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The Kicking Crown 2020: Comparing the best NFL kickers

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An annual article series to cover the best in NFL kicking

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL season is near and with it comes my annual NFL kicking crown series. I break down the kicking statistics of the all-time field goal accuracy leaderboard and significant names who may not exactly be top five but have earned a place in the series.

The first year of this series began in 2018, where I broke down the kicking statistics of Justin Tucker, Adam Vinatieri, Dan Bailey and Chris Boswell. At the time, Boswell just signed an extension and Pittsburgh Steelers fans were heralding Boswell as the next Tucker. In truth, this began as a response to the “Boswell=Tucker” chatter, but I’ve grown to love this series and all things special teams.

The second year of this series, 2019, featured a far better structure where I brought on four of the best five kickers in the NFL, followed by a few from the previous year (Boswell, Vinatieri), and adding Greg Zuerlein due to his reputation for long-distance kicking.

I strongly recommend going through the previous articles as they help define what this one will be. Yes, most of the data will be similar in terms of methodology but to see a year-to-year shift brings a satisfaction that this article alone does not provide. Seeing how the kicking game has evolved year-to-year is great and so is seeing these stats stack against Adam Vinatieri’s legendary career is eye-opening.


First, we begin with the top kickers heading into 2020. This table will show their 2020 rank, their 2019 rank and the change (if any) from their 2019 performance. Also, I’ve included their overall FG%, what their FG% was in 2019 and the difference between the two.

NFL All-Time Field Goal Percentage

2020 Rank 2019 Rank Delta Player 2020 FG% 2019 FG% Delta
2020 Rank 2019 Rank Delta Player 2020 FG% 2019 FG% Delta
1 1 - Justin Tucker 90.753% 90.114% 0.639%
2 UR - Harrison Butker 89.720% -- --
3 10 7+ Josh Lambo 88.489% 85.714% 2.775%
4 4 - Wil Lutz 87.500% 87.000% 0.500%
5 3 -2 Stephen Gostkowski 87.383% 87.381% 0.002%
6 5 -1 Dan Bailey 87.313% 86.611% 0.702%
7 14 7+ Chris Boswell 86.986% 85.217% 1.769%
8 2 -6 Robbie Gould 86.788% 87.745% -0.957%
25 15 -10 Adam Vinatieri 83.776% 84.348% -0.572%
37 25 -12 Greg Zuerlein 82.041% 83.491% -1.450%

Editor’s note: Last year I did not count Wil Lutz in my work. He had exactly 100 attempts which qualified him for the all-time field goal percentage list, but I felt there needed to be a larger sample size. Due to Lutz’ success, I’ve added Butker to this breakdown. Butker’s sample size is 107 attempts, which I still find small, but his accuracy is second-best in the NFL right now and leaving him off would be omission bias.

Results

From the top, you see Tucker is still the man to dethrone; he’s the only kicker above 90%. The closest kicker, Harrison Butker, sits a full percentage point behind him. Unlike last year, Tucker doesn’t have a disproportionate gap between second place. However, that is likely due to Butker’s arrival onto the career list as he just crossed the threshold for minimum attempts to achieve all-time placement.

The big story of 2019 was Robbie Gould’s plummet from second-most accurate in NFL history to his No. 8 ranking heading into 2020.

Lambo has taken quite a leap into the top five, after ranking No. 10 last season. His delta is the highest of any kicker on this list, increasing his career accuracy by a whopping 2.775%. Speaking of great improvement, Boswell made the most of 2019 by boosting his career accuracy by 1.769%.

I must commend Lutz for keeping his ranking. On a list full of change, he and Tucker are the only ones to stay the same on the leaderboard. Both did so by improving their career accuracy by a half percentage point or more, which, as you can tell from the board is no easy feat.

After two ugly seasons in which Bailey kicked back-to-back 75%, he ended his 2019 campaign with a 93.1% to improve his free-falling accuracy. If not for Butker joining the list, he’d still be top five.


