The Best FG Kickers

Note: This analysis has been updated. New post can be found here.

Judging who the best field goal kickers are in the NFL is difficult. The kickers with the best range are often sent out to attempt impossibly long field goal tries. Some kickers benefit from circumstance in some years because their team's drives stall closer to the endzone than others.

Using data from the 2003-2006 regular seasons, obtained at profootballweekly.com, I may have a stumbled on a novel approach to solve the problem. My intent was to follow up on an earlier article that suggested that field goal kickers were severely underpaid relative to their impact on winning. A couple of readers (correctly) pointed out that some kickers' performances appear inflated due to luck, so the "best" kicker one year may really only be an average kicker who got lucky. In attempting to isolate the true talent level from other circumstances, including luck, involved in kicking performance, I developed the following approach.

For each kicker from '03-'06, I computed an expected percentage of FGs made based on three kicker stats:

1. Average FG attempt distance
2. Average FG made distance
3. Average FG missed distance

To compute the expected FG%, I ran a regression of actual FG percentages based on those three variables. The fitted values of the regression model became expected FG%. In simple terms, it's the average FG% that an NFL kicker would be expected to have given his average attempt, made, and miss distances. Essentially, this establishes a level-of-difficulty score, much like in diving, for each kicker's season.

The difference between each kicker's actual FG% and his expected FG% can therefore be considered a true measure of a kicker's performance in a season, accounting for attempt distances. This method does not yet isolate how much of a kicker's performance was due to luck, but it is the first necessary step to do so.

Here are the best kicking performances of the 2003-2006 period, accounting for attempt distances:






























































































































