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Former NFL kicker Jay Feely details why Jake Moody has a skill set that translates to the next level

Who better than a former kicker to explain what Moody brings to the table

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Moody Mania is in full swing as 49ers fans around the globe eagerly await to see if they, in fact, struck gold with a third round selection that has gotten as much buzz as any other during the Kyle Shanahan and John

To get some clarity on what the future might look like for the heir apparent to the 49ers kicking throne, I had the pleasure of speaking with another Michigan product who knows a thing or two about what it takes to have a long and successful career as an NFL kicker.

Jay Feely was a 14-year NFL veteran who kicked for six teams over the course of his illustrious career, and currently serves as an analyst and color commentator for CBS Sports.

Like Moody, Feely was once a young kicker making the transition from Ann Arbor to a significantly bigger stage awaiting him in the NFL. He was kind enough to share his extensive expertise of the position to help paint a better picture of what awaits Moody on his journey to the next level.

Feely started out by detailing why the success rate for teams drafting kickers typically is not great, while also providing some optimism as to why Moody possesses the requisite traits that could allow him to be a hit at a position that has more than its share of misses in the draft:

“I think kicking is the hardest position for teams to evaluate, and the biggest reason for that is they don’t have people who are qualified that know what they are looking for. They don’t have guys that have kicked who understand what form translates into success.

They don’t really know what they are looking for, you look at numbers, you look at performance, but like a quarterback they know the traits they are looking for that will translate into success. Kickers, I don’t think most NFL teams and most front offices know what they’re looking for. When I look at guys, like [Roberto] Aguayo is a perfect example, Tampa Bay moves up to take him, I was very critical of that pick because I didn’t like his form, I didn’t like some of the things he did, and I didn’t think they would translate well into success and they ended up not.

Jake [Moody] is the opposite. Like I look at Jake, he has excellent form, its repeatable form, he’s been in high pressure situations throughout his career at Michigan. Tight games, tough games, game winners, bad weather, good weather, he’s played in front of 112,000 people every week at Michigan.”

Feely then touched on why failing at some point is inevitable for kickers, and why the ability to rebound from those shortcomings is one of the most valuable traits that a player at the position can possess:

“He failed early at Michigan too which is a good thing, because I think one of the toughest things that you have to do as a kicker in the NFL is be able to handle failure. You have to be able to handle missing kicks, missing a game winner, not kicking well. When he was splitting time with Quinn Nordin who went to the Patriots, he didn’t kick well for that year, he had to overcome that and get better and work harder.

So I think when you look at all the things I would look for in a kicker in a transition to the NFL, I think he has all of those qualities. Now I don’t know that he is going to kick well in the NFL, but I believe he is. But until you see a guy get into the pressure situation of the NFL, you don’t know if he’s going to be able to kick well.

It’s different than college because in college if you don’t kick well you get benched and they put another guy in. In the NFL, if you don’t kick well you get cut and may never get another job again, so that pressure is inherently different and some guys can handle it and some guys can’t.”

I followed that up by asking Feely what the common denominator is between the kickers who last in the league and the guys who don’t. Most if not all have strong legs, but is there one particular trait whether it be mental or physical that is going to stand out above the rest that generally will dictate who succeeds and who doesn’t:

“They can handle failure, that’s the common thread. They can handle missing a kick and not allow it to impact them on the next kick. They can miss a game winner and not allow it to impact them on the next game winner.

You’re going to have to walk in on a Monday morning after you’ve missed a game winner and the entire organization is sad, upset, quiet. It’s a different feel on Monday when you lose, and it’s on your shoulders. And you know if I made my kick we win that game and it’s a completely different feel in here today.

Careers have ended on one kick, one missed game winner, a guy like Blair Walsh who set records as a rookie, and then misses the kick against Seattle in the playoffs and was never the same again. So the guys who have kicked for a long time, they are able to handle the pressure but more particularly are able to handle failure.”

With kicking being such a mentally driven position in a sport that is typically known for its physicality, I was curious to know what could be done from a mental standpoint to help prepare for the inevitable pressure-packed moment every kicker faces. Feely pointed to consistency in preparation being the paramount factor to achieving that level of mental fortitude:

“I think there are things you can try to do, you try to not let your mind wander. You try to make it disciplined from kick to kick from practice to practice and game to game. You try to make your practices as much like the games as you can so there’s not as many differences. I tried to practice the same way I was going to kick in warmups to the game, practice the same way I was going to kick in the game with shoulder pads on, helmet on, the same balls, all that type of stuff to make it as game like as possible. You just try to put yourself in that situation as much as you can.”

There was a fair amount of displeasure that was voiced among fans when they learned that the 49ers had selected a kicker in the third round of the draft. I asked Feely to share his thoughts on the pick and if he thinks the position might be overly devalued based on the critical response to the selection received:

“The big thing they have to understand is the 49ers didn’t have a fourth round pick this year. So if they are going to take a kicker, he’s not going to be there in the fifth round. I talked to four or five special teams coaches and there was a couple of them who wanted to take him in the fifth but they knew he wouldn’t be there in the fifth and they weren’t sure if their teams would take him in the fourth.

