- A year ago? Jake Elliott was trying to make the Bengals' roster. Twelve months later he is a hero in Philadelphia after a fantastic rookie season.
It may have been the most unlikely and humorous pairing in the history of NFL offseason. Jake Elliott, Mr. Nerves of Steel, squaring off against actress/rapper/producer Queen Latifah in a promotional lip-sync battle. Elliott, wearing an appropriate mullet wig, lip-synced to Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" in one of the memorable moments of the post-Super Bowl offseason.
"It was definitely different and a lot of fun," said Elliott, who absolutely killed in his performance. "It was just one of those opportunities that came up and I thought, 'Why not?' You kind of pick and choose what you're doing and that one was one I'm going to remember."
Elliott's rookie season in the NFL was one he'll always remember, too. A year ago at this time, Elliott was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, locked in a battle for the placekicking job with Randy Bullock. He was new to the league, finding his way around, keeping a low profile in Cincinnati as the Bengals' fifth-round draft pick.
Ultimately, Elliott lost the competition against Bullock and was cut as the Bengals reduced their roster to 53 players. The Eagles, meanwhile, were very confident that Caleb Sturgis was primed for a big 2017 after solidifying the position in the 2016 season. Then Sturgis suffered a season-ending hip injury in the Week 1 victory at Washington and the Eagles were in the market for a new leg. They had tryouts the day after that win over the Redskins and Elliott was included among a group of veterans.
Elliott won the job.
And then he became a revelation.
Two weeks after signing with the Eagles, Elliott boomed the franchise-record 61-yard field goal to beat the New York Giants and Elliott's world turned upside down. Normally, being carried off the field after a game-winning kick is the highlight for an entire season. But in this case, Elliott was just getting started.
"It was a pretty surreal experience all around," Elliott said. "I just tried to keep everything in perspective and keep thinking in the present and focusing on my next kick."
Well, the kicks kept coming. Elliott made 26 of 31 field goals as a rookie, including five-of-six attempts from 50 yards and longer. Elliott was a perfect 9-for-9 on field goals in the postseason, including a franchise-long 53-yarder against Atlanta and that super-clutch 46-yarder in the waning minutes against New England in Super Bowl LII to give the Eagles a 41-33 advantage. Elliott's misses came, oddly, on the shorter kicks. He was just 4-of-7 on field goal attempts from 30-39 yards in the regular season and he missed five of 51 PATs during the entire regular season and postseason.
But, look, nobody is perfect. Elliott knows he has things to improve. A look back at what Elliott calls a "huge roller-coaster ride of a year for me" has simply helped him transition to this year, to this challenge. What does Jake Elliott do for an encore after one of the great kicking seasons in Eagles history?
"I just do what I always do," Elliott said. "I'm not going to get ahead of myself. I'm just keeping a level head. It's a day-at-a-time thing. It's something I've developed through the course of my childhood, through high school, through all the sports that I played. It's always been important. I look back to my tennis days (in high school) and you're all alone out there. You have a bad point and you've got to bounce back for the next one.
"That's the way I am with every kick. I just try to stay in that moment."
Elliott does admit that "the legs were feeling a little bit heavy" as he trotted out to kick the 46-yarder late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, although, truth be told, he doesn't remember a whole lot about that moment because he just zones in on that instance.
And now? The next kick awaits.
"I am looking for more consistency. That's always the goal," he said. "I'm really happy with the big kicks that I made last year – the Giants kick, some of the longer kicks, the ones in the playoffs and the Super Bowl. They gave me a big boost heading into the offseason. I know I have them in me.
"But I want to make every kick. That's the goal, and while it may not happen, that's my goal. If I make a kick, I feel good and then I move on. If I miss a kick, no matter whether it's short or long, I assess what happened on the kick and then I move on to the next one. It's just something I have to realize that I need to hit a clean ball every single time I'm out there."
A year ago, hey, who knew anything about Jake Elliott? He was the farthest thing from a hero that you could imagine. Now, there are expectations and hopes and dreams that Elliott will prove to be a long-term solution to the kicking game, something the Eagles haven't had since the days of David Akers.
For his part, Elliott is really happy with his kicking after spending much of his offseason working on kicking into the wind and trying to replicate the unpredictable swirls of Lincoln Financial Field.
"When you get late in the season in the Northeast, with the wind and the temperatures dropping, if you don't hit a clean ball, you're going to get exposed real quick," Elliott said. "That's what playing here does to you. You've got to be on top of it every week."
Elliott is on top of it, focused every step of the way with his ice-in-veins mentality. He's just what the Eagles need, a treasure unearthed at just the right time in the magical 2017 Super Bowl season.