As we wind down to the final post of the“Top Five” series, we needed to take a pit stop and give a little love to the guys who get less of it than offensive linemen: the kickers. From the first time Garo Yupremian threw a fumble in the Super Bowl, kickers have been the armpit of NFL jokes, blooper reels, and general disdain the world over.
Like ‘em or not, every team needs placekickers and punters (who are sometimes the same guy). Many fans marginalize their skill sets and manliness, but wait until your team is down by a point in the final seconds with just enough time for a last-ditch field goal, and you’ll see how important they are to a team’s success.
#5 Bryan Anger
With a name like this, you’d think he was destined to play middle linebacker, or maybe he and Brian Cushing’s names were switched at birth. While he’s only played one season in Houston so far, and did so in the shadow of the greatest punter in NFL history, Anger managed to put up a 46.5 yard per punt average and a 73 yard kickoff average in 2019. Granted, he only kicked off one time, but he made the most of that one opportunity - and that’s all Bill O’Brien asks of his players, literally.
Hopefully the Texans are set at the punter position for 2020 and beyond with Anger on the squad, as the Texans locked him down to a three-year contract extension on December 28, 2019 that came with $2.5 million base salaries in 2021 and 2022.
#4 Donnie Jones
Signed to fill in for the suspended Brett Hartmann, Jones quickly usurped the punting gig and never looked back. While he only wore battle red for one season, it was the glorious 2012 season, where Jones contributed 88 punts for 4,150 yards, an average of 47.2 yards per kick. Unfortunately, Jones was one of the Texans to head to the Philadelphia Eagles in that era, but that opened the door for Shane Lechler to sign with his hometown team.
#3 Kris Brown
In his seven seasons with the Texans, Brown only missed 2 of his 253 extra point kicks and had a kickoff average of 63.8 yards. While his field goal percentage came in at 77.1%, Brown holds the top spot for all-time Texans’ scoring leader with 767 points. Brown may not hold onto this place on the list in years to come. Thanks to the relative youthfulness of the Texans franchise, he’s here now.
#2 Ka’imi Fairbairn
Fairbairn is relatively new to the Texans, but what a tremendous impact he’s made. Born John Christian Kaʻiminoeauloamekaʻikeokekumupaʻa ”Kaʻimi” Fairbairn - say that three times fast - Fairbairn signed as an undrafted free agent with the Texans in 2016 and then spent the year on injured reserve. Once he got on the field, after a bit of a rocky start, Fairbairn locked it in and now sits in the #1 slot when it comes to most touchbacks, pinning opposing teams in their own end zone on 60.1% of his kicks. He also sits at #4 on Houston’s all-time team scoring list with 342 points.
In 2018, Fairbairn was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week (Week 15) and AFC Special Teams Player of the Month (December) as the leader of the now infamous All-Field Goal Offense.
Fairbairn has missed a few kicks he shouldn’t have, but he still has an overall field goals made percentage of 83.7%, a 91.7% extra point conversion rate, and has kicked off for 15,694 yards. When all is said and done, he may not set himself in the rarefied place kicker atmosphere our #1 special teamer holds as a punter; however, it won’t be long before he holds every worthy franchise mark for Texans place kickers - including highest paid, since Bill O’Brien saw fit to give Fairbairn a four-year $17.6 million contract this past March ($4 million base in 2020, $3.45 in ‘21, $3.5 in `22 and $3.5 in ‘23).
#1 Shane Lechler
The greatest punter in NFL history was a former Oakland Raider, Ray Guy. Infamous for hitting the ceiling in the Astrodome and Superdome in live games - which led to accusations John Madden had the punting footballs filled with helium - Guy seemed like a player no one would ever surpass. That is, until the Raiders drafted Texas A&M kicker Shane Lechler. Over the course of his NFL career, Lechler carried a 47.6 yard per punt average, including a 49.0 average in 2017, good enough to set the record for the Texans (as opposed to 51.1 for the Raiders in his prime).
Lechler also handled kickoff duties three times in Houston and averaged 60.3 yard per kick. Lechler punted for 20,461 yards as a Texan; after he was surprisingly cut by the Texans in 2018 when the team chose to keep UDFA punter Trevor Daniel, Lechler retired as a staple of team culture behind the scenes.
The seven-time Pro Bowler is also #5 on the list for most consecutive games by an NFL player. Lechler has surpassed Guy and now sits atop the list of greatest punters in NFL history, which by default makes him the greatest in Texans history.
That’s the latest Five Best post to add to your collection. If you missed any of the previous ones, here they are for your viewing pleasure:
Five Best Texans Offensive Linemen
Five Best Texans Running Backs
Five Best Texans Wide Receivers
Five Best Texans Defensive Linemen
Next up: The Five Best Texans Quarterbacks..
What do you think? Feel like Neil Rackers or Nick Novak should have a place on this list? Don’t care enough about kickers to have an opinion? Tell us what you think in the comments.