Kickers

  1. Justin Tucker
  2. Harrison Butker
  3. Josh Lambo
  4. Wil Lutz
  5. Stephen Gostkowski
  6. Dan Bailey
  7. Chris Boswell
  8. Robbie Gould
  9. Adam Vinatieri - Rank 25
  10. Greg Zuerlein - Rank 37

Method

I charted every attempt from these ten kickers. The categories covered in this article include:

  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 w/o blocks: I dislike blocks impacting career accuracy. Being penalized for bad blocking or failed holds isn’t on the kicker. Yes, some of them are blocked due to being too low, but I’m removing all blocked kicks from average miss distance.
  4. Dome stadiums vs. open stadiums: Some kickers play half their games in a dome stadium where the elements can’t impact their kicks. Other kickers have fewer than five games played in a dome. Though the sample sizes will be small, this is still worth mentioning and tracking.

Career Average Attempted Kick Distance

Player (Career Accuracy Rank) Avg. Att. Kick Distance (yards)
Player (Career Accuracy Rank) Avg. Att. Kick Distance (yards)
Justin Tucker (1) 39.2
Harrison Butker (2) 37.2
Josh Lambo (3) 37.6
Wil Lutz (4) 38.1
Stephen Gostkowski (5) 36.8
Dan Bailey (6) 38
Chris Boswell (7) 37.3
Robbie Gould (8) 36.9
Adam Vinatieri (25) 36.4
Greg Zuerlein (37) 39.6

Takeaways

  • Greg Zuerlein’s reputation for long-range field goal attempts holds true in the data. He’s being asked the most of these 10 kickers and that’s why he may be ranked so low in career accuracy.
  • Following Zuerlein is Tucker. He’s the most accurate in NFL history and he’s doing so from further distances than all but Zuerlein.
  • It’s tough to gauge Butker in this category due to his small sample size. Every attempt still significantly impacts his average. But if you have to take something from the data, he’s currently kicking from shorter distances than six other kickers.

Career Average Completion Distance

Player (Career Accuracy Rank) Avg. Completion Distance (yards)
Player (Career Accuracy Rank) Avg. Completion Distance (yards)
Justin Tucker (1) 37.9
Harrison Butker (2) 36.1
Josh Lambo (3) 36.7
Wil Lutz (4) 36.8
Stephen Gostkowski (5) 35.9
Dan Bailey (6) 36.8
Chris Boswell (7) 36.3
Robbie Gould (8) 35.7
Adam Vinatieri (25) 35
Greg Zuerlein (37) 37.7

Takeaways

  • Though Zuerlein attempts from farther distances than Tucker, it’s Tucker who is No. 1 in this category with an average completion distance just shy of 40 yards.
  • Once again, Butker is near the bottom of the group. It could be sample size, but his averages are only higher than kickers who have been in the league a long time and weren’t asked of greater distances earlier in their careers. For example, Vinatieri’s average completion distance from 1996-1998 was 33.4 yards. From 2017-2019, in his mid-40s, Vinatieri still has averaged a completion distance of 36 yards. I’m not disregarding Butker. Maybe the reason for such a low completion distance average has to do with the Chiefs offense being successful in the midfield to allow Butker shorter. This is something to pay attention to during the 2020 season.

Career Average Miss Distance (Excluding Blocks)

Player (Career Accuracy Rank) Average Miss Distance (Yards)
Player (Career Accuracy Rank) Average Miss Distance (Yards)
Justin Tucker (1) 51.7
Harrison Butker (2) 46.5
Josh Lambo (3) 47.8
Wil Lutz (4) 49.1
Stephen Gostkowski (5) 43.8
Dan Bailey (6) 46.6
Chris Boswell (7) 44.2
Robbie Gould (8) 45.1
Adam Vinatieri (25) 43.2
Greg Zuerlein (37) 48.4

Takeaways

  • Tucker’s range is staggering. He’s the only kicker with an average miss distance over 50 yards, and his is 51.7 yards. This puts into perspective why Ravens’ fans are so confident when the offense crosses midfield. It feels like a guarantee that a field goal —at minimum— will be converted.
  • I think this is where the dome becomes a factor. Lutz wasn’t second in any of the other categories but somehow his average miss distance is nearly a full yard above Zuerlein. It’s rather strange.
  • This is where Boswell sticks out. His average miss distance is 7.5 yards shorter than Tucker’s. For the first time, he falls behind Butker in a category as well. But to give the benefit of the doubt, this very well could be due to the difficulty of kicking in Pittsburgh for half his career games.

