Was It a Mistake to Move On from David Akers?

Was It a Mistake to Move On from David Akers?

In the annals of the Philadelphia Eagles, never has a place kicker been so beloved as David Akers. He was certainly the best in franchise history, but for a specialist, the love fans have for Akers is almost unnatural. I mean, who buys the kicker's jersey?

Needless to say, it sparked a bit of an uproar when Andy Reid, pressed about the field goals Akers missed in a 21-16 playoff loss against the Packers in 2010, admitted, "We can all count. Those points would have helped." Fans worked themselves into a fervor when the front office drafted Alex Henery in the fourth round the following April, and removed the transition tag from Akers as soon as the lockout ended, making the Eagle of 12 years an unrestricted free agent.

All Akers went on to do with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 was lead the NFL in points, so that obviously worked out well, right?

It certainly feeds the perception that management made a foolish decision when they refused to extend Akers. While Akers made headlines with a historic season that garnered first-team All-Pro honors, Henery did seemingly little of note, and at times it appeared he was handled with kid gloves. For that matter, when the Birds and Niners went head-to-head in Week 4, Henery missed two chip-shot field goals that wound up costing his side the game.

Not a good way to make people forget about the other guy, even when the other guy misses a couple of kicks himself that day.

Then again, not much of a way to declare a winner, either. That and Akers' great year are what's fresh in everybody's minds, but it's such a shallow depiction of events.

For starters, the fact that Akers led the league in points isn't proof alone that it was a mistake for the Eagles to move on. While a kicker has to be fairly sure-footed to be on top, he also needs to have plenty of attempts, and the 49ers gave him more chances than anybody -- in fact, it was a record number. With 52 tries, Akers had 11 more than the next most-utilized place kicker, Washington's Graham Gano, and broke the all-time total by three.

Granted Akers converted on his tries, just not exactly at an extraordinary rate. His 84.6 field goal percentage ranked 17th in the NFL, which is still fine, but it tells us he didn't exactly make the most of all his opportunities. Sure, he made the most of his tries from inside of 40 yards, leading the league with 32, and knocking all but one of those down.

40 and beyond was another story. Only a handful of kickers were worse on field goals between 40-49 yards, where Akers ranked 30th with only 54% through the uprights. And while he was amazingly 7-for-9 from 50+, that was highly unusual, as he was below 50% for his entire tenure with the Birds.

None of which is meant to defame Akers, who is still a great kicker that anybody would love to have, and you can't deny his impact on San Francisco's successful run in 2011. However, as is often the case, there are more to the numbers than meets the eye.

That goes for more than statistics. The Eagles did make an effort to retain Akers, or at least lended that appearance when they tagged him at the conclusion of 2010, but he made it perfectly clear he wasn't happy with a one-year deal that would have paid him around $3 million. The numbers the front office were likely looking at though were Akers' age (then 36) and the years they were willing to give.

Rather than counting on negotiations with an aging kicker who was coming off an awful post-season performance (even with the understanding he was experiencing some hard times off the field), the Eagles saw an opportunity to snag the top kicker coming out of college, and used one of their 11 selections that year to choose Henery out of Nebraska.

While the San Fran game looms large, otherwise it hasn't worked out poorly for the Birds at all. Henery missed just one more kick in 27 tries all year, a 63-yard attempt in Week 2 against the Falcons. That works out to a higher percentage (88.9) than Akers by the way -- in addition to setting the rookie record for that mark -- plus he was better from 40 and beyond, too (83.3 to 65).

Of course, Henery isn't nearly as battle tested, and he'll have to show a lot more and in clutch situations before anybody puts supreme confidence in his abilities. That said, given the circumstances you can't blame the Eagles for trying to get younger at a position where they were dealing with an unhappy veteran. Somewhere down the road, Akers is going to decline. When that happens, if everything has worked according to plan, the Birds will be set.

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, N.C. as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder N.C. State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind N.C. State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum been a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. He hit on 118 of 139 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6-for-22 shooting in an ACC tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half-court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.