Harrison Butker has been a nice surprise for Kansas City Chiefs

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 08: Harrison Butker
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 08: Harrison Butker /

Harrison Butker has been a very nice surprise for the Kansas City Chiefs at a position where little spotlight is given despite its importance.

The Kansas City Chiefs could have had a serious problem on their hands. Despite beginning the season as a powerhouse of some kind, decimating opponents by double digits each and every week, the reality surrounding the Chiefs identity the last few years has been that they play every team fairly close. They play it safe, capitalize on mistakes and usually end up the better team in the end.

Even if the identity has changed a bit behind an offense that can put up points better than ever before in Andy Reid’s tenure with the team, the NFL is still a league where anything goes each week. That’s what makes the kicker position so important for the Chiefs (and every team) even as it’s also overlooked as a need. It’s akin to insurance. No one really thinks about it until you need it and then you’re thankful if you’re covered well.

For the Chiefs, the loss of Cairo Santos earlier this season could have been a pivotal moment. The team’s most accurate field goal kicker of all time aggravated a lingering groin injury in Week 3 that kept him out of most of the preseason. The Chiefs placed Santos on injured reserve and plucked Harrison Butker from the practice squad of the Carolina Panthers. A complete unknown who didn’t beat out Graham Gano for the Panthers job, Butker looked the part of another faceless talented-yet-inexperienced kid who often turns up for tryouts when kickers are needed.

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And this year, boy are they ever. Several teams continue to churn through kickers in hopes of striking gold at some point, even beyond the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are often held up as the gold standard in screwing up special teams. In a league where anyone can win, having a kicker with a great leg and great accuracy is a seriously underrated asset. Thus, when the Chiefs joined the ranks of “needy,” there was good reason to worry.

Even more important to the Chiefs was having a kicker who wouldn’t buckle under the pressure. They’d started the season with playoff hopes but now they looked the part of NFL’s best. They also were scheduled to play in the spotlight more times than anyone else. This Sunday, they play on Monday Night Football. Last week, it was Thursday Night Football. They opened the regular season against the Patriots and they’ve starred on Sundays. With their talent, strong record, recognizable coach, Pro Bowl players and difficult schedule, the Chiefs are basically in the spotlight most weeks of the NFL season. A kicker cannot allow any of this to affect his mentality.

Enter Butker, a complete revelation since the Chiefs signed him away from the Panthers. Butker missed his first field goal for the Chiefs only to make each and every one of his attempts since then, 13 in a row. His number of made field goals places him in the NFL’s top 10 on the season and he didn’t even play the first 3 weeks. He’s also No. 9 overall in field goal accuracy at 93%, five points higher than his predecessor ever averaged.

There’s still plenty of time left and Butker might yet have a bad game. Yet so far, he’s been the model of consistency for a rookie who will never receive a ton of praise if things go right (yet will shoulder a ton of blame if things go wrong). His leg strength hardly ever allows the opponent to bring the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs and his accuracy often places the ball in the very center of the uprights.

Just last week, Butker started off the game against the Oakland Raiders with his longest field goal attempt yet: a 53-yarder to cap the Chiefs opening drive. When he kicked, it was clear that not only was it good but it would have been good from several more yards out. It was a sign that as good as Butker has been, he might be even better if he’s given enough time and space to show what he can do.

Four games in, he’s been a revelation for the Chiefs, helping them to seamlessly get over at least one injury even as they continue to deal with so many others. Here’s hoping Butker continues to prove Brett Veach correct and that we all continue to notice and appreciate a position typically ignored.