Dallas Cowboys: Is Jonathan Garibay an upgrade to Greg Zuerlein?

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

Most Dallas Cowboys fans would agree, kicker is the kind of position most of us would rather not think about throughout the course of a season. Much like punter and long snapper, place kicker isn’t a fun position to pay much notice. Usually when we do notice, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

Last season was all the wrong reasons. Greg Zuerlein wasn’t exactly a model of consistency on field goals and extra points in 2021. His six missed extra points were a career worst and his six missed field goals single-handedly lost multiple games. Cowboys Nation held it’s collective breath every time Greg “the leg” trotted out because there was no telling what was going to happen on the end of his foot.

The Dallas Cowboys replaced Greg Zuerlein with rookie kicker Jonathan Garibay, but will it pay off?

After back-to-back down seasons, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t put up much of a fight to keep “the leg” in Dallas this offseason. It didn’t take long before the Jets scooped up the kicker and officially turned the page on his chapter in Cowboys history.

Zuerlein’s  immediate replacement, Chris Nagger, was eventually cut, paving the way for the rookie, Jonathan Garibay. The Texas Tech product is coming off a spectacular season were he went 15-of-16 on FGs for 93.75 percent. His season was highlighted by a clutch 62-yarder against Iowa State and set him up as one of the top rookies of the 2022 NFL Class.

On paper, Garibay is far better than Zuerlein. His FG percentage and extra point percentage were both better and his longest kick bested “the leg” by six-yards. Blessed with one of the better legs in the class, it’s safe to say Garibay has a stronger leg than Zuerlein at this point in their careers.

But can we expect Garibay to be an upgrade over Greg Zuerlein? I’m not so sure.

Zuerlein’s issues last year were extra points and long kicks. The extra points can probably be chalked up as an anomaly since it has nothing to do with power or accuracy and more to do with concentration. The long kicks are the bigger issue with Greg that indicate his nickname may no longer be applicable.

In kicks over 49-yards, Zuerlein went just 2-for-5 last season. The year before he went just 3-for-9. That’s a percentage of 36% over the past two seasons. This tells us two things:

  1. Zuerlein’s losing his leg
  2. His 82.9 FG% is dragged down considerably by deep attempts

Age catches up with everyone and kickers are no exception. Greg has two consecutive down seasons, and at age 34, the power probably isn’t coming back.

But his intermediate kicks are actually pretty darn good. In his last 61 field goal attempts he’s only missed four, giving him a 93 percent hit rate. If a team is content skipping those long FG attempts, Greg Zuerlein is a great guy to have.

Garibay’s 93.75 percent hit rate from 2021 is still better than Greg’s <50 yard numbers, but they are untested in the NFL and far from an established result for Garibay. The season before his breakout, Garibay only made 72.7 percent of his attempts. Was 2021 development or his own outlier season?

In minicamps Garibay has splitting the uprights well. While it’s certainly not a game situation it’s still worth mentioning. With no other kicker on the roster, it may seem as though the job is his to lose. But no one expects that to continue and it seems a foregone conclusion the Dallas Cowboys will bring someone in to challenge during training camp.

It would be nice if the Dallas Cowboys could find a kicker that’s an ascending talent and here for the long-run, but Dan Baileys are rare and often times the kicker position is a constant churn. We’ll be monitoring the situation throughout the summer because as everyone knows, a kick can make or break a season.

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Is Garibay better than Zuerlein? He’s in the conversation. That’s about all we know.