Kai Forbath seemingly did everything in 2017 but secure his job with the Vikings.
His zigzag road brought him nearly two years ago to Minnesota, where he has made 50 of 57 field-goal attempts (including 8-for-11 from 50-plus yards) in the regular season and playoffs. He accounted for 11 points in the Vikings’ first playoff victory in eight years. The kick that most impressed his coaches came at the end of the regular season in the 10-degree chill of Green Bay, converting from 49 yards.
It was just his second 16-game season for a team in six years. If Forbath entered the offseason at his Southern California home feeling relaxed, could you blame him?
Then the Vikings traded up last month to draft Auburn’s Daniel Carlson, the first of two kickers taken in the 2018 NFL draft.
“I mean it was a little shocking, yeah,” Forbath said.
So Forbath again will compete for a job this summer, just as he has nearly every NFL season.
“Same as every year,” Forbath said. “I’ve competed with someone every single year. It’s no different than last year with Marshall [Koehn] here. Daniel is a good, young kicker. I’m not here to coach him. I’m here to get myself ready for the season. We’ll have a good competition.”
This might be Forbath’s tallest competition to date.
The Vikings made Carlson the team’s most valuable pick at kicker (167th overall) in franchise history, trading up 13 spots at the cost of a sixth-round pick to acquire him. He’s 6-foot-4 and has the type of leg strength that coordinator Mike Priefer covets.
That’s where Forbath, whose accuracy has previously won competitions over late-round picks and undrafted rookies, can fall short. His distance on kickoffs has been average. Forbath said he focused “a lot” on kickoff technique during the offseason after he ranked 17th among all kickers in touchback percentage.
Touchbacks will be even more critical next season, according to General Manager Rick Spielman, following recent rule changes to kickoffs. The play might now look more like a punt. Players on kickoffs are no longer allowed a running start. And now eight players on the return team must line up 25 yards within the kickoff, limiting blocks.
“You have to have a strong-legged kickoff guy,” Spielman said on KFAN last week, “to maybe prevent [big returns] by kicking the ball out of the end zone.”
Team officials also sought better consistency through the uprights. For Forbath’s accuracy, he still missed 11 regular-season kicks last season (two blocked). Only one other team missed as many extra points (five) as the Vikings.
Enter Carlson, the heir apparent. His decorated SEC career wasn’t weighed down much by a subpar 2017 season. He left Auburn with conference records in points, field goals and consecutive extra points. He boasts range that, he says, can clear from 75 yards away in the Colorado altitude in which he was raised.
The competition might not make it to the preseason, according to head coach Mike Zimmer, should Carlson establish himself early in training camp.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Zimmer said. “If one guy is way ahead of the other guy, then we might make the change sooner, so the other guy gets all the reps.”
No guaranteed money softens Forbath’s situation, having re-signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum in March. Any solace comes from Forbath’s history of winning, previously over kickers Koehn, Connor Barth and Zach Hocker, with three different NFL teams.
“I’ve fortunately never lost a competition,” Forbath said. “I’m not shying away from this one just because they drafted him. As long as I make my kicks, everything should take care of itself.”