YearPlayerTeamAvg AttAvg MadeAvg MissActual %Expected %Act-Exp %
2003Vanderjagt*Ind.33.833.8NA1.000.710.287
2004HansonDet.38.137.943.00.960.880.077
2003HansonDet.38.137.943.00.960.880.077
2006KasayCar.38.936.856.00.890.830.063
2005KasayCar.38.935.250.80.770.700.062
2005RackersAriz.38.137.648.50.950.890.061
2005NedneyS.F.38.538.045.50.930.870.058
2003JanikowskiOak.39.037.351.30.880.820.056
2006LongwellMinn.33.630.450.00.840.780.055
2003GrahamCin.37.235.251.30.880.830.055
2003K. BrownHou.38.235.649.80.820.770.047
2003BrienN.Y.J.37.335.049.60.840.800.047
2006HansonDet.36.334.450.00.880.830.045
2005HansonDet.35.732.448.20.790.750.045
2006RackersAriz.37.634.048.90.760.710.044
2004WilkinsSt.L.35.935.541.70.930.880.044
2003WilkinsSt.L.35.935.541.70.930.880.044
2006LindellBuff.35.935.342.50.920.880.043
2006StoverBalt.33.233.035.50.930.890.040
2006VinatieriInd.36.635.545.30.890.850.039
2004VinatieriN.E.34.934.048.50.940.900.038
2006GrahamCin.36.934.648.40.830.800.038
2003LongwellG.B.36.235.044.70.890.850.036
2004LongwellG.B.36.235.044.70.890.850.036
2005BironasTen.37.434.648.30.790.760.033
2004JanikowskiOak.36.335.543.00.890.860.030
2003StoverBalt.34.732.847.60.870.840.029
2003LindellBuff.33.929.544.40.710.680.027
2004StoverBalt.34.834.141.70.910.880.027
2006ElamDen.33.332.643.50.930.900.027
2006KaedingS.D.35.835.241.00.900.870.027
2003AndersenK.C.39.136.947.50.800.770.027
2005WilkinsSt.L.39.138.444.00.870.840.026
2005VanderjagtInd.32.832.239.50.920.890.026
2003AkersPhil.36.434.346.40.830.800.026
2004AkersPhil.36.434.346.40.830.800.026
2006WilkinsSt.L.36.835.545.20.870.840.025
2005ReedPitt.35.433.146.80.830.800.025
2005StoverBalt.35.934.943.30.880.860.025
2003AndersonTen.36.535.344.80.870.850.024
2006GouldChi.36.836.242.00.890.860.024
2004GrahamCin.37.236.343.00.870.850.023
2005DawsonClev.31.631.336.50.930.910.022
2005VinatieriN.E.36.433.946.40.800.780.022
2004KasayCar.36.935.345.30.840.820.021
2003KasayCar.36.935.345.30.840.820.021
2005KaedingS.D.36.435.542.70.880.850.020
2006CarneyN.O.32.432.037.50.920.900.020
2005PetersonAtl.31.631.038.50.920.900.018
2004ElamDen.36.134.744.00.850.830.018
2003FeelyAtl.38.134.347.10.700.690.018
2004FeelyAtl.38.134.347.10.700.690.018
2004GramaticaT.B.37.231.945.60.620.600.017
2003GramaticaT.B.37.231.945.60.620.600.017
2003ElamDen.36.235.441.50.870.860.014
2003ChristieS.D.35.932.745.40.750.740.014
2005GrahamCin.34.032.843.00.880.860.011
2006FeelyN.Y.G.34.432.943.00.850.840.010
2005AkersPhil.39.636.548.00.730.720.010
2006NugentN.Y.J.33.833.238.70.890.880.010
2003CarneyN.O.38.435.347.00.730.720.009
2004CarneyN.O.38.435.347.00.730.720.009
2006AndersenAtl.34.333.440.00.870.860.007
2003P. DawsonClev.33.632.143.00.860.850.007
2003CundiffDall.36.033.745.00.790.790.006
2004CundiffDall.36.033.745.00.790.790.006
2005GouldChi.35.032.344.70.780.770.006
2006BryantT.B.36.734.245.20.770.770.004
2005ElamDen.38.035.346.00.750.750.003
2004VanderjagtInd.35.533.444.20.800.800.000
2005TynesK.C.35.433.743.00.820.82-0.001
2005NugentN.Y.J.35.733.543.80.790.79-0.004
2006ScobeeJax.39.037.844.20.810.82-0.004
2005JanikowskiOak.37.633.645.60.670.67-0.005
2005ScobeeJax.36.434.044.00.770.77-0.005
2003J. BrownSea.39.737.146.80.730.74-0.006
2004J. BrownSea.39.737.146.80.730.74-0.006
2004TynesK.C.37.935.245.50.740.75-0.007
2004HallWash.38.836.645.50.760.77-0.008
2003HallWash.38.836.645.50.760.77-0.008
2004ReedPitt.34.033.138.80.850.86-0.011
2004ScobeeJax.35.232.943.10.770.79-0.012
2006MareMia.37.134.145.10.720.73-0.012
2003EllingMinn.36.833.844.40.720.73-0.014
2004EllingMinn.36.833.844.40.720.73-0.014
2004LindellBuff.29.528.137.80.860.87-0.015
2004DawsonClev.34.733.540.60.830.84-0.016
2006NedneyS.F.34.333.239.50.830.85-0.019
2005FeelyN.Y.G.36.435.740.00.830.85-0.020
2006BrownSea.36.234.941.80.810.83-0.021
2006TynesK.C.36.935.143.10.770.80-0.024
2006BironasTen.34.432.541.70.790.81-0.025
2005M. BryantT.B.38.438.438.50.840.87-0.026
2005J. BrownSea.41.339.146.90.720.75-0.027
2003MareMia.37.435.543.10.760.79-0.027
2004KaedingS.D.35.334.040.60.800.83-0.032
2005LindellBuff.35.334.738.30.830.86-0.032
2006K. BrownHou.39.437.944.00.760.79-0.034
2004K. BrownHou.37.534.943.70.710.75-0.039
2004BrienN.Y.J.35.935.538.20.830.87-0.039
2003VinatieriN.E.33.030.440.20.740.78-0.041
2005MareMia.34.834.635.80.830.88-0.045
2006JanikowskiOak.38.936.844.40.720.77-0.045
2003ConwayClev.36.834.942.00.740.79-0.050
2006GostkowskiN.E.32.730.938.70.770.82-0.050
2006AkersPhil.34.333.039.00.780.83-0.051
2005CarneyN.O.33.632.238.40.780.83-0.051
2005K. BrownHou.35.634.140.60.770.82-0.051
2006RaynerG.B.35.733.940.90.740.80-0.056
2004AndersonTen.37.636.740.60.770.83-0.058
2006VanderjagtDall.34.031.839.60.720.79-0.064
2006DawsonClev.36.734.941.50.720.79-0.067
2005CortezInd.35.333.340.20.710.79-0.082
2005LongwellG.B.37.736.840.40.740.83-0.088
2005EdingerMinn.36.535.539.40.740.83-0.096
2004EdingerChi.38.437.740.30.720.83-0.111
2003EdingerChi.38.437.740.30.720.83-0.111
2006ReedPitt.35.635.037.40.740.85-0.113
2004MareMia.39.039.138.80.750.87-0.117
2004GramaticaInd.34.631.139.50.580.70-0.122
2003ReedPitt.34.433.836.10.720.86-0.141
2003MarlerJax.35.933.539.50.610.75-0.148


