Two games into the 2018 season, Daniel Carlson looked like another object lesson of why NFL teams shouldn’t spend draft picks on place-kickers, even if, in Carlson’s case, the selection secured the SEC’s all-time scoring leader.
The Minnesota Vikings used a fifth-round choice in the 2018 NFL Draft on Carlson. But the day after he missed all three of his field-goal attempts, including two in overtime — the last a 35-yarder on the final snap — in a 29-29 tie against the Green Bay Packers, Carlson was waived by the Vikings.
A week later, the Oakland Raiders needed a kicker. The Raiders had brought in Mike Nugent to mentor Eddie Pineiro in the preseason, but they would up with the 14-year veteran as their kicker when the rookie sustained a season-ending groin injury. In the third game of the 2018 campaign, Nugent suffered a hip injury.
The Raiders reached out to Carlson. The former Auburn standout turned down the immediate opportunity so he’d be ready — physically and mentally — for the next chance.
“Me and my agent, obviously, talked about it a good bit,” Carlson saidduring a Wednesday press conference, “but we just felt like at that time I could take a break, work on some things that I wanted to work on because once you get into the season you’re just getting ready for Sunday, you’re getting ready for Sunday. So it was nice to step back, work on a couple of little things and then luckily this kind of circled around and I was able to get a workout with them later.
“I knew an opportunity would come. Obviously, I didn’t know where from, but I just wanted to make sure when that came I was ready and would be ready for the rest of the season. Had to pray about it and think about it, and I kind of took a little chance because you never know if the tryout, workout is going to come back around. But luckily it did, and Oakland’s been a great fit for me, so, hopefully, just continue to grow from last season and continue to do that this season.”
Nugent’s replacement, Matt McCrane, made 5-of-9 field-goal attempts in three games, and the Raiders signed Carlson on Oct. 23.
In 10 games with the Raiders, Carlson connected on 16 of his 17 field-goal attempts and made all 18 of his extra-point kicks.
“I think even some of the tough times and moments like that, those experiences help a lot,” Carlson said. “You grow a lot in adversity and, hopefully, you learn some things where you’re doing well, too, and you gain some confidence from that.
“But for me, last season was last season. Yes, it finished off great, but it’s a new chapter now, and I’m just trying to get as prepared for it as I can to help the team get some wins this season, and so I’m just really excited to be a part of this team.”
On his second field-goal attempt with the Raiders, Carlson hit the right upright on a 45-yard kick against the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 1. He bounced back to make his remaining 15 field-goal attempts in the 2018 season.
“I hit a pretty good ball,” Carlson said of the miss. “I felt like I hit it somewhat solid, but didn’t play the wind, and the wind pushed it over and it hit the upright. Being through the cut with Minnesota and kind of the ups and downs — I had that in college and high school. You have a lot of emotional ups and downs as a kicker. And so I think I had a conversation with (special-teams) coach (Rich) Bisaccia. Coach (Jon) Gruden pulled me aside even. I had a conversation that next week. They just emphasized they had confidence in me, and they brought me in for a reason.
“I had already experienced some lows, and I decided I’m not going to be the kicker that gets too high when I’d doing well or too low when I’m doing poorly and miss a kick. So it was just about getting back to work and continuing to improve and just taking it one day at a time because, obviously, I can’t control what happened in the past, but I can control what happens in the future.
“I think that’s a big part of being a kicker is having a short memory, learning what can I do to improve but having a short memory where that last kick’s not going to affect the next one.”
Carlson’s highs with Oakland included a 35-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Raiders to a 23-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 18. Carlson earned the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week Award after that game.
Even though he finished the 2018 season without missing a kick in the second half (and made his first NFL tackle), Carlson said he’s had plenty to work on this offseason.
“I think you’re always getting worse or better,” Carlson said, “and so, yes, I learned some things that worked last year and I want to keep those things going. But at the same time, I always want to improve. I’ve been working really hard this offseason. … I want to continue to build off what I had last year and the things that were going well but continue to improve every day. I think for the most part, I’ve been able to do that.
“That’ll be the goal as we wrap up minicamp and have a little break before camp is just to continue to get myself ready, so once the season hits, I’m ready, and, then, hopefully we have a long season and get into the playoffs, and, hopefully, I’m peaking come playoff time.”
Carlson didn’t know it at the time, but the Raiders had wrapped up minicamp. Gruden canceled Thursday’s final minicamp practice, ending Oakland’s offseason program one day early.
The Raiders will hold their first practice of training camp on July 27.