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. 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:
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?
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.