So I think the 49ers were looking at it saying hey this is a guy we think can be our kicker for the next decade, he’s by far the best kicker in the draft, if we want to get him and we need a kicker, then we need to take him now in the third round. If you get a guy that has a six or seven year career in the third round, thats a very successful pick.

You can go get a sixth or seventh corner, or a fifth receiver who may help you a little bit, but Jake Moody is going to help you a lot throughout the year if he makes that transition successfully.”

Given his extensive experience as someone who has walked in the same shoes as the guys who are making the transition from kicking in college to playing in the pros, I asked Feely what is the best tool to evaluate players at the position given the limited sample size there is to work with:

“One, were they in high pressured situations in college, did they have those kicks and how did they perform. So when you’re at Michigan and they’ve been in the national title chase each of the last two years and you have to win every single game to get into that final four. You have pressure kick after pressure kick where you have game winners, and kicks to tie it, and you have kicks that are meaningful in the fourth quarter, you saw him in those type of situations and not every kicker is in it.

The second kicker that was taken in the 2023 draft, [Chad] Ryland, he was at Eastern Michigan and then Maryland, so he didn’t have the same kind of pressure kicks. Because he wasn’t at a school like a Michigan, or an Alabama, or an Ohio State, or Georgia that are competing for those national titles where every single game matters to them.

So it’s unique to get a guy who was the best two years in a row, sustained success, he was the Lou Groza winner last year and could have been the Lou Groza winner this year, and he was in those high pressure situations, and he was in cold weather, bad weather, rainy weather that you get at Michigan. So from a special teams coaches perspective, he had all of those things as well as a really good leg, a really good kickoff leg, accuracy as well as distance, so he kind of had everything you’re looking for.”

Given the disparity in climate that a kicker would have to deal with playing at Michigan, I asked Feely if the experience he got kicking in inclement weather during his college days was something that directly translated to the success he had during his time in the NFL:

“I think kicking in the snow, kicking in the cold, understanding what your body does, how to keep it warm, what to do with your footing, you don’t know those things until you’re in them. My son was kicking in Colorado’s spring game this year, and I think it was his first time kicking in the snow.

You have to experience that, how the ball comes off, does it come off the same, are you slipping, do you have to be a little slower into your approach, all those types of things. You can’t learn by somebody telling you, you have to go there, you have to experience it, you have to see it and have trial and error.

So that whole body of work, that’s why the vast majority of really good kickers in the NFL are guys that have been around for ten years, because they continue to accumulate all of that information and put it together into a body of work. You get a guy like Phil Dawson in San Francisco who kept a notebook of every stadium, and all of the conditions, and the wind, and what happened so he could go back and sit on the sidelines and go back and look at that notebook and remember what he did in that game or what he experienced. So if you have that experience in college I think it just helps you.”

Earlier in our conversation, Feely had mentioned that Moody’s form was something that was repeatable. I asked him to expand on that a bit, and he shared why the form Moody possesses gives him optimism that he has what it takes to have sustained success in the NFL:

“The best analogy I can give you is you can have a guy like Jim Furyk, thats got a really funky swing that can be excellent. But the vast majority of people can’t replicate that swing and be consistent with it. Then you have somebody like an Adam Scott who’s got what you consider a very traditional swing that stays on plane, that comes down the line and leads to his success.

Jake is more like an Adam Scott where his form is the form that you want, where its not coming across the line, it stays down the line. He does a good job with his head, keeping his eyes down but his chest up, staying square to his target, all of those type of things you look for. So that just leads to success, it eliminates a lot of the variables.

Not that you can’t be great having different forms because a lot of guys do, but I think when you’re evaluating young guys, you know Aguayo who I brought up earlier, he came across the ball really hard so his timing had to be perfect. So when he started to struggle and he didn’t have as much confidence, then his timing was off because he’s not as aggressive through the ball and he’s trying to guide it a little more, and then all of a sudden everything falls apart. I think those guys that have really good form, when they struggle they can rely on that form.”

As someone who keeps an extensive eye on the kickers around the league, I asked Feely to share his thoughts on Zane Gonzalez and the impeding kicker battle that is looming as we inch closer to training camp:

“Zane is a talented veteran kicker who has been around and has been through a lot. When he is at his best, he is as good as anybody in the NFL. Jake is going to have to go out there and outperform him and if it’s equal they’re going to go with the draft pick. I think both Kyle [Shanahan] and John [Lynch] they want to win right now, and so if there is a competition and Zane is much better then I think they are going to look at keeping the guy who they think is going to help them win right now this year. I know Zane has been around so he’s going to understand I have to be much better than Moody to have a chance at winning this job, because they did invest in him and they used a third round pick on him so they are invested in Jake Moody.”

Given his ties to Michigan, Feely watches as much Wolverine football as anyone. Before we ended our conversation, I asked him to briefly share his thoughts on another Michigan player drafted this by the 49ers, wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who was a seventh round selection:

I love the way he plays, I love the way he competes. I think he’s going to be an excellent slot receiver in the NFL.”