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The Greatest Field Goal Kickers Ever, Part II

Posted by Chase Stuart on June 16, 2009

Yesterday, I explained the methodology I would use to rank each placekicker in each season since 1960. We're going to examine every attempt from every distance (in ten-yard increments) in every year and compare each kicker to the league average. A missed 50-yard field goal in 1965 was very common; a missed 36-yard field goal today is very rare. My method adjusts all kicks for distance and era.

Further, we're not going to just consider the ability of the kicker but also his value to the team -- missing a 50-yard field goal is more costly to a team than missing a 20-yard field goal because of the cost in field position. We can do that with the help of Professor Romer. To be clear, this won't be perfect -- kickers in Denver and domed stadiums have an advantage, while kickers who play a bunch of games in particularly tough environments will be at a disadvantage. But this sure beats the heck out of every other method to rank kickers.

One last embarrassing note (in addition to me devoting three days to kicker research). I've excluded the 2008 season. That's because I performed this study originally in September, but it being kicker-related, never got around to writing it until the '08 season ended. If I was to wait until I incorporated the '08 data, there's a good chance I wouldn't finish until the '09 season ended. If you really need '08 kicker data, you'll sadly have to wait to the updated version of this post. Let's get to the analysis.

Jan Stenerud had arguably the two best seasons in kicker history. (And if you want to hear Kansas City Chiefs writer Jonathan Rand explain why he voted for Stenerud to make the HOF, go to the very end of this podcast.) Let's examine his 1969 season, which culminated in three field goals in a Super Bowl victory. Stenerud went 9/9 from inside of 20 yards; the NFL average from that distance was 90%, meaning the average kicker would have hit 8.1 field goals from inside of 20 yards. Therefore, Stenerud made 0.9 more FGs than average from that distance. Since every FG made under 20 yards in the "Early" era was worth 2.87 points, Stenerud gets +2.58 points of value for his work inside of 20 yards that season.

Stenerud was 4/6 from 20-29 yards, which was slightly below the league average. He hit 0.4 fewer field goals than we'd expect; field goals are also worth 2.87 at this distance and in this era, which gives him a score of -1.28 from this distance. From 30-39 yards, he made six of eight attempts when the average kicker would have converted 4.4/8; these field goals were worth 3.46 points in the Early era, so another +5.48 for the HOFer. He was even better from 40-49, where he connected on 6/9 attempts while the league average was just 29%; he made 3.4 more field goals than average from this distance, and these field goals were worth, on average, 4.09 points; +13.97 for Stenerud.

Finishing up, he was 2/3 from 50+; the average kicker would have made just 0.5 field goals out of three tries. These kicks are worth 4.49 points each, so +6.91 goes in his 50+ value column. He also made every extra point, giving him an extra 0.6 points up on the average kicker.

Add all those scores up and you get a rating of +28.3 for Stenerud. That's the highest rating for any kicker since 1960, although it's possible that Lou Groza (or another pre-1960 kicker) had a higher single-season rating. Finally, we make one more adjustment, to pro-rate for games played. I pro-rated each kicker's score as if he was playing a N game season, where N equals the average of 16 and the actual number of team games played. That gives him a score of 30.3, obviously the highest in the study. Stenerud '68 is the second highest score in the study. In 1968, he had a season better than any kicker has ever had in the last 50 or so years; then, somehow, he managed to top it in 1969.

Here are the top 50 seasons in kicker history. The raw column shows the kicker's score before pro-rating for the number of games on the schedule, but the group is listed by the "value" column which does pro-rate for the number of games.

