In the 3rd round of the 2004 NFL Draft the San Diego Chargers took a fresh faced kicker from the University of Iowa named Nate Kaeding. The 3rd round is awfully high to take a kicker, but the Chargers were getting one with an excellent pedigree. In 2002, as a Junior, he won the Lou Groza award for being the best kicker in college football. In 2003 he led all of college football in field goal accuracy. He also had impressive streak of consecutive field goals for a while and kicked his share of successful long distance strikes. The Chargers may not have used their pick to optimum effectiveness, but they were getting a top prospect at Kicker.
In the regular season, Nate Kaeding has been one of the most accurate field goal kickers in NFL history. He currently is tied with Mike Vanderjagt with an 86.5% field goal make percentage, the highest such percentage in history of the league. He's never finished a year with less than an 80% FG%. In 2009 he finished with a FG% over 90%, which helped him earn a spot on the All Pro First Team. He came close to that in 2006 and made 2nd team All Pro. Both years he was selected to the Pro Bowl and even kicked the game winning field goal for one with 4 seconds remaining on the clock.
Kaeding is also a tough SOB as well. He's had to play through some somewhat serious injuries at multiple times in his career. it wasn't until this past season where he actually had to miss games for the first time due to injury. He may not be the best tackler, but he's a willing one and will put himself in harm's way to help the team.
Perhaps because of those injuries and perhaps because of a lack of length strength, Kaeding does have one knock against him that persists in the regular season. His kickoffs have never been at the level you'd expect from a typical NFL kicker. Some have claimed that he's attempted directional kicking to limit kick returners space, but other kickers can pull off such tricks while getting more distance. At his best, he can get the ball just inside the end zone and at his normal strength he puts it around the 5 yard line. It can be a bit frustrating at times.
But, of course, what people remember him for are his playoff struggles. It started back in 2005 when he became the 2nd rookie in the NFL history to attempt a game winning field goal in a playoff game. He missed that kick from 40 yards in some wet and less-than-ideal conditions. Then in 2007 he missed a 54 yard game-tying attempt after making every field goal at Qualcomm Stadium over the previous 2 years. He then had misses against the Titans and Colts the next season. A little bit of redemption came with a game-tying-overtime-forcing kick in a Chargers victory over the Colts in 2009. However, that was erased in 2010 when he missed 3 against the Jets to help the Chargers to a 14-17 home playoff loss.
He's a dichotomy, trapped in a riddle, wrapped in an enigma. How can a kicker so accurate and so confident wilt so often in the playoffs? And will it continue to happen and break our hearts? Or will the regular season version of Nate translate to the playoffs next time and help the team to a title? Wait, those aren't the questions I wanted to ask. Just check out the poll question.