Here is a list ranking the kickers from best to worst based on their multi-year performance during the same period. The number of seasons in which each kicker qualified is also listed. (* Vanderjagt's perfect year skews his results strongly. His average miss distance in 2003 was theoretically infinite! Giving him a realistic yet excellent score (+0.10) for '03 would place him between Stover and Nedney.)


















































Kicker% Act-ExpYears
Vanderjagt*0.0624
Hanson0.0614
Rackers0.0532
Kasay0.0424
Wilkins0.0354
Graham0.0324
Stover0.0304
Nedney0.0192
Peterson0.0181
Andersen0.0172
Elam0.0164
Gould0.0152
Vinatieri0.0144
Christie0.0141
Longwell0.0104
Janikowski0.0094
P. Dawson0.0071
Feely0.0074
Cundiff0.0062
Lindell0.0064
Kaeding0.0053
Bironas0.0042
Bryant0.0041
Brien0.0042
Akers0.0034
Nugent0.0032
Carney-0.0034
Scobee-0.0073
Hall-0.0082
Tynes-0.0103
J. Brown-0.0133
Elling-0.0142
Anderson-0.0172
K. Brown-0.0194
Dawson-0.0213
Brown-0.0211
M. Bryant-0.0261
Gramatica-0.0293
Conway-0.0501
Gostkowski-0.0501
Mare-0.0504
Rayner-0.0561
Reed-0.0604
Cortez-0.0821
Edinger-0.1063
Marler-0.1481

Acounting for Vanderjagt's perfect year, Jason Hanson comes out on top. But to put things in perspective, a +6% accuracy rate above average equates to about 1.75 extra FGs made per season.

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7 Responses to “The Best FG Kickers”

  1. edkupfer says:

    You could also perform a logistic regression, using an individual made/missed FG as the response regressed on distance + player, where the player coefficient would be the number of interest. I also think having a distance^2 variable makes sense.

  2. Brian Burke says:

    Ed-

    I agree on both points. But I don't have individual kick-by-kick data for the logistic regression. That would be interesting though.

    I tried distance^2 variables, along with other operations to make the relationship between distance and accuracy as linear as possible. Actually using ln(FG%) as the dependent variable worked best, but it did not change the results much at all. Within the narrow range of average distances, the curve is already approximately linear.

  3. Tarr says:

    Two comments:

    - The top 5 kickers all play for warm weather or dome teams. I would suggest including a dome and temperature variable in the regression, or at least testing to see if these have significant effects on accuracy.

    - Are blocks included in the data? My suspicion is that blocked kicks are not strongly dependent on the kicker. Of course there's not enough blocked kick data to really test this, but my guess is that blocks should be thrown out.

  4. Brian Burke says:

    Good point about the indoor/warm weather kickers. I'll see if I can redo the regression with dummy variables for domes/warm climate soon.

    Not sure about blocks, but I agree there are too few to effect the data in a meaningful way. I'm not sure kickers can really control that much of most types of blocks anyway. My bet would be that if a kicker puts his foot to the ball and it doesn't go through the posts for any reason, it's considered a miss.

  5. Rob Cullin says:

    Doesn't this analysis then address your earlier question of whether Kickers are paid enough? If the difference between the best and worst kickers is about 15 points a year vs. average (my math may be wrong there), then pay is supressed because the differential between players is low.

    Isn't high pay associated with high differential impact above average. Thus why QBs, RBs, WRs, and Pass Rushers are the highest paid players as the best have a higher differential over the average player?

  6. Brian Burke says:

    Yeah, I get the same thing.

    best ~ +8% adj. accuracy
    worst ~ -12% adj. accuracy
    difference = 20% adj. accuracy

    average FG attempts = 24 per yr

    24 att * 20% diff * 3 pts = 15 pts

    A couple observations: FG kicker accuracy is fairly steady from year to year. The variance mostly comes from situational variables--attempt distances. Even including variance from luck (small # of reps), the difference among kickers is very small. This is probably why they are underpaid relative to their contribution to game outcomes. They're replaceable.

  7. Brian Burke says:

    I just redid the regression. I probably don't have time to post everything tonight. But here are a few observations.

    1. The perfect Vanderjagt year really threw off the data. His zero miss distance skewed the entire model.

    2. By using a natural log of the accuracy as the dependent variable, the relationship between kick accuracy and attempt distance is more linear.

    3. But by excluding Vanderjagt's perfect season and by using the ln(accuracy) model, the results are very different. The difference between the best and worst kickers may be several times larger than I previously estimated.

    4. Surprisingly, neither warm weather or indoor kickers were significant factors.

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