What does Daniel Carlson do for an encore? The 2018 rookie kicker was an astounding 16 of 17 on kicks for the Raiders last season including a streak of 15 straight over the final eight games of the season. Simply continuing that streak isn’t so easy.
Carlson is 6-5, which is unusual for a kicker. Shorter kickers have it easier because they have a shorter kicking stroke. It’s a lot easier to be consistent when you have a short stroke. Carlson’s long legs offer him a lot of power, but requires a lot more attention to accuracy in his kicking stroke.
“It is a little more difficult,” Carlson said of being a tall kicker. “There are some bonuses to being tall. You have longer levers so you can get a little more force on the ball because you have a little longer leg. Also, you have longer legs so a little degree off of my angles on my hip, going to be more off my foot. You have to be that much more detail and meticulous. That’s something I’ve learned over the years in college and especially now being a pro. Just how important I have to treat the details every single day, every single kick.”
Some of his accuracy got away from him in his second game with the Vikings. It led to him missing three kicks in a game that would end in a 29-29 tie with division rival Packers. And that got him cut.
The week after that the Raiders kicker Mike Nugent was lost for the season. Rich Bisaccia knew who he wanted right off. He wanted Carlson. Not just because Carlson was a 5th round pick by the Vikings just a few months before. Carlson had been on Bisaccia’s radar for years.
“Well, I took a little skip from the NFL and went to Auburn for 22 days and Daniel was kind of like my... he was the only guy I got committed to Auburn,” said Bisaccia. “I got a chance to watch him play high school football on film and he actually punted and kicked. I don’t know if you guys remember that, but he actually did both at Auburn when he first got there as well.”
Bisaccia made the call, and Carlson shockingly turned him down. Not because he didn’t want to join the Raiders, but because after his experience with the Vikings and his three missed kicks, he needed to get his head right and his technique cleaned up.
“Me and my agent obviously talked about it a good bit,” Carlson said of his decision to hold off on signing with an NFL team right away. “We just felt like at that time I could take a break, work on some things that I wanted to work on. Once you get into the season, you’re just getting ready for Sunday. You’re getting ready for Sunday, so it was nice to be able to step back, be able to work on a couple little things . . . I just wanted to make sure when that came I was ready and would be ready for the rest of the season. I had to pray about it and think about it. Kind of take a little chance. You never know if a tryout workout is going to come back around, but luckily it did and Oakland’s been a great fit for me. Hopefully just continue to grow from last season and continue to do that this season.”
That risky move paid off for Carlson. When he was ready, Bisaccia and the Raiders were still ready for him. They had signed undrafted rookie Matt McCrane in the meantime, who went went 5 for 9 in three games. The Raiders were heading into the bye week so it was the perfect time for them as well.
Things didn’t go swimmingly for Carlson right away. He missed his second field goal attempt with the Raiders in a loss in San Francisco. After he had spent some much time trying to shake off his terrible game for the Vikings that got him cut, he suddenly felt like ‘here we go again.’
“You have a lot of emotional ups and downs as a kicker,” said Carlson. “I think I had a conversation with Coach Bisaccia. Coach Gruden pulled me aside even and had a conversation that next week. They just emphasized that they had confidence in me and that they brought me in for a reason. I had already experienced some lows and decided that I’m not going to be the kicker that gets too high when I’m doing well or too low when I’m doing poorly and miss a kick. It’s just about getting back to work and continuing to improve. Just taking it one day at a time because obviously I can’t control what happened in the past, but I can control what happens in the future.”
The future is bright for Carlson. Being selected in the fifth round is basically like the first or second round for a kicker. With a few exceptions, that’s typically when the best kickers and punters often come off the board. And he showed that with how he finished his season with the Raiders. And his ups and downs of last season have only helped him.
“I think even some of the tough times and moments like that, those experiences help a lot,” said Carlson. “You kind of grow a lot in adversity. Hopefully you learn some things when you’re doing well too and you gain some confidence from that. For me, last season was last season. Yes, it finished off great, but it’s a new chapter now and I’m just trying to get as prepared as I can to help the team get some wins this season. I’m just really excited to be a part of this team and excited where we’re going in the future.”