Dome/Outdoor/Retroof Breakdown

Player Dome Accuracy (Att/Cmp) Outdoor Accuracy (Att/Cmp) Retroof Accuracy (Att/Cmp)
Player Dome Accuracy (Att/Cmp) Outdoor Accuracy (Att/Cmp) Retroof Accuracy (Att/Cmp)
Justin Tucker 100% (15/15) 90.037% (244/271) 100% (6/6)
Harrison Butker 66.7% (2/3) 89.796% (88/98) 100% (6/6)
Josh Lambo 100% (6/6) 89.167 (107/120) 76.923% (10/13)
Wil Lutz 88.095% (74/84) 85.714% (42/49) 100% (3/3)
Stephen Gostkowski 90.909% (10/11) 86.902% (345/397) 95% (19/20)
Dan Bailey 89.474% (34/38) 83.784% (93/111) 89.916% (107/119)
Chris Boswell 100% (4/4) 86.567% (116/134) 90.909% (10/11)
Robbie Gould 89.474% (51/57) 85.556% (308/360) 100% (22/22)
Adam Vinatieri 93.651% (59/63) 80.674% (359/445) 87.44% (181/207)
Greg Zuerlein 85.333% (64/75) 79.592% (117/147) 86.957% (20/23)

Takeaways

  • Let Tucker kick in a dome and watch him shatter records he’s already making himself. He’s above 90% outside and a perfect 21/21 elsewhere. Something to take note of is his change in accuracy between indoor/outdoor kicking isn’t the largest gap because his outdoor accuracy is too high. Lambo, Vinatieri and Boswell all produce higher changes in accuracy because they’re further from perfection.
  • Lutz, who I expected to thrive inside the dome and have a bit of inflation in this area, is less accurate inside a dome than Butker or Lambo is outside. I’m mildly surprised. Unfortunately for Lutz, he’s struggling in outdoor stadiums, falling behind both Gostkowski and Boswell in outdoor accuracy. I figured it could be due to Lutz’ having such a discrepancy between outdoor and dome kicking but that’s not the case. He has the smallest change in accuracy going from dome to outdoor kicking (2.381% change). He’s consistent and I’d reckon the Saints’ coaching staff appreciates his consistency in both styles of stadium rather than him going 100% at home with a big gap when changed to outdoor arenas.
  • Vinatieri must love kicking in a dome as he completes over 93% inside but plummets nearly 13% when outside.

First-half Takeaways

  1. Justin Tucker leads in all stats and no matter how you slice it is the most accurate kicker in NFL history. It will take a similar force of nature to dethrone him.
  2. Butker has earned his place as the second-most accurate kicker. . . for now. I do not like that his attempts are from such short distances and his average attempt being only 0.1 yards farther than Vinatieri’s over the past three years is worrisome. No, I’m not calling him a fraud or stating he will fail, nor succeed. I’m excited to see what he does in 2020 and whether he joins Tucker in the 90% club or experiences a struggle when asked to kick a bit further than his current average.
  3. I didn’t expect to see Lambo skyrocket to No. 3 on this list. He jumped seven spots and increased his career accuracy by 2.775%. That’s no easy feat and I look forward to watching his 2020 performance.
  4. The gap between the first three players sits about 1% each. Afterward comes fourth, fifth and sixth place also jockeying within a half-percent of their 87% markers. Lutz is at the door to break through and if the Saints offense crosses midfield, no doubt we’ll be watching some attempts from Lutz as he attempts to break into 88% or higher.
  5. As Gostkowski remains a free agent, his status in the Top 5 remains in question. If he’s searching for a spot to continue kicking, I wish him all the best.
  6. I didn’t like the fall from grace Bailey suffered these past few seasons. I enjoyed the back and forth kicking competition between he and Tucker in years past. It’s good to see he found his rhythm once again.
  7. A surge of accuracy rose Boswell seven spots and into the top 10 in 2019. He’s on the cusp of joining the three directly above in the 87% club and battling into the top 5.
  8. I questioned Gould’s accuracy last year. Though he was the second-most accurate kicker, over 60% of his career attempts were inside 40 yards. He was holding his own in 2017 and 2018 on attempts over 40-yards, going a combined 32/34, but Gould struggled in 2019. He went 6/8 on kicks of 40-49 yards and missed all four attempts at 50+ yard range. Last season was rough but I don’t see him kicking under 75% again. He’s too good for that.

