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The Kicking Crown: Comparing the best NFL kickers

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A breakdown to better explain the all-time completion percentage

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Last year, I wrote about the best kickers in the NFL, comparing Justin Tucker, Dan Bailey, Chris Boswell and Adam Vinatieri.

Some argued I didn’t include better names, such as Stephen Gostkowski and Robbie Gould. Well, now I’m back to do so with updated numbers from the 2018 NFL season.

First, the all-time field goal percentage, courtesy of Pro Football Reference. In fact, all the numbers were taken from Pro Football Reference. Please support them as they provide incredible numbers for all of us to see and use.

NFL All-Time Field Goal Percentage

Rank Player FG% Seasons
Rank Player FG% Seasons
1 Justin Tucker 90.114% 7
2 Robbie Gould 87.745% 14
3 Stephen Gostkowski 87.381% 13
4 Wil Lutz 87.000% 3
5 Dan Bailey 86.611% 8
15 Chris Boswell 85.217% 4
T-16 Adam Vinatieri 84.348% 23
27 Greg Zuerlein 83.491% 7

From the overall numbers, it’s easy to recognize Tucker’s greatness. He’s above second place by 2.369%. For reference, the difference between second and fourteenth place (Dustin Hopkins) is 2.400%. This helps demonstrate how far ahead Tucker is over the competition. But we’re not leaving it at the all-time completion percentage. That shouldn’t be the be-all end-all without context. And for that reason, I’m breaking this down further.

Method 1

First, I compiled the stats on every single kick from seven kickers.

Kickers

  1. Justin Tucker
  2. Greg Zuerlein
  3. Robbie Gould
  4. Stephen Gostkowski
  5. Dan Bailey
  6. Chris Boswell
  7. Adam Vinatieri

I did not include Wil Lutz due to him literally just crossing the ‘minimum 100 attempts’ threshold of the all-time field goal percentage list. I think there needs to be a larger sample size before including him.

Then, after compiling the kicking stats, I created four categories.

  1. Average Attempted Distance — This shows where each kicker is attempting from. From their first kick to their most recent, where do they usually line up their kicks the most.
  2. Average Completion Distance — This shows where each kicker is completing from. Yes, players may line up from great distances, but where, on average, are they good from.
  3. Average Miss Distance — This shows the range of each kicker. Some are capable of completing big kicks, but from where do they begin their struggling inaccuracies.
  4. Average Miss Distance w/o blocks — I dislike blaming blocked kicks on the placekicker. Being penalized for bad blocking or failed holds isn’t on the kicker. Therefore, I give all kickers mulligans on blocks.

NFL Kicking Distance Averages

Player Avg. Attempted Distance Avg. Completion Distance Avg. Miss Distance Avg. Miss Distance (no blocks)
Player Avg. Attempted Distance Avg. Completion Distance Avg. Miss Distance Avg. Miss Distance (no blocks)
Justin Tucker 39.5 38.1 51.2 52.1
Greg Zuerlein 39.5 37.6 49 49.4
Robbie Gould 36.9 35.9 44.5 44.3
Stephen Gostkowski 36.9 35.9 43.3 43.7
Dan Bailey 38.2 37 46.3 46.7
Chris Boswell 37.8 36.9 43.3 43.5
Adam Vinatieri 36.2 35 43 43

Results

Average Attempted Distance — These stats show just how evolved the kicking game has grown. I don’t think it’s a sample size issue, but just how much more kickers are attempting from greater lengths. Vinatieri’s average is the lowest of the group while Tucker and Zuerlein are averaging kicks from 40-yards away. This shows Tucker is not only the most accurate kicker from the all-time field goal percentage, but he’s doing so from longer distances.

Average Completion Distance — Obviously, you need to attempt from further distances to complete from greater distances. Nonetheless, Tucker is above Zuerlein by a half-yard. Meanwhile, the second-most accurate kicker in the league, Robbie Gould, is more than two yards behind.

Average Miss Distance — Both Tucker and Zuerlein outclass everybody on this list. While three kickers are averaging a miss distance of 43-ish yards, Zuerlein is missing from 49 yards out. Meanwhile, Tucker is the only kicker above 50 yards. Dan Bailey is slightly above 46 yards, but that’s still three yards below Zuerlein and five yards behind Tucker.

Average Miss Distance without blocks — Most aren’t affected too drastically by this change. A little bit of a boost props up nearly all kickers, with the exception of Vinatieri and Gould. The two-decade veteran’s stats don’t move in either direction while Gould’s number somehow decreases from excluding blocks. But as most kicker’s stats move within a half-yard range, Tucker’s miss distance increases nearly a full yard.

Method 2

For the next measurement, I’ve broken down each player’s accuracy in ten-yard categories. I did not include 0-19 because all players are 100% except for Justin Tucker, who has not attempted a kick inside 19 yards. I believe it’s fair to assume he’d complete the kick, too, as he hasn’t missed one under 29 yards in his career.

