Jaguars counting on Arkansas' Cam Little to tee up new era following four-year kicking carousel

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville’s recent kicking situation can be summed up like this: two Wrights and more than a dozen wrongs.

The Jaguars are now counting on the youngest kicker ever drafted, Cam Little of Arkansas, to stop a revolving door and bring stability to a position that has been one of the league’s most tumultuous over the past four years.

Jacksonville employed a whopping 16 kickers, including unrelated Brandon and Matthew Wright, between the start of the pandemic and selecting Little in the sixth round of last week's NFL draft. It’s a head-shaking stretch that spans numerous injuries, several one-week tryouts and a few downright debacles.

And despite ranking 31st in the NFL in field-goal rate over that four-year span — one of just two teams under 80% — the Jaguars weren't planning to choose Little until Denver's Wil Lutz reneged on a three-year agreement in the opening hours of free agency.

Lutz's about-face prompted general manager Trent Baalke and coach Doug Pederson to draft the franchise's first kicker since Josh Scobee in 2004.

“It’s a great opportunity for him,” Pederson said. “It’ll be exciting to get him in here and see what he can do.”

The Jaguars have gotten a look at more than their share of kickers since veteran Josh Lambo injured a hip in Week 2 of the 2020 season. They set an NFL record that year for kickers used in a single season after turning to Brandon Wright, Aldrick Rosas, Stephen Hauschka, Jon Brown and Chase McLaughlin.

Lambo, the NFL’s most accurate kicker between 2017 and 2020, reclaimed the job in 2021 under new coach Urban Meyer. But Lambo missed five kicks in Jacksonville’s first three games and suddenly had confidence issues.

Baalke and Meyer cut Lambo three weeks later, after Matthew Wright made two field goals from beyond 50 yards to beat Miami in London and end the NFL’s longest losing streak (20 games) in 44 years.

Lambo resurfaced when he accused Meyer of kicking him during practice months earlier and belittling him in front of teammates. He sued the franchise for emotional stress and reputational harm, but the case was eventually dismissed.

Baalke and Pederson dumped Wright in 2022 and opened camp with rookie Andrew Mevis competing with Ryan Santoso for the job. Neither panned out.

Mevis missed so badly on Day 4 that he hit former Dallas Cowboys coach Dave Campo, who was standing nowhere near the goalposts, in the shoulder. He was cut hours later. And Santoso’s shot ended after he misfired on three of four attempts from beyond 50 yards in the preseason.

James McCourt and Elliott Fry also got brief looks before Jacksonville claimed Riley Patterson off waivers days before the opener.

Patterson lasted less than a year. The team wanted a stronger leg and scooped up veteran Brandon McManus when Denver dumped him last spring. McManus' arrival seemed as if he would end the team's kicking carousel.

He set a franchise record by making 20 in a row over a two-month span. But then he missed five of six down the stretch as the Jags coughed up the AFC South and a playoff berth that seemed like a lock in late November.

Little could help everyone forget those woes. The 20-year-old Oklahoman was the third kicker drafted in the sixth round, following Alabama’s Will Reichard (Minnesota) and Stanford’s Joshua Karty (Los Angeles Rams).

“I’m going to be honest: I killed the process,” Little said confidently. “I did every single workout I had with every coach that was drafting a guy. I absolutely smashed. I did not have one bad day in this whole process.

“Jacksonville saw something in me that they maybe didn’t see in the other guys."

Little hit 53 of 64 attempts in college and all 129 extra points. He nailed the game-winner in overtime at LSU as a freshman and danced “the Griddy” afterward. He delivered on four of five attempts at nearby Florida last year, including a 44-yarder in the final minute to force overtime, and helped Arkansas notch its first victory in Gainesville.

Those makes are atop his list of college accomplishments. Now he's onto the pros, with new kickoff rules to learn and more pressure-filled moments ahead. And maybe, just maybe, he's the solution to Jacksonville’s kicking chaos.

“The youngest (NFL) kicker ever, it’s insane to me,” he said. “It’s something that I’m excited about. It’s something that I put a lot of hard work into. ... I promise you that they will not regret that. The city of Jacksonville will not regret that pick.”