Monday, August 4, 2014

The Golden Age of Field Goal Kicking?

If you're a football fan, there's a good chance you've gotten angry once or twice at a kicker who missed a field goal or extra point.  I'm sure I have.  I can't remember any specifics, but maybe I've just blocked them out of my memory.

I'm starting to think, though, that field goals aren't being missed all that often these days, at least as far as the NFL is concerned.

Take the records for all-time career field goal percentage.**  While Mike Vanderjagt and Nate Kaeding lead the way, a little more than two-thirds of the top 34 players on the leaderboard are active.

And of those 34, Vanderjagt was actually the first to retire, having taken his last kick in a not-so-long-ago 2006.

In addition, if you look at pro-football-reference's league leaders in field goal percentage by season for every year since 1938, you'll find that the top kickers broke the 90 percent barrier in field goals made just twice in the first 50 years on the chart.***  But no league leader in field goal percentage has failed to reach at least 90 percent in field goal conversions since way back in 1987, and six players, beginning with Tony Zendejas in 1991, have hit all of their field goals attempted over a full season.

In career extra point conversion percentage, ten of the top fourteen kickers are active (A kicker needs at least 1.5 extra point attempts for every scheduled game to qualify for this list). There are also six qualifying players who have never missed an extra point, and I'm sure it comes as no surprise that four of those players are still in the league.

True, one could argue small sample size for guys like Dan Bailey, Nick Folk, Connor Barth, and Ryan Succop, each of whom has a perfect extra point conversion record.  But consider the following names: Adam Vinatieri, Jason Elam, Morten Andersen, Jan Stenerud.  While each of those four missed at least one extra point by the end of his second season, Bailey, the least-experienced of any of the current extra-point conversion leaders by total number of seasons played, is 123 for 123 over three seasons in the NFL.

There are still some things missing, of course, like testimony from players and coaches about how far kicking has come (assuming they believe the art has advanced significantly). 

There's also the issue of making the extra point a longer try, which, presumably, would reduce kicker accuracy at least a little bit.  But perhaps we can see the experimentation with longer PAT attempts partly as evidence of how good these players have become.  That's why I think I have enough evidence to at least theorize that we're in the Golden Age of Field Goal Kicking.

*Note: All of the statistics used in this post came from  

**Note 2: In order to qualify for the pro-football-reference's all-time field goal percentage leaderboard, a player needs at least 100 career field goal attempts and "0.75 attempts per game scheduled."

***Note 3: In order to qualify for the league lead in field goal percentage in pro-football-reference's year-by-year leaderboard, a player needs "0.75 attempts per game scheduled."

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