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Blair Walsh In Perspective: Game-By-Game EPA

Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was released by the Vikings this week, and given his struggles this year, it’s hard to argue with Minnesota’s decision. Walsh will be infamously remembered for missing a chip shot in the playoffs against the Seahawks last year, and those demons have carried over to his 2016 performance.

How much so? I looked at every kick of Walsh’s career, beginning in his rookie season of 2012. For every made extra point in 2012, 2013, or 2014, I gave him +0.01 points, and +0.06 points for every made extra point in 2015 or 2016. Then, for every miss, he received -0.99 or -0.94 points, as applicable.

Extra points were easy; field goals were slightly harder. The graph below shows the average success rate on field goals in 3-year increments, from 2012 to week 10 of 2016:


I used those numbers to give Walsh points for each field goal attempt, too. For example, 48-50 yard kicks have been made 70% of the time over the last five years, so if Walsh attempted a 49-yard field goal, I gave him +0.9 points if he made it, and -2.1 points if he missed it.

Using that methodology, here is how Walsh has fared in every regular season game of his career:


As a rookie, Walsh was at +11.4 in this system, and would be even higher if I era-adjusted in sample (for convenience, I treated 2012 games the same as 2015 games, which probably is not appropriate). In 2016, he had -7.1 points by this system, including two miserable games in weeks 1 (missed extra point, missed 37-yarder, missed 56-yarder) and 9 (missed extra point, missed 46-yarder in a game the Vikings lost in overtime).


Yesterday, I looked at the career leaders in fourth quarter/overtime game-winning field goals. It’s fun — in a purely trivial way — to see which kickers have made the most game-winners, but that’s only half the story. What about which kickers have missed the most key field goals?

I looked at all field goal attempts since 1994 that came when the game was tied or the kicking team was trailing by 1 or 2 points. I did not make any adjustments for era, or distance, or weather, since this is a trivia post on a Sunday in May. That said, man was Todd Peterson good at missing key field goals. Like, really, really good.

He missed 17 of his 34 field goal attempts in this situation; not only was that 50% rate the worst for any kicker with more than five misses, but his 17 misses truly lapped the field. [click to continue…]


Nick the Kick

Nick the Kick

On Tuesday, I explained the formula used in my system of grading field goal kickers, which is based on field goal success rate adjusted for distance and era.  Yesterday, I looked at the single-season leaders using that methodology. Today, we look at the best field goal kickers since 1960 on the career level.

And frankly, it’s not much of a question as to who is the best kicker ever. Until presented with evidence to the contrary, that honor belongs to Nick Lowery (you can tell him about that here). The table below shows the top field goal kickers ever; let’s walk through Lowery’s line as an example.

Lowery played from 1978 to 1996. The length of his average field goal attempt was 36.6 yards, and the length of his average made field goal was 34.8 yards. Lowery attempted 479 field goals in his career; based on the distance of those kicks and the era in which he played, we would expect an average kicker to have made about 337.6 of those attempts. Instead, Lowery made 383 of them, a whopping 45.4 field goals above expectation. Thought of another way, Lowery’s expected field goal rate was 70.5%, while his actual was 80.0%, so he was successful an extra 9.5% of the time he lined up to kick. That’s remarkable. In short, Lowery was the most valuable field goal kicker in NFL history. [click to continue…]


In 1983, there were 46 field goal attempts of 52 yards or longer. That year, just 17 of them were successful… and four of them came from Baltimore Colts rookie kicker Raul Allegre. But that’s just the highlight for perhaps the best kicking season ever.

During the Colts last year in Baltimore, fans voted Allegre the team’s most valuable player. And with good reason: Allegre attempted 35 field goals, but given the distances of those kicks and the kicking environment in 1983, we would have expected Allegre to make 21.2 of those attempts. Instead, Allegre connected on 30 field goals, giving him 8.8 more field goals above average. That’s the highest rate in any single season ever. Yesterday, I unveiled a methodology for ranking kickers, based on two factors: the length of each field goal attempts and the year in which they kick was attempted. Using that formula, I then was able to grade every field goal kicking season since 1960.

Let’s use Nick Lowery’s 1985 season to walk through the table below. That year, playing for the Chiefs, Lowery went 4/4 on kciks from 20-29 yards, 10/11 from 30-39 yards, 7/7 from 40-49 yards, and 3/5 from over 50 yards. (Note that while I have the data on the specific distance of each attempt, it made sense to present it for consumption in this way.) He attempted 27 kicks, and given the distances and the era, was expected to be successful on 17.2 of them. Instead, he made 24, giving him 6.8 field goals above average. If you prefer to think in terms of rates, Lowery was expected to be true on 63.7% of kicks, but actually made 88.9% of his attempts; that’s 25.2% above expectation, the highest rate by any kicker with at least 25 attempts. The table below shows the top 300 seasons since 1960: [click to continue…]


Six years ago, I took my first crack at analyzing field goal kickers. I have been meaning to update that article for each of the last three offseasons, and with the sun setting on the 2015 offseason, I didn’t want to let this slip yet again.

