Much has been made of the supposed plight of the kicker, with a number of pundits proclaiming a kicking crisis in the NFL. At the halfway point of the 2015 season, Chuck Zodda digs into the statistics to see if there is any merit to those concerns.
Kickers were in crisis. That was the talking point after Week 4, when NFL kickers went 60 for 74 on field goals, good for an 81.1% mark that was 2.8% below the 2014 benchmark. The cries grew louder after Week 5 when kickers hit just 50 out of 62 kicks, a full 0.5% below the Week 4 percentage. The sky was falling, and fans everywhere were in danger of being struck by falling footballs.
The biggest issue with looking at single-weekend numbers for field goals is the sample size of kicks in a given week. For example, in Week 5, had kickers simply made just two additional kicks, the weekly percentage would have been 83.9% ‒ exactly in line with 2014 rates.
And there was an unreported, key reason why the accuracy was so skewed.
Josh Lambo, Cairo Santos, and Greg Zuerlein all missed kicks from greater than 60 yards. While all three of these kickers have outstanding legs, there have only been 14 made field goals in the 95-year history of the NFL from greater than 60 yards. In fact, in the entire first half of the 2014 season, kickers attempted only one kick from this distance, missing it. To have three of these kicks clustered in one week is a statistical oddity, to say the least. More importantly, stripping out these nearly-impossible kicks, kickers actually made 84.7% of field goals in Week 5, better than the full-season number for 2014.
Can we please move past looking at one week of data?
The full-season statistics do show a modest decline in field goal accuracy. Kickers are 403 for 472 in 2015, good for 85.4% accuracy. This trails the 86.1% mark over the first eight weeks of 2014 by 0.7%. However, running the numbers through a basic Z-test for statistical significance, it is clear that this is likely due to inherent variability over what is still a relatively small sample size, rather than any broad shift in kicking accuracy. In short, the numbers do not show any meaningful difference ‒ yet.
The data broken down by distance shows no statistically significant differences from year-to-year either. On kicks between 17 and 32 yards, kickers have hit at a lower rate than this point last year, 95.3% compared to 97.7%. But with a sample size of 172 kicks this season and 180 last season, these results fall within expected levels of variation.
The same is true on kicks of 33 yards to 49 yards, where kickers are actually exceeding last year’s results, connecting on 83.3% of kicks this season, as compared to 80.4% in 2014. Just as the short-distance numbers do not mean kickers have gotten worse, these do not indicate kickers have gotten better at this distance, once again falling within expected levels of variation.
Kicks from 50 to 59 yards are the same story, with the 70.9% this season below last year’s 72.7% mark, though on just 62 attempts this year and 55 last year. Finally, kicks of 60 yards or more continue to be generally useless, with no makes in either season.
So what is the verdict on the question: are kickers worse than ever? William Shakespeare gets co-author credit on this one, as he correctly proclaims, “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.