Why rank kickers?
We often read rankings of Quarterbacks and Wide Receiver tandems, or even defences ranked 1-32. But what about kickers? Up to last season 90%, of the kickers (in my opinion) in the league were “automatic”. With the move of the extra point to the 30-yard line, we have seen the value of a good NFL kicker increase due to the increased percentage of kicks missing the target. We have still yet to go through an NFL week without an extra point being missed. According to nfl.com, in 2014 98 % of field goal kicks between 20-30 yards were made. Compare this to the extra point conversion in 2015 (from the same distance), which is 95%.
I think in the last five to ten years the value of the kicker has been slightly devalued in terms of their importance to a team. Monetarily kickers are paid better than ever, but I think the public consensus is that there really isn’t a difference between the 1st and 21st best kicker. That is simply not the case.
How we rank them.
An easy way to construct these rankings would have been to order them by their Field Goal Conversion Percentage (FGCP). However, there is a small problem with this metric which is if Nick Folk (for example) has a conversion rate of 100%, we could safely assume he the best kicker. What we don’t know is from what distance did he make these kicks? The 16 or the 60-yard line? We simply don’t know. Whilst it is a good indicator, in order to determine the rankings, I have taken into account the Field Goal Conversion Percentage, Years Active in the League, Longest Field Goal Converted, and in the cases where it is difficult to discern a statistical difference I have used the old-fashioned eyeball test.
Take a look at the rankings, and let me know what you think. The kickers have been ranked from 1-32 and grouped into categories for your perusal.
I have identified the four kickers below as being the best in their position in the league. These are the guys you want in a high-pressure situation. If I am honest, there really isn’t much between these guys, but I am not going to sit on the fence. What pushed Gostkowski over the top to no.1 is that he has an 80% record of field goals (16-for-20) from 50+ yards, which is the highest percentage in NFL history (min. 15 attempts). (Courtesy of @RyanHannable). He has also been near perfect so far this year culminating in the last second 55-yard field goal against the Giants last week. Bailey and Tucker are the 2 best young kickers in the league; Bailey has the highest FGCP in the league at 90.1. Hauschka’s form has mirrored the success of the Seahawks and has been excellent over the last 3 seasons. Despite being 30, he only started kicking regularly in the NFL when he joined the Seahawks in 2011 despite entering the league as a 23 year old.
- Stephen Gostkowski – New England Patriots
- Dan Bailey – Dallas Cowboys
- Justin Tucker – Baltimore Ravens
- Steven Hauschka – Seattle Seahawks
These are the guys that just missed out. I do think there is a discernable difference between Vinatieri at 5 and Bryant at 9 but I think Bryant is too good to be in the category below. The eagle-eyed among you will see that apart from Blair Walsh, the rest of these guys are old-timers, guys that have been there, done that, had a blip, recovered, and are still kicking at a high level.
I can completely understand anyone that would like to argue that Vinatieri should be in the elite category. It was the hardest of all the choices to a make in the ranking. I just feel that despite his amazing form last year, he has not been the same this year. Gould, Walsh, Dawson and Bryant are all excellent kickers. In the NFL, kicker experience is of paramount importance and its no surprise that 6 of the top 9 kickers have 7-years+ experience. I think that Bailey, Tucker and Walsh will be the elite kickers in the league in 5 years time.
- Adam Vinatieri – Indianapolis Colts
- Robbie Gould – Chicago Bears
- Blair Walsh – Minnesota Vikings
- Phil Dawson – San Francisco 49ers
- Matt Bryant – Atlanta Falcons
Solid, the 3rd category is not a bad place to be at all and there is some excellent company in here. Some might think Greg Zuerlein, (aka Legatron) should be higher, but whilst he has one of the “biggest legs” in the league it isn’t necessarily the most accurate with an 80.8% FGCP. Janikowski, is the original “big leg” kicker but he also suffers from a similar FGCP of 80.2%. Brown, Folk, Succop and Carpenter have been very consistent this year and pretty much throughout their career.
Barth’s situation is a strange one. Beaten out by Pat Murray last season in camp and then came back to the Buccaneers after Kyle Brindza was, to be blunt, terrible. In his hiatus from the Bucs he tied a Broncos record of kicking 5 field goals in a game, twice. He was beaten out again in camp, this time by Brandon McManus. He has the fourth best FGCP (86.1) of any active kicker that is not in the first 2 years of their career. The only reason he places so low here is that he is only back in the league for the last month or so after resigning with the Bucs.
- Greg Zuerlein – St. Louis Rams
- Josh Brown – New York Giants
- Nick Folk – New York Jets
- Sebastian Janikowski – Oakland Raiders
- Ryan Succop – Tennessee Titans
- Conor Barth – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Dan Carpenter – Buffalo Bills
I should have probably renamed this the Graham Gano category. Gano started off his career horribly inconsistently. Over the last year he seems to have turned himself around since his move to Carolina. For Prater, he spent most of his career in the kicker-friendly thin air of Mile-High stadium in Denver. After the Broncos decided to go with Brandon McManus (the scourge of Conor Barth) Prater signed for the Lions where he endured a shaky start. His previous spell kicking with the Lions in 2006 was equally shaky. Prater has the potential to rocket up this list if he plays to his 2013 standard but for now he’ll remain here. His extra point misses this year might mean he has to wait a while. Novak is now back in the league with the Texans after Randy Bullock finally outstayed his welcome. Crosby and Nugent have had recent ups and downs, which is reflected in their percentage of 79.4 and 80.7 respectively.
- Matt Prater – Detroit Lions
- Nick Novak – Houston Texans
- Mason Crosby – Green Bay Packers
- Mike Nugent – Cincinnati Bengals
- Graham Gano – Carolina Panthers
Here we enter the realm of the rookie and first year players. Santos and Cantanzaro have been especially impressive. McManus appeared to have gotten over his early career jitters and is kicking well. Lambo and Coons are in their first year as starters in the league, Coons has a 100% record so far but all of his kicks have been in made within 44 yards, he has also now missed two extra points. I think all 5 have shown the potential to be NFL kickers; they just have to do it for a longer period of time before they move up the list.
- Chandler Cantanzaro – Arizona Cardinals
- Cairo Santos – Kansas City Chiefs
- Brandon McManus – Denver Broncos
- Josh Lambo – San Diego Chargers
- Travis Coons – Cleveland Browns
On the Edge
The final category is for those that are either on the roster bubble or are close to it. Or conversely were only a recent addition so their leash will be short. Forbath, Hopkins and Sturgis have a year or more kicking under their belts but have never really stuck around with a team, usually down to their poor play or being beaten out in camp on more than one occasion. Boswell has been a breath of fresh air for Pittsburgh this year after the ill-fated trade of Josh Scobee in the off-season. However he has only a small sample size of 12 kicks to choose from so it’s too soon to anoint him in any other category yet. Myers and Franks are both rookie kickers that have not kicked well this year. I have taken Myers over Franks as Myers has made more kicks and kicked a 58-yard field goal to Franks’ 53-yard attempt.
- Kai Forbath – New Orleans Saints
- Chris Boswell – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Dustin Hopkins – Washington Redskins
- Caleb Sturgis – Philadelphia Eagles
- Jason Myers – Jacksonville Jaguars
- Andrew Franks – Miami Dolphins