Schmitt Ballin': Harbaugh should start Akers in the postseason
David Akers is in the midst of a battle with Billy Cundiff for the starting kicker position as the 49ers enter the playoffs. This is a mistake on Jim Harbaugh’s part. Akers has kicked for the 49ers for the past two years, after being let go by the Philadelphia Eagles after missing two potential game-winning field goals against the Green Bay Packers in 2011. It was a mistake for the Eagles to let Akers go, as it would be a mistake for Harbaugh to push Akers away now.
To put it candidly, Akers has not had a good season. While he began the season by making a 63 yarder, overall he has only made 69% of field goal attempts, his third worst season on record (including as a season the one game he played in 1998 for the Washington Redskins, in which he made 0% of FGA). This is well below his 84.6% record last year, and not fitting for a 6 time Pro Bowler, 2 time First-Team All-Pro player and NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s. However, let us look at Akers’ history. He has made 81% of FGA overall in his career, an excellent record for a kicker. Furthermore, Akers has been remarkably consistent, posting records of above 80% in 9 out of his 15 seasons. While Harbaugh may believe otherwise, as he seems to with the quarterback controversy between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, if he were to allow Cundiff to kick in the postseason he would almost certainly push Akers away, as he is forcing Smith off the team. The most recent team to let Akers go, the Philadelphia Eagles, certainly regretted it after Akers posted one of his best records the following year with the 49ers, setting an NFL record 166 points during the season, helping them to the NFC Championship, while the Eagles wallowed as an underperforming team.
Furthermore, when comparing the two kickers, there seems to be no obvious advantage to starting Cundiff. Neither Cundiff nor Akers has been stellar in their most recent games, with both making only 50% FGA. Akers has a career record of 81% of FGA, compared to Cundiff’s record of 75.5%, so there seems to be a slight advantage to Akers. While Cundiff made 10 of 12 FGA (83.3%) in a recent head-to-head practice, compared to Akers 16 of 21 (76.2%), Cundiff has not kicked in a game for three months, while Akers has recent game experience. While Akers has been hot and cold in games this season, he made his final two kicks against the Arizona Cardinals in the season finale.
Finally, and this seems to be the most important aspect of any athlete, Akers has risen to the occasion, showing time and time again in his 15 year career that in the big moments he performs. He owns the NFL record for most consecutive field goals made in the postseason, at 19, an incredible accomplishment.
With Harbaugh weighing a decision between Akers and Cundiff, he should certainly take into account that by choosing Cundiff, Akers could play for a different team next season. My message to Harbaugh is simple: in both the near future and the future of the 49ers, David Akers is your guy.
UPDATE: Akers made a 36-yarder during the 49ers game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The field goal put the 49ers up 24-21 going into the half, seemingly enough for Akers to keep his job for NFC Championship against the Falcons this Sunday. While Cundiff remains on the roster, after the game Harbaugh said, “David’s our kicker.”