It's never too early to take a look at a position battle, even if it's for the Jets' placekicking job and especially because general manager Joe Douglas this week highlighted the contest between newly signed Greg Zuerlein and newly re-signed Eddy Piñeiro, saying, "There's going to be a nice competition there and hopefully they can be a big factor for us in some of these tighter games that we play next year."
So here is a look at Zuerlein and Piñeiro by the numbers with an eye toward their kick-off this spring and summer:
Getting a Leg Up
Zuerlein — His leg strength has been his trademark ever since his 2012 rookie season with the Rams, when he acquired two of his nicknames that have stuck with him for a decade: "Greg the Leg" and "Legatron."
He's one of only five NFL kickers to convert at least two 60-plus-yard field goals in his career. Both longballs came with St. Louis. His first was from 60 for the Rams against Seattle in 2012. His second was from 61 at Minnesota in 2015.
He was also the first NFL kicker to nail two 58-yards-plus kicks in the same game, achieving that in his St. Louis rookie season when he drilled a 58-yarder in the first quarter and a 60-yarder early in the third in that 19-13 win over the Seahawks.
Piñeiro — As we've noted before, Eddy has an interesting talent in that he has kicked better from 50 yards and longer than he has from 49 and shorter. Counting all his game kicks from his two Gators seasons plus 2019 with the Bears and five games with the Jets, he's converted 86% of his field goal tries (61-of-71) from less than 50. But he's converted 100% of his tries from 50-plus (8-of-8).
Zuerlein — The pinnacle of Greg's career was 2017 with Los Angeles, when he converted 95.0% of his field goals, 95.7% of his extra points, and was named a Pro Bowler and All-Pro first-teamer for the only time in his career.
Since then, the sailing hasn't been as smooth. "Young G.Z." in the last four years, two with the Rams and two with the Cowboys, has converted 81.4% of his FG tries and 93.8% of his XPs. Dallas cut him but still wanted to re-sign him at a lower salary, but the Jets stepped in with a better offer.
Piñeiro — Eddy had some injuries and inconsistency and bounced from Oakland as an undrafted FA in 2018 to Chicago, Indianapolis, Washington (practice squad for a week) and then last December to the Jets. His kicks got stronger game by game, all his field goal attempts found their way through the uprights, and he finished the year as only the second kicker to convert his first eight FG tries as a Jet.
Just two more without a miss and he'll hold that minor team record. But he's got to win the job first.
That Magic Touch(back)
Zuerlein — While Greg's placements weren't as strong as they had been earlier in his career, his kickoffs last year had never been better. He had 99 KOs for the Cowboys last year, with 80 going for touchbacks, an 80.8% rate that was the best of his career and third-best in the NFL among qualifying kickers.
Piñeiro — Now if we take all kickers, not just qualifiers, Zuerlein's touchback percentage was fifth-best and the Jets kickoff man's 90.9% on 22 kickoffs was third-best. However, that Jets kicker was not Piñeiro but rather punter Braden Mann. Eddy P kicked off in the NFL only for the 2019 Bears, and his TB rate that year of 52.0% ranked 23rd out of 25 qualifying kickers.
How big a factor will kickoffs be as head coach Robert Saleh and special teams coordinator Brant Boyer get down to deciding who'll win the Great Green & White Kicking Battle of '22?