Ready for more? Good, because below I have two of my favorite and most defining charts of this series.

  1. Distance Accuracy Breakdown — Are there statistical anomalies in any kickers’ accuracy? If so, where and why?
  2. Attempts Breakdown — Are there statistical anomalies in any kickers’ attempts? Are they kicking from great distances or shorter range?

Distance Accuracy Breakdown

Player 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+
Player 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+
1. Justin Tucker 100% 97.560% 89.655% 70.909%
2. Harrison Butker 100% 94.118% 90.625% 60%
3. Josh Lambo 100% 97.960% 76.190% 73.684%
4. Wil Lutz 100% 90.323% 88.235% 60%
5. Stephen Gostkowski 96.750% 91.240% 77.870% 71.430%
6. Dan Bailey 95% 96.386% 81.333% 68.889%
7. Chris Boswell 100% 88.636% 79.630% 72.727%
8. Robbie Gould 99.130% 90.580% 77.622% 70.732%
25. Adam Vinatieri 96.618% 84.834% 76.744% 62.500%
37. Greg Zuerlein 97.980% 90.909% 76.667% 60%

Takeaways

  • 20-29 — Five kickers have yet to miss inside the 29-yard line. Nothing too surprising here or out of place. Bailey’s 95% is the lowest, but he’s only missed three kicks inside the 29-yard line.
  • 30-39 — For the first time in any of these breakdowns, Tucker is not first. Josh Lambo is the most accurate kicker in this group, beating Tucker by 0.4%. Tucker’s missed two in 82 attempts while Lambo’s gone 48/49. Nonetheless, props to Lambo on being the first to unseat Tucker in an accuracy measurement.
  • 40-49 — Butker follows in Lambo’s footsteps and surpasses Tucker in this next accuracy breakdown. However, his sample size is 32 attempts. He didn’t miss one a kick in this category in 2019, going a perfect 13/13. Meanwhile, Tucker is in second, going 78/87. Speaking of Lambo, after being the most accurate in the 30’s, he’s the least accurate kicker in this category, going only 76.19%. Quite a striking change to watch for in the future.
  • 50+ — Tucker is surpassed by three kickers in this category. Quite surprising. There are sample size questions here, though. Lambo (No. 1) has only 19 attempts. Boswell (No. 2) has only 11 attempts. Gostkowski has 35 attempts, which I find fair to measure, but Tucker has 55 attempts. Robbie Gould has only 41 attempts from this range in his 15-year career. It took Adam Vinatieri 14 years to achieve 55 attempts from this range. Tucker has done so in eight years. I think the sample size here is tough to measure as some don’t try from this range while others are making a career from it. Speaking of, Zuerlein also has 55 attempts from 50+ and finds himself at only 60%.

