Specialist Week – Kickers

In a week dedicated to special teamers Gordon McGuinness starts with a look at the NFL's best kickers from the 2014 NFL season.

| 1 year ago
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Specialist Week – Kickers


Welcome to Special Teams Week at PFF! After digging deeper into the third phase than ever before over the past two seasons, we can now showcase some interesting findings and grades over the course of this week including a breakdown of different types of punts, and a breakdown of who are the very best at various special teams positions.

We’re starting today with a basic overview of the kicking game, and we’ll be taking a look at the best kickers when it comes to kickoffs and field goals.

Kickoffs – Touchbacks

Why are touchbacks so important? Well, in putting the ball at the 20-yard line for the opposition to start their next drive it gives them a fairly long field to work with. Consider that just two kickers in the NFL last year, Baltimore’s Justin Tucker and Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee, saw their kick coverage units limit opponents to an average starting distance of less than 20 yards. More importantly, with both at just 19.6 and 19.4 respectively they weren’t much under it, so the ability to remove any potential for a kick being returned for a touchdown becomes important.

The Top Five

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– No kicker in the league had a higher percentage of kickoffs result in touchbacks than Carolina’s Graham Gano.

– We already knew that it was easier for kickers in Denver, with the ball travelling further due to the altitude, but Brandon McManus home and away split highlights this even further. At home his touchback percentage was 81.5%, while it dropped to 54.1% on the road.

– These five kickers were far and away the best when it came to touchbacks on kickoffs with a dropoff of over 5% between fifth placed Tucker and sixth placed Blair Walsh.

The Bottom Five

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– San Diego’s Nick Novak is a solid kicker, with a field goal percentage of 84.0% in 2014, but he struggled on kickoffs, with just 10 touchbacks from 78 kickoffs, recording the lowest touchback percentage in the league.

– While two of the top five kick inside a dome for their home games, it’s not surprising to see all of the bottom five kickers coming from teams who kick outdoors.

– Combined, the bottom five connected went 8-for-16 on field goals of 50 yards or more, a further indication of leg strength being an issue.

Field Goals

While kickoffs are important, where kickers really make their mark is on field goals. We’ve seen kickers like Adam Vinatieri win Super Bowl’s in the dying second with big time kicks in recent years, while we saw the Baltimore Ravens beat the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football behind the leg of Justin Tucker, who scored six field goals including a 61-yard game winner. Though kicker’s don’t always get the respect they deserve, they are clearly important. The Denver Broncos were the only team to make the playoffs with a kicker who converted on fewer than 80% of his field goal attempts, and even they replaced the struggling Brandon McManus on field goals late in the year.

The Top Five

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– He’ll be 43 during the 2015 season, but Adam Vinatieri rolled back the years in 2014, leading the league in field goal percentage in the regular season. Where he struggled was outdoors in the postseason, connecting on just one of three field goals in Denver and New England to end the year.

– Why did the New England Patriots sign Stephen Gostkowski to a nice new contract after using the franchise tag on him? Despite playing indoors just once in 2014, he missed just one field goal from 40 yards or longer.

– Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham missed just one field goal inside of 50 yards in 2014.

The Bottom Five

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– Longer field goals were the issue for those in the bottom five, with none connecting on 50% or more from 50 yards or longer, and none on more than 78% from 40 yards or longer.

– Drafted in 2012, Walsh has seen his field goal percentage drop from 92.3% as a rookie in 2012, to 86.7% in 2013, to 74.3% in 2014.

– After seeing McManus struggle for much of the year the Denver Broncos replaced him with Connor Barth in Week 13, with Barth going on to connect on 93.8% of his field goals the rest of the way.

 

Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

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