Ranking field goal kickers is not difficult conceptually, but it can be a bit challenging in practice. One thing I’ve yet to refine is the appropriate adjustments for playing surface, stadium, time of game, temperature, and wind. That’s a lot of adjustments to deal with, all on top of the most obvious adjustment: for era.

But as I understand it, Rome was not built in a day; further, I believe that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. As a result, I’m okay with only getting part of the way there for now, and punting (which is very, very different from kicking) the rest of this process to next offseason.

Let’s begin with the obvious: era adjustments are really, really, important.  To provide some examples, I looked at the field goal rates at four different increments: 22-24 yard kicks, 31-33 yard attempts, kicks from 40-42 yards away, and finally, field goal attempts from 49-51 yards.  In the graph below, I’ve plotted the success rate at those four distances for each year since 1960, along with a “best-fit” curve at each distance. Take a look: [click to continue…]


Are Kickers Faring Worse In 2014?

Does it feel like kicking accuracy is down so far in 2014? Detroit rookie Nate Freese was just 3/7 before the Lions cut him on Monday, with all four misses coming in the 40-to-49 range. Bengals kicker Mike Nugent has also missed four attempts so far this year; for him, a 38-yarder balances out his 55-yard miss, to go along with a pair of unsuccessful tries in the 40-to-49 range.

Tampa Bay placekicker Patrick Murray had a 24-yard attempt blocked in a game Tampa Bay lost by two points. Randy Bullock, the Texans kicker who was Freese before Nate Freese existed, saw his 27-yard attempt blocked by Justin Tuck.1 Eight more kicks were missed in the 30-to-39 range, too, so if you feel like you’ve seen a bunch of missed field goals, well, I won’t tell you how to feel.

But are kickers actually faring worse this year? I broke down field goal attempts in three yard increments (18 to 20, 21 to 23, 24 to 26, etc.) for the first three weeks of each year beginning in 2002. The blue line shows the data from 2002 to 2005, the red line represents kicking from 2006 to 2009, and the green line covers the last four years. Since the data can be choppy, I included larger, smoothed lines, for each four-year period. [click to continue…]

  1. Who is not to be confused with the near-automatic Justin Tucker. The Ravens kicker did miss once this year, but we’ll give him a pass since it was a 55-yarder. []

On Friday, I looked at the career leaders in 4th quarter (and overtime) game-winning touchdowns from scrimmage. Yesterday I presented the all-time leaders in passing touchdowns. Today we give field goal kickers some love using the same criteria.
[click to continue…]

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Rankings the kickers, from Tucker to Crosby

Mack Brown knows kicker.

Mack Brown knows kickers.

In the summer of 2009, I wrote a three-part series analyzing every kicker of the last half-century (here are the links to Part I, Part II, Part III). What I did there was analyzed field goal attempts by distance, and then credited a kicker for how many field goals he made over the expected number of successful field goals from each distance.

For example, field goal kickers this year have made 15 of 23 attempts from exactly 50 yards.1 If we assume that 50-yard kicks are successful 65% of the time, then a made 50-yarder will be worth +0.35 field goals and a missed 50-yarder will be worth -0.65 field goals.

To smooth the data, I used kicks from 2005 to 2011, and I also grouped field goals into four-yard increments. In the off-season, I plan to incorporate stadium, temperature, and other weather effects, but for now, I’ve ignored the (often large) role such elements can play.

The table below shows how many field goals over expectation each kicker made through week 15. I also included a column for extra points, and the final column shows how many points over average each kicker provided, giving them 3 points for each field goal and one point for each extra point over average:

1Justin TuckerBAL252792.6%20.74.337370.213.1
2Sebastian JanikowskiOAK293290.6%24.74.322220.112.9
3Blair WalshMIN293290.6%25.13.930300.211.8
4Shaun SuishamPIT262796.3%22.43.630300.210.8
5Phil DawsonCLE262796.3%22.53.528280.210.6
6Kai ForbathWAS1515100%11.53.52627-0.89.6
7Dan BaileyDAL272993.1%24332320.29.3
8Jason HansonDET283287.5%25.12.934340.28.8
9Connor BarthTAM232882.1%20.52.537370.27.7
10Greg ZuerleinSTL212972.4%18.72.321210.17.1
11Jay FeelyARI212487.5%18.82.223230.16.8
12Josh ScobeeJAX222491.7%19.62.41516-0.96.2
13Matt BryantATL313686.1%29.31.738380.25.4
14Rian LindellBUF202195.2%18.31.734340.25.2
15Nick NovakSDG151788.2%13.61.427270.24.2
16Alex HeneryPHI252889.3%23.51.52223-0.93.7
17Dan CarpenterMIA222781.5%21.20.826260.12.6
18Ryan SuccopKAN252986.2%24.20.816160.12.4
19Nate KaedingSDG77100%6.20.86602.4
20Josh BrownCIN66100%5.30.75502.2
21Robbie GouldCHI212584%20.50.533330.21.8
22Steven HauschkaSEA222588%20.91.13840-1.81.4
23Mike NugentCIN192382.6%18.60.435350.21.3
24Olindo MareCHI22100%1.80.21100.5
25Graham GanoCAR55100%4.60.41314-0.90.3
26Garrett HartleyNOR151883.3%15.1-0.148480.30.1
27Lawrence TynesNYG333984.6%33.1-0.138380.2-0.2
28Stephen GostkowskiNWE263281.3%26.2-0.260600.3-0.3
29Shayne GrahamHOU263281.3%26.2-0.244440.2-0.5
30Adam VinatieriIND243177.4%24.2-0.231310.2-0.5
31Matt PraterDEN232979.3%23.8-0.846460.3-2.2
32Nick FolkNYJ172277.3%17.8-0.828280.2-2.3
33Rob BironasTEN243080%24.9-0.929290.2-2.4
34Justin MedlockCAR71070%8.3-1.323230.1-3.9
35Billy CundiffWAS71258.3%9.3-2.317170.1-6.7
36David AkersSFO253571.4%28.2-3.240400.2-9.5
37Mason CrosbyGNB172958.6%21.3-4.339390.2-12.8

