Ranking the 2014 Free Agents: K & P
Both kickers and punters can turn the course of a game, but are often disregarded. Michael Mountford takes a look at the best free agents for each.
Ranking the 2014 Free Agents: K & P
You’ve been reading along with our Projected Lineups series on a daily basis and have checked the PFF Free Agent Tracker more times than you can count, so you’ll be happy to see that we’re now ranking the top free agents available — the potential answers to the holes apparent on those team-by-team charts. We’ll be taking on a couple positions a day this week and discussing our Top 10 at each.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
Marching through our ‘Ranking the 2014 Free Agents’ series we’ve been through the defense (linebackers, edge rushers, interior D-linemen, corners, and safeties) and most of the offense (quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, centers, tackles and guards. Rounding out the set, this look is at the top specialists available.
This year there are some interesting kickers and punters. They range from kickoff masters, to good field goal kickers who are limited on kickoffs. There are also punters who are consistently near the top of the rankings. It will be interesting to see how the market reacts to these special team players.
1. Nick Folk
2013 Grade: +25.2
In 2013 Folk was 16th in the overall ranking for kickers, however what separates him and the others on this list, is how exceptionally well he produced on FG/EPs. Folk actually produced the best season for any field goal kicker we have graded, beating Blair Walsh’s 2012 season. However, Folk has only graded above +5.0 on field goals one other time in his career and that was in 2008. Every other year in between he has never had a FG% over 80%, hopefully 2013 is going to be closer to his future than 2009-12.
If Folk struggles on field goals, he may not be able to depend on his kickoff ability. In 2013 Folk was much better than any other year in his career. Previously he struggled to get touchbacks only 36-of-319 (11%), but in 2013 he put the ball in the end zone on 41% of his kickoffs. If Folk is able to repeat his 2013 on kickoffs, he will be one of the better all around kickoffs.
2. Steven Hauschuka
2013 Grade: +40.2
When Hauschuka entered the league in 2008, he was used as a kickoff specialist, while his ability on kickoffs have never been in doubt. The last 2 seasons Hauschuka with the help of the excellent Seahawks special teams unit, he has allowed an average drive start below 21 yards each year.
When Hauschuka became the only kicker on the Baltimore Ravens in 2009, he struggled on field goals. In the 11 games before he got cut he had a 69.2% on FGs, however he managed to turn around his weakness to the third highest FG % in the league last season. Outside of 2013 Hauschuak, has struggled on 50+ FGs, only connecting on 40%. When he is inside of 40 yards though, Hauschuka is almost automatic, he has only missed 4 on his 65 attempts between 0-39 yards.
3. Graham Gano
2013 Grade: +45.8
In 2013 Graham Gano was the best kickoff kicker in the league. While he may not have led the league in touchbacks, due to Matt Prater playing in Denver, Gano did lead the league in the lowest percentage of returns at 20%. When Gano had a kickoff return, he and the Carolina Panthers coverage unit managed to have an opponent average start position of 17.6 on returned kickoffs.
While Gano is Mr Kickoff, he has had his struggles on field goals. In 2013 he had his best season as a FG kicker and he still only had a 89.3%, however, since his release from the Redskins, Gano has started to improve on shorter field goals. In 2010 through 2011 Gano had a FG% on field goals inside of 40 yards of 76%, the past two seasons however he has only missed one kick inside 40 yards. Gano does have one of the strongest legs in the league, his ability on kickoffs also showed up on FGs over 50 yards. Outside of 2010 he has gone 11-14 on FGs over 50 yards, which is good for a ridiculous 78.5% on kicks over 50 yards. If Gano is able to improve his consistency on shorter FGs he could become one of the top kickers in the league.
4. Dan Carpenter
2013 Grade: +19.9
In the 6 seasons that Carpenter has been in the league he has been a consistent FG kicker, each season he has graded out between +5.8 and +8.9. Anything inside of 40 yards Carpenter as most of the league has been nearly automatic, however he has shown inconsistencies over 40 yards, in 2008 and 2010 Carpenter did not crack 70% on FGs between 40-49 yards. At his best he has shown the ability to be around 90% on these FGs however. When looking at Carpenter it has been worrying that in certain seasons he can get on slumps over stretches and seemingly not be able to break out of a funk.
Since the league moved kickoffs forward in 2011 every kicker benefited from it. Pre-2011 Carpenter only had 27 touchbacks, since 2011 he has managed to crack 30 touchbacks. More importantly Carpenter has managed to bring his average start position in the low 20’s instead of the high 20’s.
5. Josh Brown
2013 Grade: +22.9
This veteran kicker seems to find a strong year, just when it looks like he is in the downside of his career. When Brown was at his best in FGs (2008-2010) he was efficient on 50+ FGs, however he did have some issues on easier FGs. Since 2012 he has managed to be more efficient on FGs inside of 50 yards only having two misses on 36 attempts.
In 2008 Brown was the highest graded kicker leading in both KOs and FGs. Even though he lead the league in KOs he only had eight touchbacks, but he made up for with the second highest Avg Distance of 68.5 yards. Since that time he has not been able to replicate the same distance, however the past 21 games he has played (2012-13) he has an average drive start position below 21 yards. Brown will only be a short-term fix since he is 35 and with older kickers the ability to either kickoff or kick longer FGs declines, it can be expected that the same will Brown over the next few years.
1. Pat McAfee
2013 Grade: +35.4
Since McAfee entered the league in 2009 he has graded as a top 10 punter four out of five seasons. Only in 2010 did he not crack the top 10, in 2010 he had a career low average (41.4) and net average (35). Since that time McAfee has developed into one of the best punters in the league. McAfee over the last 3 seasons has produced an average over 46 yards, hitting his best in the 2012 season when he was fourth in the league at 48.2. McAfee’s net average has been hurt with poor special teams players around him, only two players on the Colts punt coverage unit graded above +1.0.
McAfee brings an added ability to kickoff, only six punters in the league kickoff for their teams and McAfee is one of them. In the past three seasons, McAfee average start position has been around the 21 yard line. While in the 2012 season McAfee had the third highest average distance at 70.3 yards. In 2013 he sacrificed some yards to improve his hang time. In 2012 his best hang time was 4.23 seconds, but in 2013 he managed to bring it up to 4.60 seconds. If a team is in need of a punter who can also help on kickoffs McAfee could be very interesting as a free agent.
2. Donnie Jones
2013 Grade: +5.6
In 2013 Jones had his worse season since we have been grading in 2008, however in 2012 Jones was the top graded punter in the league. While his baseline stats all look very similar between the 2 seasons, his grades are needed to tell the story. Over the course of 2012 Jones was very solid, with only two negatively graded games and producing 12 games above +1.0. Compared that to his 2013 season where he produced six negative games and only four games in the green. This could have occurred from the move to an outdoor stadium after punting in a dome or retractable roof stadiums of St Louis and Houston for 6 years. Or it could be age catching up with him. I wouldn’t be willing to write him off, but I also think he needs to be in a place where the conditions are near perfect or he becomes far more inconsistent than most punters in bad weather.
3. Zoltan Mesko
2013 Grade: -3.8
Mesko had difficulties in 2013 when he signed for the Steelers after the Patriots cut him. In 2013 Mesko’s average and net average dropped to a career low, which in turn landed him in the bottom fice of both catergories for players who had over 10 punts last season. However when Mesko is on form, he is a punter who hovers around the top 16 in PFF Grade. It is a clear as day that Mesko is nowhere near the caliber of punter of Jones or McAfee, he is a decent punter who will be more than likely coming in on a cheaper contract and fighting for his job in camp.
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