
If Detmer's profile has any question marks, they would come from a disappointing senior season that saw him make a career-low 77.2 percent of his field goals and his lack of recent success from long distance. While Detmer got his start as Toledo's distance kicker as a freshman, going 2-for-2 from 50-plus yards (including his career-long 52-yarder), he attempted just two field goals from beyond 50 yards in his final three seasons, missing both. While this is not necessarily indicative of his range, he will need to show in workouts that he can connect from beyond 50 yards to earn a roster spot in a competitive NFL kicking environment.
Despite those knocks, Detmer largely seemed to have the confidence of his coaching staff, providing one of the clutch moments of Toledo's 2014 season with a game-tying, buzzer-beating 37-yard field goal in brutally rainy conditions at Western Michigan. His kick, along with another field goal and a 2-for-2 mark in extra points, forced an overtime that Toledo managed to win thanks to a missed Broncos extra point.
So while a 37-yard field goal in a soaked Kalamazoo may not carry style points, it is emblematic of Detmer's deserved reputation for steadiness in suboptimal conditions and that clutch intangible that truly successful kickers need. It will not be easy to prove he is worthy of an NFL starting spot, but Jeremiah Detmer at least has a head start.