Brandon McManus is outkicking expectations

Sep 27, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt (4) holds the ball as kicker Brandon McManus (8) kicks a field goal during the second quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few brief months ago the Denver Broncos kicking competition was in full swing. Connor Barth and Brandon McManus were kicking record-breaking field goals, albeit in training camp, and the team wasn’t sure if they had two NFL kickers or none. Now, through four weeks of a difficult NFL season, the Broncos boast arguably, the best kicker in the NFL.

McManus did not just save the Broncos from another potential loss Sunday with his game-winning field goal, but on a day in which, across the league, kickers were struggling to convert borderline chip shots, McManus was driving kicks through the heart of the uprights.

“I don’t take Brandon for granted. I don’t think anybody does,” Peyton Manning said following the 23-20 victory Sunday. “He has been outstanding. He has made some long kicks. He’s got a super strong leg. He is kicking with a lot of confidence. Its great to have him on the team.”

Through Sunday, McManus is the top ranked kicker according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) and has connected on all nine of his field goal attempts. He has yet to attempt a field goal inside of 30 yards and as Manning alluded to, has the leg to hit from over 60 yards. He also has continued to be consistent on kickoffs. He has forced 19 touchbacks on 23 attempts. His return percentage places him fourth among kickers with more than 10 kickoffs, per PFF.

“He’s been excellent. He’s been perfect this year, I think. He’s very confident right now and the thing that he’s doing that isn’t mentioned on a week-to-week basis is that he’s taking the returners out of the game. We faced a really good one today,” Kubiak said following McManus’ 3-for-3 field goal day.

McManus’ power was never the concern, it was his accuracy. Last season the John Fox-led Broncos picked up McManus from the New York Giants on August 26 for a seventh-round draft pick due to a Matt Prater suspension. After Prater’s release from the team, McManus went 9-for-13 on field goals before being benched for Barth. After briefly being waived by the team, he rejoined them in December to take on kickoff duties.

During the offseason McManus mentioned that he took the time to eliminate a jab step from his approach and it has clearly helped him with his consistency. Monday, from his locker he detailed why it took him multiple seasons to make the change.

“It is definitely not something you do in the middle of the season. I just knew I needed to do it. I didn’t have the opportunity to do it last year so once I had the chance to work on it, I knew it would help me, not hinder me at all.”

Throughout the offseason an intense kicking battle ensued at UCHealth Training Center. The Broncos brought in multiple punters and kickers to determine which two would ultimately make the roster and contribute to the team in the regular season. The field goal competition between Barth and McManus simply came down to accuracy. McManus, since his arrival, had far more power on every kick and Barth had his low line drives that were seemingly always on target which made the decision tough on Kubiak. In the end Kubiak saw plenty of improvement from No. 8 and gave him the job.

“I think he is doing exactly what he did through the offseason. He won the job. It wasn’t like anybody said, ‘No, we are just going to go this way.’ He consistently, throughout the offseason, throughout training camp, did his job,” Kubiak said Monday.

He performed well in the preseason after the decision was made to release Barth. He made 8-of-10 field goal attempts, but missed a 51-yard attempt in the final minute to win the final preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. Afterward, in a bit of foreshadowing, McManus said he knew he needed to clean up his technique on the longer attempts.

“The body of work, I’ve kicked well and those longer kicks, myself, I want to make a lot more than the percentage I am making them at,” he said Sept. 3.

He has played extremely well in the regular season, jumping from 80% accuracy in preseason to 100% and it has catapulted him to the top of the league in just four weeks. His mentality is that of an experienced veteran and he maintains his composure no matter the situation. Monday he did admit that each kick this year has had some added significance due to the team’s close games but he has yet to let it get to him.

“I definitely think, just that the way the games have gone so far, basically every kick is high pressure because three points in the first quarter might end up being the difference in the fourth quarter.”

McManus has attributed a majority of his early success this year to preparation, something the coaching staff has taken notice of as well.

“My biggest things is how well I have practiced during game weeks. How consistent I have been in that aspect has translated to the game.”

So far the defense has grabbed the headlines and the offense continues to tweak itself, but the kicking game, like McManus’ right leg is strong. The quiet, lanky, undrafted kicker from Temple University is reveling in his role and wants to continue his success on an even keel. The Broncos would certainly love to continue to be worry free the rest of the year when McManus jogs onto the field. McManus has maintained his faith in his abilities throughout his time with the Broncos saying, “I always have confidence in myself.”

And now, so does everyone else.

Email Sam at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SamCowhick

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