Accuracy distance breakdown

Player 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+
Player 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+
Justin Tucker 100.00% 97.26% 89.47% 70.37%
Greg Zuerlein 97.62% 91.30% 83.67% 58.33%
Robbie Gould 99.05% 91.40% 77.77% 78.38%
Stephen Gostkowski 96.75% 91.24% 77.87% 71.43%
Dan Bailey 94.00% 95.95% 82.35% 66.67%
Chris Boswell 100.00% 86.49% 77.27% 77.78%
Adam Vinatieri 97.00% 84.39% 77.88% 64.18%

20-29 — Tucker and Boswell are perfect inside the 29-yard line. All others complete above 96% with the exception of Dan Bailey at 94%. Bailey has missed three kicks inside the 29-yard line (21, 23, 28).

30-39 — Tucker places first on the list while Dan Bailey fixes his shortcomings in the first category, placing second with nearly 96% completion. After the top-two, the accuracy diminishes to around 91%.

40-49 — Once more, Tucker ranks first. He’s 5.8% more accurate than second place, which is Greg Zuerlein. Dan Bailey is third and the last player above 80% accuracy. The last four all land all within a 77-78% completion range.

50+ — I’m assuming many expected Tucker to top this category, but Robbie Gould earns top marks. In fact, Tucker ranks fourth, behind Gould, Boswell and Gostkowski. Zeurlein lands last on the list, with less than 60% completion.

Sample Size Breakdown

Yes, You can see Tucker and Gould’s accuracy come through here, but the without the sample size, the context can be misconstrued. Therefore, I have charted where each kicker is attempted most of their kicks in the same four categories on distance.

Career Attempts Breakdown

Player 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+
Player 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+
Greg Zuerlein 19.80% 32.50% 23.10% 22.60%
Justin Tucker 22.80% 27.80% 28.90% 20.50%
Stephen Gostkowski 20.90% 30.90% 28.45% 17.57%
Adam Vinatieri 28.90% 29.70% 30.00% 9.70%
Dan Bailey 26.00% 31.40% 33.10% 9.10%
Robbie Gould 29.30% 32.60% 29.00% 8.30%
Chris Boswell 20.87% 32.17% 38.26% 7.80%

Results

20-29 — Hard to not feel bad for Zuerlein, who isn’t even attempting only one in five kicks inside the 30-yard line. Meanwhile, Gould is kicking three of ten kicks from close range.

30-39 — Once more, Gould is getting the closest kicks. Over 60% of Gould’s career attempts are inside the 40. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tucker (50.6%) and Ghost (51.8%) have 10% fewer attempts inside the 40.

40-49 — Here is where you see the Steelers utilize Boswell the most. Unfortunately, as you can see from the previous table, he’s the least accurate of the class in accuracy from 40-49-yards with 77.27%. Strangely enough, this is where Zuerlein sees a huge gap disparity.

50+ — While Zuerlein isn’t utilized in the 40’s, he leads the field in kicks from 50+ yards out. Both Zuerlein and Tucker are attempting one in five kicks from 50+ yards out. This isn’t good for the Rams, either, as Zuerlein is completing less than 60% from distances 50-yards or greater. This also provides context from the previous table where Boswell and Gould lead the field in accuracy above 50-yards. Gould and Boswell are below 10% for career attempts from such distances. In fact, Boswell has only attempted nine kicks of 50+ yards.

If anybody should be propped up here, it’s Ghost. He’s at 71% completion for kicks 50+ and has attempted 17% of his career kicks from such distances. Tucker is behind him.

Analysis

The numbers don’t lie. Justin Tucker is demolishing the field in so many categories. He’s the most accurate kicker and is doing so from greater distances. This breakdown further demonstrates how hard the Ravens rely on Tucker. The Rams also rely heavily on Zuerlein, but Legatron isn’t completing anywhere near as many 50+ yard kicks as Tucker.

Also, Gould is benefiting from 60% of his career attempts coming from inside the 40-yard line. His 50+ completion ranking is an illusion as he’s attempted 37 field goals from 50+, while Tucker has attempted 54 kicks in half as many seasons played. That’s not to say he isn’t good, because you don’t accidentally become the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history, but the overall accuracy doesn’t share the whole picture.

Gostkowski has been a surefire placekicker, and, to me, is the second-best kicker in the NFL. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has done a fine job as Vinatieri and Gostkowski have produced great numbers over the past two decades.

Finally, Boswell is not nearly as good as was being preached before last season. Though he attempts the highest percentage of his career kicks 40-49-yards, he’s the least accurate of this group in the same category. His sample size for 50+ yard kicks is also misleading, as he’s only attempted nine kicks from 50+ yards away. Not saying 7/9 bad, but that’s 77% accuracy isn’t telling the whole story. Obviously, playing in Pittsburgh and the AFC North is a factor, especially when compared to Dan Bailey and his career being played inside a dome, but let’s not understate or overstate the matter. Tucker’s also playing in four open stadiums in the same division and has produced far more than Boswell.