Why rank kickers?
If 2016 was the year of the Punter, with guys like Pat McAfee and Marquette King grabbing on-field and off-field headlines, then 2016 was most certainly not the year of the Placekicker. Before this season, kicking accuracy had been on an upward trend with 40-50 yarders becoming more automatic than ever. There was a growing school of thought that there really wasn’t much between the perceived best and worst kickers in the league.
With the age of social media and knee jerk reactions coming to the fore more than ever, it is important to have a bit of perspective. Yes a kicker may miss a couple of Extra Points in a year, but did they make their kicks when it really counted? People often forget the contribution players make over the course of a full season. Patriots Stephen Gostkowski had his issues this year, but he quickly pulled it together and has been relatively solid ever since. It is important to evaluate a Kicker over a full season rather than a couple of weeks. It is only then one can see the true impact of their performance.
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 that is; if Nick Folk (for example) has a conversion rate of 100%, we could safely assume he is one of the leagues’ best kickers. What we don’t know is how many kicks did he actually make? 5 or 50? We simply don’t know. Whilst it is a good indicator, in order to determine the rankings, I have taken into account:
- Amount of Field Goals Made
- Field Goal Conversion Percentage
- Field Goals Blocked
- Extra Points Made
- Extra Points Made %,
- Extra Points Blocked
Each metric has been attributed a weight and a score based on their ranking in each particular field. All of these are combined to give the kicker a final score, the lower the score the better the kicker.
- Justin Tucker – Baltimore Ravens – 10.5 – (+2)
- Matt Bryant – Atlanta Falcons – 14.5 – (+7)
- Adam Vinatieri – Indianapolis Colts – 27.5 (+2)
- Caleb Sturgis – Philadelphia Eagles – 32 (+26)
- Dan Bailey – Dallas Cowboys – 33.5 (-3)
There are no surprises at no.1 with the consensus best kicker in football Justin Tucker going home with the prize. He led the league in Field Goals Made and Field Goal Completion Percentage and ranked highly in every other metric. Matt Bryant finally made his first Pro Bowl at the age of 41, proving he really is the Benjamin Button of the NFL. Some would argue that Vinatieri deserves the Benjamin Button moniker, but I have another word for the Colts kicker – “Freak”. The man is still ridiculously good at the age of 44, and what makes him even more amazing is that he has been one of the best ever since the Patriots signed him in 1996.
Caleb Sturgis is a name I don’t think anyone expected to see this high up the list but he has quietly had a good season and is the league’s highest riser (up 26 places) since last year. Rounding out the Elite category is Dan Bailey. Despite the fact that he has dropped 3 positions on this list, he is still one of the best young Kickers in the league.
- Matt Prater – Detroit Lions – 46 (+11)
- Greg Zuerlein – LA Rams – 47.5 (+3)
- Brandon McManus – Denver Broncos – 48 (+16)
- Will Lutz – New Orleans Saints – 49.5 (NE)
- Cairo Santos – Kansas City Chiefs – 49.5 (+13)
- Mason Crosby – Green Bay Packers 50.5 (+8)
Here we see the first discernable points gap and without doing much analysis one can tell that the first group are on another level to these guys. Matt Prater was undervalued last year as he had only just signed with the Lions. The fact that he has had the luxury of kicking in the high altitude of Denver and now in a dome for Detroit may pad his statistics. Nevertheless he has been accurate and had yet another good season. Greg Zuerlein has had a slightly better year than 2015 but is still looking to recapture his rookie season form. On a positive note, he was 1 of only 5 players to make all of his Extra Point attempts this year.
The Broncos have really hit the jackpot with Brandon McManus who really hadn’t shown much ability for any of the other franchises that he has played for previously. A young kicker with plenty of time to grow, McManus didn’t have any spectacular statistics this year but was quietly consistent throughout. The Saints’ rookie Will Lutz had a good rookie season for a team who have struggled to identify a long-term solution at the position since Garret Hartley’s run with the team.
Cairo Santos’ Field Goal kicking was excellent this year, but his Extra Point play saw him tumble down the list. Mason Crosby is one of the most inconsistent kickers in the league on a season-by-season basis but this year was one of his better ones improving eight places on this list.
- Stephen Gostkowski – New England Patriots – 54.5 (-11)
- Chris Boswell – Pittsburgh Steelers – 56 (+15)
- Sebastian Janikowski – Oakland Raiders – 56.5 (-1)
- Dustin Hopkins – Washington Redskins – 56.5 (+14)
- Nick Folk – New York Jets – 57 (-4)
- Ryan Succop – Tennessee Titans – 57.5 (-3)
- Phil Dawson – San Francisco 49ers – 58.5 (-10)
Solid, the 3rd category is not a bad place to be at all and there is some excellent company in here. Stephen Gostkowski had some early season jitters, which he eventually overcame and looked like his former self. Unfortunately for him this is a full season report card. One would think he would be back competing for the top spot again in 2017. Chris Boswell is looking like he may eventually become the 4th “B” in the Steelers quartet containing Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Ok that’s is a bit of a stretch, but he is an impressive kicker that plays in one of the tougher environments in the league.
Has Sebastian Janikowski been worth his 1st round pick in 2000? It is the age old debate but nobody can argue that having one of the better kickers on your roster for the last 18 years should have a high value attributed to it.
