Gathered with his family on April 28, 2012,
It was the third day of the NFL draft, and after receiving a phone call from the Texans’ coaching staff the previous morning, Zuerlein and his family looked forward to his distinction as the first kicker chosen, and his NFL future in the Lone Star State. Fortunately for the Rams, Houston’s plan took a detour.
With the Texans on the clock in the fifth round, they passed over Zuerlein for kicker Randy Bullock. That made Zuerlein available to the Rams, who selected the Missouri Western University grad just 10 picks after the Texans’ choice. Two years removed from that whirlwind weekend, Zuerlein has repaid the Rams’ faith in their sixth-round pick in spades, even if his eventual landing spot came as at least somewhat of a surprise.
“Talking to both Houston and Minnesota, they both sounded like they wanted to draft me,” Zuerlein said. ‘Bones’ (Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel) called early in the day and said they were looking to get me in the upcoming round if I was available. Houston made their pick, the Rams followed with theirs, and here I am.”
For Zuerlein, holding the distinction of being a drafted kicker has neither created added pressure, nor allowed him any extra sense of security. Coming from an NCAA Division II program, Zuerlein had built his NFL credentials despite lacking much of the surrounding personnel that is the norm at the Division I level.
“If anything, it might be a little harder at Division II, because they don’t give scholarships to long-snappers, and the holder is whoever the coach forces to do it, because no one wants to do it,” Zuerlein said. “No matter what, you still have to go out there and do what you do. At the end of the day, it’s just you and the goalpost. Every year, there are going to be guys you have to compete against, and you have to win the job every year. From a pressure standpoint (being drafted) I don’t think it adds any. You just expect it and get used to it.”
With just five weeks remaining before this year’s draft, many of the current class of prospects are completing their pro day workouts and making a series of cross-country visits to team facilities, an at-times arduous process for the game’s top prospects, and one that was quite a bit simpler for Zuerlein.
“It’s a little different from everyone else,” Zuerlein said. “You put in all this time and work leading up to it, and then when it comes time for the pro day, I just sat around, didn’t do a lot, and I just go out there and kick.”
Ultimately, Zuerlein’s showing was enough to make him one of four kickers chosen in 2012, joining Bullock, Blair Walsh (Minnesota) and John Potter (Buffalo).
Following his stellar career at Missouri Western, Zuerlein entered 2012 as a likely draft prospect, though had little concern where his career would lead, whether or not he was a draft choice.
“I was never really worried, because even if I didn’t get drafted, I felt like I was going to get a chance to compete for a job,” Zuerlein said. “That’s all you can ask for, is just an opportunity to show what you can do.”
Zuerlein gained that opportunity, and two years later, the Rams have been paid heavy dividends for their vote of confidence. Entering the 2014 season, Zuerlein has already become the most accurate kicker in team history, with a field-goal conversion rate of 83.8 percent.