One of the more unique things about watching the Seattle Seahawks these days is seeing the punter come out after a score. It’s not often a team has their punter handling the occasional kickoff, and it’s even more rare when those kicks are dropkicks and not off of a tee.
There could be any number of reasons why coach Pete Carroll has asked Michael Dickson to perform the occasional drop kickoff, and certainly the simplest explanation is keeping Sebastian Janikowski’s repetitions lower due to his age and return from a season-ending injury in 2017.
Another explanation is wanting to keep an element of unpredictability for onside kicks. We saw earlier this season against the Chicago Bears that Seattle prefers to use Dickson for onside attempts, but if you only ever trot out Dickson for an onside attempt you could tip your hand when wanting to use one unexpectedly. The last possibility is that Janikowski’s kickoff numbers this year aren’t looking great.
Very seldom do we get to directly compare two kickers on the same team with more than an attempt or two. Subtracting out the onside kick return, Janikowski has 21 kickoffs this year to Dickson’s five. Consider that if a kicker were to drive the ball out of the back of the endzone on every attempt, they would have an average next line of scrimmage for the opponent at the 25-yard line. In fact, an average NFL kicker for 2018 is within a margin of statistical noise to this, at the 25.05-yard line.
For kickers with at least 5 attempts in non-onside kick attempts, Dickson’s drop kicks have been just about average at the 24.80-yard line, which is good for 20th in the league. Janikowski, however, is not faring nearly as well. His average next line of scrimmage is at the 27.14-yard line, 37th in the league. It’s not all doom and gloom for Janikowski going forward, the biggest difference on his next line of scrimmage stems from just three kicks. The first kickoff of the game against the Cowboys in Week 3, and two against the Rams in Week 5. Looking back on these kicks, there’s nothing particularly wrong with them, they aren’t bad kicks.
Janikowski's kickoffs have some of the worst avg LoS in the league, but it's almost completely on the return team. Sure he could have gotten more hang time on it, or maybe gotten it out of the ez. But Pete Carroll seems to like his kickers forcing returns and they got one. pic.twitter.com/WnwR9TNUAR— Sean Clement (@SeanFromSeabeck) October 17, 2018
It’s not clear if Janikowski just needed or needs a bit of time to warm back up to the workload of kicking as often as he’s been asked to, especially coming off of his injury. It makes sense that if you needed Janikowski fresh for a 50-yard field goal attempt, taking some reps from him on the kickoff would help. Especially since Seattle has seen serviceable results out of Dickson in this area.
With the offensive production increasing in recent weeks—and as a byproduct Dickson’s no longer on a record breaking punt attempt pace—perhaps we’ll have a few more drop kicks in our future. Now, if only one of them could be a field goal attempt.