The other “D-Hop” in the NFL, (Dustin Hopkins) couldn’t replicate his rookie year but had a decent follow up as a lot of Fantasy Football fans would have been aware of, kicking the 4th most Field Goals in the NFL this year. For the Jets, it is bad news when your kicker is one of your better players. The most disappointing part about it? Nick Folk wasn’t really that impressive, it was just another decent season for the Jets kicker.
Ryan Succop is probably one of the most anonymous kickers in the NFL, and there is something poetic in the fact that he was Mr Irrelevant in the 2009 draft. He has only 2nd to Justin Tucker in the FGCP metric with a highly respectable 92%. His only issue is that Tucker kicked 38 Field Goals, where Succop only kicked 22. Phil Dawson had a sizeable drop from 8th to 18th compared to last season. He suffered a similar fate to Ryan Succop where he kicked well but he just didn’t have the opportunity to make a lot of kicks as he was playing on the awful 49ers team.
Inconsistent – The Graham Gano Category
- Nick Novak – Houston Texans – 65.5 (-1)
- Steven Hauschka – Seattle Seahawks – 68 (-16)
- Jason Myers – Jacksonville Jaguars – 68.5 (+10)
- Andrew Franks – Miami Dolphins – 69 (+10)
- Connor Barth – Chicago Bears – 72.5 (-8)
This section was christened the “Graham Gano Category” last year due to his unpredictable performances. This year Gano narrowly misses out on his eponymous category. Nick Novak was an excellent choice for Fantasy Football players this year, racking up the 2nd most Field Goals Made with 35. Unfortunately he missed six, which had an impact on the low scoring Texans Offence. Field Goals weren’t the problem for Hauschka who rounds out the top 20. His issue was Extra Points, where he had a league high of five blocked. It sees a big fall from grace from the 4th ranked kicker in 2015.
Both Jason Myers and Andrew Franks were 31st and 32nd last year on this list, as they had not yet had a decent sample size to accurately rank them. In all the metrics Myers and Franks were in the middle to lower section of the rankings. They will need to have a strong training camp in 2017 to make sure they keep their jobs. Connor Barth had a tough 2016; his worst since 2009, but has otherwise had a solid career for himself. The Bears’ anaemic offence saw Barth with very few opportunities to prove himself.
On the Edge
- Cody Parkey – Cleveland Browns – 78 (NE)
- Graham Gano – Carolina Panthers – 79 (-4)
- Chandler Catanzaro – Arizona Cardinals – 83 (-4)
- Roberto Aguayo – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 85.5 (NE)
- Josh Lambo – San Diego Chargers – 91.5 (-3)
- Mike Nugent – Cincinnati Bengals – 92.5 (-9)
- Dan Carpenter – Buffalo Bills – 96.5 (-14)
The final category is for those that are either on the roster bubble or are close to it. With the exception of Roberto Aguayo (a 2nd round pick in 2016) most of these teams will be either actively looking to replace them or at the very least exploring their options going in to 2017. Cody Parkey kicked a poor 20/25 this year, but he did finish 2 places higher than the man he replaced in Cleveland – Travis Coons. Look for there to an open competition in Cleveland this year.
Graham Gano and Chandler Catanzaro had seasons that reflected their teams’ performance. Both had high expectations, both missed by a distance. Gano reverted back to his pre-2015 self and Catanzaro failed to build on his fairly promising first two seasons. The Bucs went all-in in the 2016 draft trading up to take Aguayo in the 2nd round. So far he has been a complete bust. What is worrying for the Bucs is that a number of the kicks he made were actually poorly kicked and barely made it between the uprights. Probably the biggest indictment on him is the perceived lack of faith in him by the coaching staff, with his longest Field Goal Made only coming from the 43-yard line.
The San Diego Chargers’ (R.I.P.) Special Teams were a mess this year. Josh Lambo was a big factor in that, as he didn’t make a kick over 50 yards and missed 4 Extra Points. He dropped 3 places from last year, not great for a player only two seasons into his career.
Mike Nugent has been a below average Kicker in the NFL for a long time. His best Bengals season was back in 2011. Since then, his FGCP has been hovering around the 80% mark. What might have saved his career is his pedigree as a former 2nd round pick, or maybe it was Marvin Lewis’ misplaced faith in him. Either way the Bengals grew tired of Nugent and cut him with 3 games to go and replaced him with Randy Bullock.
Now who could be worse than a guy that got cut? Dan Carpenter of the Buffalo Bills, that’s who. A 76% FGCP that accounted for only 19 Field Goals being made for the Bills in 2016. Five missed Extra Points all combine together to ensure an awful season. Is Carpenter really the worst Kicker in the NFL? Possibly not but he had the worse season statistically. Usually a middle of the road guy, Carpenter had a career low this year. If he can get back to his normal self, Carpenter has the pedigree to improve. Will new Head Coach Sean McDermott give him the time?
The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that only 30 kickers were ranked which means there are 2 missing. With the Vikings and Giants cutting Blair Walsh and Josh Brown midseason neither they nor their replacements (Kai Forbath and Robbie Gould) racked up enough kicks in order to make the rankings.