Kicking competition might be the one to watch at Patriots 2024 training camp

The highlight of New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland's (37) rookie year was a 56-yard game-winning field goal  against the Denver Broncos in Mile High.
The highlight of New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland's (37) rookie year was a 56-yard game-winning field goal against the Denver Broncos in Mile High. / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots' 2023 season would have been drastically different if the wide receivers didn’t drop a handful of potential touchdown passes. Likewise, the 2023 season would have been much different if rookie kicker Chad Ryland hadn’t missed a few critical field goals.

A 35-yard third quarter miss against the Indianapolis Colts meant the Patriots were down by four and needed a go-ahead touchdown late in the game. The following week, Ryland missed a game-tying 35-yarder against the New York Giants with six seconds remaining on the game clock.

A 47-yard miss in the first half against the Buffalo Bills was costly and resulted in a six-point loss. A stalled offensive drive didn't do the Patriots in, but being down by six instead of three affects the offensive approach.

So it made sense that New England came out of April’s NFL Draft with two receivers, Washington’s Ja’Lynn Polk and Central Florida’s Javon Baker. But the Patriots surprisingly passed on selecting a kicker to challenge Ryland.

Instead, New England signed free agent Joey Slye, a six-year veteran now on his fifth team.

You would think the Patriots would have been more aggressive in finding challengers to the incumbent, considering the problems Ryland had. But Slye wouldn’t be here if he felt he couldn’t win.

Chad Ryland has to be a lot better if he wants to remain with the New England Patriots. But the Patriots should have done more to challenge the Maryland product

Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s hard to fault the Patriots for selecting Ryland. Jake Moody, the top-rated kicker in the 2022 draft, was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round. Ryland was arguably the best of the rest.

Ryland’s maiden season was borderline disastrous, connecting on just 64 percent of his attempts. Meanwhile, other rookie kickers, some undrafted, (even one that changed sports) outperformed the fourth-round selection.

The search for competition for Ryland should have started with the draft, as only three kickers were selected, all in the sixth round. Maybe another young kicker was the last thing the Patriots wanted. If New England is going to get the best out of Ryland or find his replacement, maybe the Patriots preferred a veteran like Slye to pressure Ryland.

But a glaring problem like an unreliable kicker isn’t easily fixed. Former head coach Bill Belichick selected several kickers over his 24 years with the Patriots and even worked out dozens more when he ran New England. Oftentimes, the best solution wasn’t the first.

Slye has a career completion rate of 82.3% for field goals. He just finished a two-year stint with the Washington Commanders, during which his performance had declined. He ended the 2021 season with a 92% completion with three teams during the season, followed that up in 2022 with an 83.3%, and ended 2023 with a dip to 79.2%.

He had a career-high 61-yard game-winning kick last season but also missed three extra points. In fact, Slye is just 88.5% on extra points during his career.

It’s the only area Ryland has an edge, as he missed just one extra point last year and connected on 96 percent of his extra points. Otherwise, Ryland was just 71% between 30-39 yards and an unacceptable 50% between 40-49 yards. Nailing a game-winner from 56 yards out in Mile High or a streak of seven straight doesn’t make up for Ryland’s overall inaccuracy.

If we were to go by mini-camp, Slye has clearly been better. He’s perfect through eight attempts, while Ryland is 5/8, according to beat reporters. But it’s just a small sample size for both kickers.

The Patriots can’t accept another 2023 performance from Ryland. While Slye could perform the same as he did last year and be way better than Ryland, his results could continue to decline, putting the Patriots in the same spot in 2025 as they are now.

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