The Minnesota Vikings made a notable change at kicker prior to the 2012 season, releasing veteran Ryan Longwell and going with sixth-round pick Blair Walsh in his place. Walsh was surely expected to be superior to Longwell on kickoffs, and if he could turn things around after a tough senior season at Georgia (21-for-35 on field goal attempts) the Vikings would be happy with their decision.
Walsh got off to a fast start in his rookie season by going 4-for-4 on field goals, including a 55-yarder, and making both of his extra points in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He would make multiple field goals in four of the next five games, and made it all the way to Minnesota’s Week 11 bye with only one missed field goal (23-for-24).
Walsh went just 1-for-3 on field goals in Week 12 and Week 13 against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers combined, and then he went without a field goal attempt in the rematch with the Bears in Week 14. But then Walsh went on a nice run over the final three games of the regular season, going 11-for-11 on field goals with five makes from 50 or more yards out over that span. The highlight of that stretch was Week 15 against the St. Louis Rams, when three of his five field goal conversions came from 50 or more yards away.
For the season Walsh led all NFL kickers in made field goals with 35 (on 38 attempts), including a single-season league record 10 makes (on 10 attempts) from 50-plus yards out, so it was not surprising that he earned a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie. He also tied the league record for made field goals by a rookie and set the record for field goal percentage by a rookie (92.1 percent).
Walsh’s 2012 campaign qualifies as a fluke on a few fronts. Simply put, no other kicker in NFL history has made as many long-range field goals in a season as he did last season, so expecting a repeat of that is foolish. Second, the addition of wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson should make Minnesota’s offense more efficient and explosive in 2013. But the most important piece is quarterback Christian Ponder, who is expected to take a significant step forward in his third season.
Walsh has clearly taken a place among the league’s best kickers, and that will not go away this season. But with fewer long field goal attempts surely coming and the possibility of fewer overall field goal attempts as well, 2012 may serve as his high-water mark for the foreseeable future.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.