When the Oakland Raiders used the 17th overall pick on Sebastian Janikowski way back in the year 2000, the Al Davis Greatest Hits CD got an instant classic. Davis, the late Raiders owner, never missed an opportunity to make a spectacle out of a roster move, always choosing players that were fast, flashy, risky, or somehow or another stood out as much as he did.
Using a first-round pick on a Polish kicker who at age 21 already looked like a retired offensive guard qualified as that, and the Raiders were roundly mocked.
But Janikowski, whose career in Oakland is over, had a big leg. The biggest. That’s what Al Davis always wanted, and that’s what the Raiders got for 18 years. From 50-plus yards, Janikowski went 55-for-100 for the Raiders, including a 63-yarder in Denver that was then an NFL record.
There have been a lot of great kickers in the NFL during Janikowski’s career, and he probably wouldn’t be considered the best kicker of his generation by very many. But I can’t think of any other kickers who raised the specter of something incredible happening in quite the same way Janikowski did. You’d watch him drill a practice rep from his own 40-yard line and start wondering if a kicker could single-handedly win an NFL game.
It’s common to see NFL players make clutch kicks, long kicks, kicks in adverse conditions, but nobody else’s kicks were physically spectacular in the way Janikowski’s are, and it inspired people (his coaches) to dream crazy dreams.
Janikowski has made 80.4 percent of his 515 field goal attempts and 98.9 percent of his extra points. He’s only played in one Pro Bowl (2011), but he owns the record for field goals of more than 50 yards, he’s one of two kickers ever to have been allowed more than one attempt at a 60-plus yarder (Greg Zuerlein is the other), and he once beat the Jets with a 57-yarder in overtime.
If the Raiders had the 2000 draft to do over again, maybe they take Shaun Alexander — that’s who Jon Gruden wanted, anyway — but you don’t look at the rest of that first round and see any big missed opportunities.
Sebastian Janikowski proved you didn’t have to be crazy to use a first-round pick on a kicker (though it probably helped).