Leg Up on the Competition

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Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski and P Shane Lechler have been working on revisions to the record books for the past 12 years. Photo by Tony Gonzales.

Special teams contributions are oftentimes overlooked in the National Football League, but if any team can recognize the value of stellar special teams play, it is The Oakland Raiders. K Sebastian Janikowski and P Shane Lechler entered the league together as Raiders draft picks in 2000 and for 12 seasons their contributions have been nothing short of spectacular for the Silver and Black.

Owner Al Davis and the Raiders made special teams a priority in the 2000 NFL Draft, selecting Janikowski in the first round with the 17th overall pick and snagging Lechler in the fifth round. Mr. Davis recognized Janikowski's ability to be an offensive weapon and made him the first kicker selected in the first round of the draft since 1979. With the fifth round selection, the Raiders looked to Lechler to continue the team's tradition of a strong punting game, as the rookie was asked to follow in the footsteps of top performers such as Ray Guy and Jeff Gossett.   

Janikowski's path to becoming a Raider began after settling in Daytona Beach following a move to the United States from his native Poland. Janikowski did not start playing football until his senior year of high school, when he joined the team and connected on four 50-plus yard field goals, including one for 60 yards, which was the second-longest field goal in state history.

After making an impression in his one high school season, he then made headlines nationally at Florida State. In just three seasons with the Seminoles, Janikowski ranked second on the school's career scoring list with 324 points. He also became the first kicker to win the Lou Groza Award twice as both a sophomore and junior.

Lechler was also a multitalented athlete in high school, playing football, baseball and basketball. Lechler was the starting quarterback, punter and placekicker, throwing for close to 5,000 yards and averaging 41.6 yards per punt.

The native Texan continued to be a versatile player during his college career at Texas A&M, serving as the punter, the placekicker on long field goals, and handling kickoffs. He also served as a holder on short field goals and as a backup quarterback. He went on to become the NCAA record holder for career punting average with 44.7 yards per punt and posted 37 career games with a 40-plus yard punting average. Moreover, he did not have any punts blocked during his entire career at Texas A&M.

The two specialists joined forces as members of the Silver and Black in 2000 and set about becoming the dynamic special teams duo that Mr. Davis envisioned when drafting them. Since that day, Janikowski and Lechler have set franchise and NFL records and have been an integral part of the team's production on special teams. Both veterans provide powerful and accurate legs each time they step onto the gridiron.

Janikowski has set numerous records during his 12 seasons with the Raiders. In addition to leading the team in scoring in each of his years, he became the Silver and Black's all-time leading scorer in 2008 and set the team's single-season scoring record (142 points) in 2010. He also set the NFL mark for longest overtime field goal with a 57-yarder in a 2008 win over the New York Jets.

His record-setting ways continued in 2011, as he nailed a 63-yard field goal in Denver during the season opener to tie an NFL record for longest field goal. He also set a franchise record by connecting on six field goals against Chicago on November 27 to help the team post a 25-20 victory. For his accomplishments, Janikowski earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Not to be outdone by his teammate, Lechler has established and broken records of his own en route to seven career Pro Bowl selections. He currently holds the NFL record with a career 47.5-yard punting average and set a Raiders team mark with 4,909 punting yards and a 51.1-yard punting average during the 2009 season. Lechler holds the top seven single-season punting averages in team history and his net punting average of 43.9 yards in 2009 set an NFL single-season record.

Like Janikowski, Lechler's 12th NFL season was a special one. He tied the Raiders record for longest punt with a 77-yard effort in the season opener, then eclipsed the 50-year old standard with an 80-yard boot against Chicago on November 27. Additionally, he threw his first career touchdown pass on a fake field goal to TE Kevin Boss for 35 yards against the Cleveland Browns on October 16.

QB Carson Palmer believes that Janikowski and Lechler are one of the best kicking combinations in the league. "Those guys are game-changers," said Palmer. "There can't be a better one [kicker/punter combination]."

While they continue to set records in the NFL, the dynamic duo of Janikowski and Lechler are fulfilling the promise that was evident on draft day over a decade ago.

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