So Justin Tucker and Sebastian Janikowski have been the most valuable kickers this year — no surprise there, although Tucker is far from a household name. The worst two kickers won’t shock anyone who has watched much of the Packers or 49ers this year, as David Akers and especially Mason Crosby have been constant sources of frustration for their fans.

I’ll note that I am counting blocked field goals just like a regular miss. When I previewed the list to my brother, he was surprised to see Folk ranking 32nd, since he only missed five field goals. Well, two of them were blocked; if you removed those (and blamed them on the line instead of a low trajectory), he would be 17th (although in this one, I am only removing blocks for Folk). I’d also note that two of his other 3 misses hit the uprights, so I’m not surprised to see my brother (or any Jets fan) surprised to see Folk 32nd.

What if we look at expected field goals over average by distance?

RkNameTm19to2223to2627to3031to3435to3839to4243to4647to5051to5455to5859to6263to66FG Ov Avg
1Justin TuckerBAL00.
2Sebastian JanikowskiOAK0.
3Blair WalshMIN00.1-
4Shaun SuishamPIT0.
6Kai ForbathWAS00.100.2001.12.200003.5
5Phil DawsonCLE00.1-
7Dan BaileyDAL0.
8Jason HansonDET000.
9Connor BarthTAM000.10.1-
12Josh ScobeeJAX0.
10Greg ZuerleinSTL000.10.2-
11Jay FeelyARI000.20.2-0.3-
13Matt BryantATL-0.900.20.3-0.31-0.4-
14Rian LindellBUF0000.5-
16Alex HeneryPHI0.10.10-
15Nick NovakSDG0.10.100.300.20.50.7-0.1-0.4001.4
22Steven HauschkaSEA0.
17Dan CarpenterMIA000.
19Nate KaedingSDG00.10000.40.3000000.8
18Ryan SuccopKAN00-0.9-0.30.3-
20Josh BrownCIN00.100.200000.50000.7
21Robbie GouldCHI0.10.10-0.70.3-0.21.1-0.90.90000.5
25Graham GanoCAR00.100.200.20000000.4
23Mike NugentCIN0.
24Olindo MareCHI0000.2000000000.2
26Garrett HartleyNOR0.10.100.2-0.70.20-0.30.4000-0.1
27Lawrence TynesNYG00.2-0.70.3-0.10.4-0.21.1-1.1000-0.1
28Stephen GostkowskiNWE00.10.10.4-0.5-2.21.1-0.20.9000-0.2
30Adam VinatieriIND0.10.100.1-
29Shayne GrahamHOU0.
31Matt PraterDEN0.10.10.1-0.20.10-0.6-1.31.4-0.400-0.8
32Nick FolkNYJ0.1-0.900.3-0.60.2-0.600.8000-0.8
33Rob BironasTEN00.
34Justin MedlockCAR0000.30-0.8-0.2-0.60000-1.3
35Billy CundiffWAS000-1.80.4-0.40.300-0.4-0.30-2.3
36David AkersSFO000.3-0.60.7-1.8-0.9-0.3-1.1-0.400.8-3.2
37Mason CrosbyGNB00.10.1-0.7-0.7-0.2-1.51.2-1.7-0.800-4.3

Greg Zuerlein — or Greg the Leg, Young GZ, or Legatron, if you prefer — has cooled off since his hot start. He’s hit 3 of the successful field goals from 56+ yards this season, but all three came in September. Mason Crosby comes out as the worst kicker, and some have defended him because he’s mostly missed long field goals. While that’s somewhat true, this metric adjusts for distance, so he’s struggling even when you consider the difficulty of the kick.

Crosby is 1 for 8 when attempting field goals from 50+ yards, but the average kicker would have been successful on 4.2 field goals. He’s also missed from 32, 38, 42, 43, and 44 yards, and comes out as the worst kicker in the 43-to-46 range. David Akers tied an NFL record with a 63-yarder this year, but otherwise, he’s had a rough season. He’s missed six field goals from inside of 43 yards.

  1. There is some bias in the data in that only the best distance kickers attempts long field goals, but dealing with that is best left for another day. []