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Just For Kicks: Carlson, Cole must stay tip top in 2022

Raiders’ kicker and punter are integral to team’s lofty goals

Los Angeles Chargers v Las Vegas Raiders
The special teams battery of kicker Daniel Carlson, left, and punter A.J. Cole is one of the best duos in the NFL.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When the Las Vegas Raiders needed it most, a DC rose to the occasion all 2021 season long. Quarterback Derek Carr helped engineer the drives to get the Silver & Black in range. And it was kicker Daniel Carlson drilling the field goal to send Raider Nation into frenzied jubilation.

A clutch quarterback and place kicker that excel in crunch time and aren’t the least bit bothered by the immense pressure. Two tremendous assets any football team would be fortunate to have. Yet, Carlson’s presence, along with special teams battery mates punter A.J. Cole III and long snapper Trent Sieg stress just how vital that trio can be.

Because without the quality snaps from Sieg, the quick and smooth holds from Cole and the mighty right leg of Carlson flowing in rhythmic unison, where would the Raiders have been last season? One could surmise Vegas would have more Ls on their record if it hadn’t been for those boots.

Which is exactly why Carlson and Cole must stay in tip top form as the Raiders embark on a new era 2022 season. The team has lofty goals that culminate in championships — a fourth Lombardi Trophy in the case would be a welcome sight — and the kicker, punter and long snapper must continue to work like a well-oiled machine and earn their respective keep.

Having a group that’s solidified their roles via solid performance is certainly a boon for special teams coordinator Tom McMahon.

“The only other time I’ve been able to do that is in Indianapolis with Adam Vinatieri, Pat McAfee and Matt Overton. So, it’s nice to come in with established guys, guys that have done a great job in the league in Daniel [Carlson], AJ [Cole] and Trent [Sieg]. Stepping right in and they’re ready to go,” McMahon told the media way back in March.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders
Long snapper Trent Sieg (47) completes the stellar Las Vegas Raiders special teams battery along with Daniel Carlson (2) and A.J. Cole (6).
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

DC2 On Point

Carlson finished 2021 40 of 43 when called upon to make kicks sporting nifty 93 percent conversion rate. Distance mattered little to the Auburn product as he went 6 of 7 from 50 yards or more. And he was a smooth 12 for 12 from 30 to 39 yards out. That performance earned the 6-foot-5, 215-pound 27-year-old a handsome sum in the form of a four-year $18.4 million contract extension this past December.

Just how Captain Clutch was Carlson last year? He was a pristine 9-for-9 on lead-changing boots in crunch time (less than two minutes to go in regulation or overtime). That’s tops in NFL history.

There’s reason to believe Carlson will be just as active in 2022 under head coach and play caller Josh McDaniels. Last season, Nick Folk had a strong season as the New England Patriots kicker (McDaniels was the Pats offensive coordinator) with 150 points total scored and going 36 of 39 (92.3 percent). Carlson finished tied with Folk with 150 points total to lead the league.

Power and precision have become Carlson’s calling card and the Raiders will need all of that this coming year. He did miss a trio of extra points this past season (30 of 33) and that’s something he and the team would like to avoid going forward.

Record Watch: David Akers owns the NFL single-season record with 44 field goals made during the 2011 season. Carlson and Neil Rackers (2005) are tied for second with 40 boots made apiece.

Cole Hand Luke

Leading the league with a bombastic 50 yard average per punt, Cole’s transformation from 2020 and 2021 was an outstanding one. His average per punt increased by 5.9 yards and he became a field-flipping punter — one the Raiders needed. His stellar 2021 campaign not only earned Cole first-team All Pro recognition but a four-year, $12 million contract extension alongside Carlson.

Of Cole’s 64 punts, 28 landed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line and 17 were signaled as fair catches by return men. Seven of his boots did result in touchbacks, second most in the league behind the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Dickinson.

McMahon and the Raiders need Cole to remain a boomer to keep the field position advantage squarely in Silver & Black hands. His hangtime and distance both improved in 2021 and that must continue this coming season and onward.

Where Cole will need the support of the special teams group is limiting return yardage which affects the punter’s net average. While his boots did average 50 yards, the Raiders surrendered the fourth-most punt return yards (341) which dropped Cole’s net average to 42.5 yards per boot. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound 26-year-old ranked ninth in net average and 12th in net yards (2,721).

Fortunately for Cole, Las Vegas went heavy to remedy this by adding Mack Hollins in who excels as a gunner on special teams in free agency. A big-bodied wide receiver at 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds, Hollins’ imposing size makes it difficult to block or knock him off his trajectory when he’s chasing down punts.

Miami Dolphins v New Orleans Saints
Mack Hollins excelled as a gunner on the Miami Dolphins punt team over the course of his three-year stint there.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images