Attempted Range Breakdown

Player 20-29 30-39 20-39 40-49 50+ 40-50+
Player 20-29 30-39 20-39 40-49 50+ 40-50+
1. Justin Tucker 23.29% 28.08% 51.37% 29.80% 18.84% 48.63%
2. Harrison Butker 24.30% 31.78% 56.08% 29.91% 14.02% 43.93%
3. Josh Lambo 20.86% 35.25% 56.12% 30.22% 13.67% 43.89%
4. Wil Lutz 22.79% 22.79% 45.59% 37.50% 14.71% 52.21%
5. Stephen Gostkowski 29.44% 32.71% 62.15% 28.97% 8.18% 37.15%
6. Dan Bailey 22.39% 30.97% 53.36% 27.99% 16.79% 44.78%
7. Chris Boswell 23.97% 30.14% 54.11% 36.99% 7.53% 44.52%
8. Robbie Gould 26.20% 31.44% 57.63% 32.57% 9.34% 41.91%
25. Adam Vinatieri 28.95% 29.51% 58.46% 30.01% 10.01% 40.01%
37. Greg Zuerlein 20.00% 31.43% 51.43% 24.49% 22.45% 46.94%

Note: This is one of my favorite charts every year. It’s a sample size breakdown of sorts. It shows who is kicking from deep while others are benefitting from short-range kicks padding their career accuracy stats.

Takeaways

  • Wil Lutz is being asked to kick from 40+ yards, yes, 40+ yards, 52% of the time. More than half his career attempts are not chip shots. For his accuracy to be ranked No. 4 in the league all time is quite impressive. No other kicker is being asked to do so, including Justin Tucker. Tucker is close however, with 48.6% of his kicks coming from 40+.
  • Splitting up the 40-49 and 50+ shows a bit more of the picture above. While Lutz is try-harding more than half his kicks, he’s not doing the majority of the literal leg work in the 50+ range. In fact, he’s behind three other kickers in that field. At the top, unsurprisingly, is Greg Zuerlein. He’s at 22.45% for career attempts being 50+. Once again, trailing is Justin Tucker with 18.8%. The average for this group sits at 13.55%. At the other end of the spectrum, Boswell finds himself hardly ever in the 50+ range, with only 7.53% of his career attempts in the category.
  • I picked on Boswell a bit in the 50+ category but he’s really not shying away from 40-49 yard range. He’s trailing the leader, Lutz (37.5%) by a half percentage point (36.99%) in career attempts in this category. Meanwhile, Tucker plummets to seventh among the group. Zuerlein also falls from most attempts in the 50’s to fewest in the 40-49 range. I’m unsure why these two 50+ kickers aren’t attempting as many in this area.
  • In the 30-39 yard range, we see both Tucker and Lutz plummet to last place. This may be due to their range kicking taking up so much of their respective pie’s. As for the leader in the 30-39 yard range category, Josh Lambo has taken the mantle with 35.25% of his career kicks falling in this range.
  • The 20-39 category shows who is taking the easiest route. No, they’re not intentionally stalling their offense to benefit, it’s only showing who gets the benefit of short-range kicking most frequently. At the top is Gostkowski (62.15%) and Vinatieri (58.46%). I wonder what these two have had in common. Maybe prolific quarterbacks who helped move the chains enough to ease the burden of intermediate-to-deep range field goal attempts?
  • The 20-29 yard range is something I called out for Gould last season. He was taking chip shots more than anybody and was ranked No. 2 last season for career accuracy. He was at 29.3%, higher than any other kicker in the category. A season later we see him attempting fewer chip shots and he’s now fallen to No. 8 in career accuracy.

Final Thoughts

Kicking is such an important part to the game of football and to break this down each year is a joy for me. I hope it is also a joy for you. These are some of the most dominant players in the league, but are forgotten to the highlights and positional value. But nothing screams positional value more than a missed kick, a doink, or a double-doink.

These top five kickers, and the top eight in general, are dominant players in a history of forgotten appreciation. Hell, Vinatieri is No. 25 and Zuerlein is No. 37 and they’re still good kickers.

Justin Tucker, in a class full of upper echelon talent, still stands above the rest. Career accuracy is measured in the thousandths of a percent, yet he’s the only one above 90% at all. Upon being the most accurate in NFL history, he’s frequently at or near the top in terms of range. It’s not to say the others aren’t impressive either, because they are, only that on top of being the most accurate, there isn’t the asterisk stating his stats are padded by chip shots. Just like we see other players above the rest in their respective positions, Tucker is among them.