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Rating Field Goal Kickers

While our Expected Points Added (EPA) statistics do a great job of analyzing the relative advantage gained by each team on each play, for field goals they tell a more broad story than simply how good a kicker is. While a field goal attempt's EPA does always account for the distance and whether it was made, it also naturally compares the attempt to all other similar scenarios in which teams attempt a 4th down conversion or even punt. So a team's EPA on field goal attempts may be impacted by the coach's 4th down decision making.

Expected Field Goals Added

To more specifically judge the quality of a kicker, it is better to use the metric of how many field goals were made in comparison to how many could be expected to be made on average from that set of attempts. Analogous to expected points added, this could be considered expected field goals added. The chart below shows the average expectation for a field goal of any distance, as the expected field goals made for each attempt equals the odds of a make from that specific distance.

Field Goal Odds

Below is a table containing all active kickers' season totals for each of the past 7 seasons (with the exception of Weeks 7-14 in 2013 which had a glitch in our database), in terms of field goals made above or below the expected amount. The values are cumulative totals rather than per-attempt averages.

After being adjusted for the distance of each kick, the numbers have also been adjusted on a per-kick basis to keep relative accuracy consistent over the years. This is because kickers have become significantly more accurate over the years, and without the adjustment kickers in more recent years would often be rated higher than those who also kicked in earlier years in the overall average.

Field Goals Made Above Average
Kicker 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Avg
Dan Bailey1.012.541.231.832.471.82
Sebastian Janikowski5.610.335.073.11-2.872.05-0.881.77
Chris Boswell1.011.01
Justin Tucker2.570.041.46-0.070.96
Adam Vinatieri-0.552.390.49-1.110.163.032.330.96
Dustin Hopkins0.890.89
Patrick Murray0.790.79
Connor Barth-0.48-0.283.491.840.96-0.960.76
Blair Walsh3.91-0.36-1.600.950.73
Stephen Gostkowski0.19-0.79-0.43-1.041.042.953.030.71
Matt Prater0.952.13-0.93-1.592.71-0.832.480.70
Matt Bryant-0.931.631.680.340.273.15-1.710.63
Chandler Catanzaro1.090.140.61
Dan Carpenter2.06-1.650.67-0.370.842.540.050.59
Steven Hauschka0.080.200.750.11-0.402.710.58
Phil Dawson1.14-0.550.882.50-0.730.200.280.53
Robbie Gould1.39-0.051.64-0.501.59-1.280.200.43
Josh Brown0.700.28-1.960.87-1.471.672.410.36
Nick Novak-0.420.970.29-0.170.300.19
Cody Parkey0.62-0.510.05
Jason Myers-0.03-0.03
Josh Scobee-2.67-0.113.310.951.67-0.99-2.51-0.05
Kai Forbath2.18-0.830.08-1.89-0.12
Josh Lambo-0.14-0.14
Shayne Graham-0.661.17-0.51-1.030.11-0.410.31-0.14
Andrew Franks-0.27-0.27
Greg Zuerlein0.891.66-0.93-2.95-0.33
Ryan Succop1.62-1.40-0.87-1.30-1.62-0.031.14-0.35
Travis Coons-0.53-0.53
Cairo Santos-1.21-0.17-0.69
Caleb Sturgis1.34-2.51-0.97-0.71
Brandon McManus-2.260.54-0.86
Mason Crosby-2.22-0.740.70-5.121.04-0.500.35-0.93
Mike Nugent-2.69-0.570.27-0.59-0.36-1.74-0.86-0.93
Randy Bullock-2.580.40-0.73-0.97
Graham Gano0.60-4.83-2.90-0.411.06-0.21-0.46-1.02
Nick Folk-4.59-2.21-1.01-2.270.35-0.72-0.31-1.54
Zach Hocker-2.25-2.25
Kyle Brindza-3.39-3.39

Other Considerations

Because each kicker attempts different types of field goals, no field goal kicking metric can be perfect. The expected percentages from long distances have to be based only on the set of kickers that actually attempted field goals from that range (and presumably have better than average kicking range). And some coaches may make their kickers attempt field goals from beyond their comfortable range more often than others. However, these issues are very minor.

The most influential aspect of field goal kicking that is not captured in this analysis is weather, and wind in particular. While the NFL does provide some weather data each game that we may try to integrate into the analysis in the future, it is limited, and the raw field goal numbers don't appear to show a strong difference between kickers with indoor home stadiums or outdoor ones. The quality of a long snapper, holder, and defense (for blocks) can also have an impact, but probably just a very minor one.

While not listed in the table of active kickers above, some of the best retired kickers of the last 7 seasons include Neil Rackers, Rob Bironas, and Nate Kaeding. The worst kickers that still managed to stick around for several years include Billy Cundiff, Lawrence Tynes, and Garrett Hartley.

How Much Do Kickers Matter?

The top or bottom teams in terms of EPA on field goals each season are generally about a point per game better or worse than league average. That number is about equivalent to having a very good WR or RB on a team, but is an overestimation due to the issues with EPA listed above. In terms of field goals made above expected, a top or bottom kicker each year is generally about 3 field goals above or below league average.

To convert this back to an EPA equivalent, we can use the fact that a short field goal is worth about 3 points over a miss, while making a longer field goal is worth about 4 points more than missing it due to the increased field position given to the opponent relative to a kickoff return. Therefore in general the 3 field goal makes over average will be worth about 9-12 points over the season, or about 0.6-0.7 points per game.

Over half a point per game is still impressive, but that is the equivalent of a best season for a best kicker rather than what could reasonably be projected on average for a very good kicker. Even the best kickers only approach 2 extra made field goals per season rather than 3 on a consistent multiple season basis, so a reasonable projection for a season would at most probably move a team's quality rating by 0.4 points per game up or down from average due to a kicker alone.

Roughly converting a kicker's impact in terms of points into a salary value in our initial salary analysis, we generally find that kickers in the NFL are actually compensated just about right. Some teams are a little overeager to give good kicker money to average kickers, but that seems common at most positions. Overall, the amount of money given to kickers as a whole aligns well with our analysis.

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