kicker	                yr	team    raw	val
Jan Stenerud	        1969	KAN	28.3	30.3
Jan Stenerud	        1968	KAN	27.7	29.7
Neil Rackers	        2005	ARI	26.5	26.5
Garo Yepremian	        1970	MIA	24.5	26.3
Fred Steinfort	        1980	DEN	26.2	26.2
Jim Turner	        1969	NYJ	22.5	24.1
Gary Anderson	        1998	MIN	23.2	23.2
Morten Andersen	        1985	NOR	23.1	23.1
Raul Allegre	        1983	BAL	23.1	23.1
Gene Mingo	        1962	DEN	20.8	22.3
Mark Moseley	        1979	WAS	22.2	22.2
Jan Stenerud	        1970	KAN	20.4	21.9
Gino Cappelletti	1964	BOS	20.4	21.8
Toni Fritsch	        1979	HOU	21.4	21.4
Mike Vanderjagt	        2003	IND	21.3	21.3
Sam Baker	        1966	PHI	19.6	21.0
Nick Lowery	        1985	KAN	20.9	20.9
Jim Turner	        1968	NYJ	19.3	20.7
Chester Marcol	        1972	GNB	19.1	20.5
Pete Stoyanovich	1997	KAN	20.3	20.3
Tony Franklin	        1979	PHI	20.1	20.1
Cary Blanchard	        1996	IND	19.9	19.9
George Blair	        1962	SDG	18.5	19.8
Eddie Murray	        1989	DET	19.5	19.5
Horst Muhlmann	        1970	CIN	17.9	19.1
Fred Cox	        1969	MIN	17.8	19.1
Mac Percival	        1968	CHI	17.7	18.9
Fred Cox	        1965	MIN	17.3	18.6
Nick Lowery	        1980	KAN	18.1	18.1
Bruce Gossett	        1973	SFO	16.7	17.9
Jim Bakken	        1967	STL	16.7	17.9
Jeff Wilkins	        2003	STL	17.8	17.8
Dean Biasucci	        1987	IND	17.1	17.7
Norm Johnson	        1993	ATL	17.7	17.7
Mike Mercer	        1966	KAN	16.5	17.7
Garo Yepremian	        1971	MIA	16.3	17.5
Nick Lowery	        1988	KAN	17.4	17.4
Mark Moseley	        1977	WAS	16.1	17.2
Morten Andersen	        1986	NOR	16.9	16.9
Mark Moseley	        1982	WAS	12.1	16.8
Jan Stenerud	        1981	GNB	16.7	16.7
George Blanda	        1967	OAK	15.4	16.5
Dean Biasucci	        1988	IND	16.5	16.5
Bruce Gossett	        1964	RAM	15.3	16.4
Gino Cappelletti	1963	BOS	15.2	16.3
Jan Stenerud	        1967	KAN	15.1	16.2
Ali Haji-Sheikh	        1983	NYG	16.1	16.1
Al Del Greco	        1995	HOU	16.1	16.1
Nick Lowery	        1983	KAN	15.9	15.9
Nick Lowery	        1990	KAN	15.8	15.8

Stenerud leads the way with five top-50 seasons, tied with fellow Chief Nick Lowery. Mark Moseley proves he wasn't a one-hit-wonder as he has two other top-50 performances in addition to his MVP season in 1982. (On a per game basis or if you performed a straight pro-rating of his 9-game season, it would rank as the 17th best since 1960; obviously it is lower than that using the formula above, which pro-rates his performance to a 12.5 game season.) Garo Yepremian shows he was a better kicker than passer with two top-50 seasons on the list; Morten Andersen, Gino Cappelletti, Jim Turner, Fred Cox, Bruce Gossett and Dean Biasucci join him with a pair of stellar seasons. If you don't remember, I've already discussed Cappelletti's 1964 season on this blog. And believe it or not, the great Gary Anderson has just one top-50 season, his not-exactly-perfect 1998 performance. And, for what it's worth, only 14 of the above 50 seasons came from kickers whose teams were in Denver or played in domed stadiums.

What about the worst seasons by any kicker? You already knew which season was going to come out on bottom:

kicker	                yr	team    raw	val
Jim Gallery	        1987	STL	-13.3	-13.7
Gary Anderson	        1999	MIN	-13.7	-13.7
Eric Schubert	        1986	STL	-13.8	-13.8
John Hall		2000	NYJ	-13.8	-13.8
Neil Rackers		2001	CIN	-13.9	-13.9
Kris Brown		2001	PIT	-14.0	-14.0
Todd Peterson		2002	PIT	-14.2	-14.2
Curt Knight		1973	WAS	-13.5	-14.4
Tony Franklin		1980	PHI	-14.5	-14.5
Wade Richey		1998	SFO	-14.6	-14.6
Jerry DePoyster		1968	DET	-13.7	-14.7
Tim Mazzetti		1979	ATL	-14.8	-14.8
Wade Richey		2001	SDG	-14.8	-14.8
Steve McLaughlin	1995	STL	-14.9	-14.9
Richie Cunningham	1999	2TM	-15.2	-15.2
Dave Green		1975	CIN	-14.2	-15.2
Mike Mercer		1969	GNB	-14.3	-15.3
Jack Spikes		1963	KAN	-14.3	-15.3
Martin Gramatica	2004	2TM	-15.4	-15.4
Dick Guesman		1964	DEN	-14.5	-15.6
Mark Moseley		1970	PHI	-14.7	-15.7
Matt Bahr		1982	CLE	-11.4	-15.8
Booth Lusteg		1968	PIT	-14.8	-15.9
Gene Mingo		1970	PIT	-14.9	-16.0
Martin Gramatica	2003	TAM	-16.1	-16.1
Neil Rackers		2000	CIN	-16.2	-16.2
Chuck Nelson		1987	MIN	-15.9	-16.4
Tommy Brooker		1965	KAN	-15.4	-16.4
Mike Cofer		1991	SFO	-16.6	-16.6
Dale Livingston		1970	GNB	-15.5	-16.6
Happy Feller		1973	NOR	-15.9	-17.0
Jan Stenerud		1985	MIN	-17.3	-17.3
Don Chandler		1966	GNB	-16.5	-17.7
Joe Nedney		1996	MIA	-18.0	-18.0
Bob Timberlake		1965	NYG	-16.9	-18.1
Gino Cappelletti	1969	BOS	-17.1	-18.3
Larry Barnes		1960	OAK	-17.2	-18.4
Happy Feller		1971	PHI	-17.2	-18.4
Greg Davis		1992	PHO	-18.5	-18.5
Uwe von Schamann	1984	MIA	-18.9	-18.9
Chip Lohmiller		1993	WAS	-19.3	-19.3
Ray Wersching		1973	SDG	-18.7	-20.1
Seth Marler		2003	JAX	-20.2	-20.2
Ali Haji-Sheikh		1984	NYG	-20.8	-20.8
Bill Capece		1983	TAM	-20.9	-20.9
Scott Sisson		1993	NWE	-21.9	-21.9
Jim O'Brien		1972	BAL	-21.1	-22.6
Ken Vinyard		1970	ATL	-22.6	-24.2
Fred Steinfort		1983	2TM	-25.7	-25.7
Paul Hornung		1964	GNB	-29.9	-32.0

Did you happen to catch that Mr. HOF is on the list? Stenerud was 43 and in his 19th season in 1985 -- he should have hung up his cleats a year earlier. In '84, he was the second best kicker in the NFL (although he was in a dome), behind the Eagles' Paul McFadden.

Finally, here's a big table showing the league average success ratio in each season since 1960, from the distances we've discussed:

	XP	10-19	20-29	30-39	40-49	50+
2007	99%	100%	95%	90%	73%	47%
2006	99%	100%	96%	86%	73%	47%
2005	99%	100%	95%	85%	71%	52%
2004	99%	100%	96%	80%	71%	58%
2003	98%	100%	96%	82%	69%	48%
2002	99%	 92%	94%	83%	63%	52%
2001	98%	 90%	95%	85%	60%	52%
2000	99%	 95%	94%	80%	71%	55%
1999	99%	100%	94%	80%	66%	48%
1998	98%	 91%	95%	85%	70%	54%
1997	99%	100%	94%	85%	62%	53%
1996	99%	100%	95%	84%	64%	52%
1995	98%	 95%	92%	81%	64%	51%
1994	99%	100%	96%	84%	67%	36%
1993	97%	100%	92%	84%	61%	51%
1992	98%	100%	90%	75%	58%	51%
1991	98%	 97%	93%	78%	60%	44%
1990	97%	 97%	95%	79%	62%	35%
1989	98%	100%	94%	78%	54%	35%
1988	96%	 96%	90%	77%	56%	40%
1987	97%	100%	92%	73%	54%	40%
1986	97%	 93%	88%	79%	53%	35%
1985	96%	 95%	87%	79%	59%	37%
1984	97%	100%	93%	75%	60%	42%
1983	96%	 96%	90%	75%	57%	38%
1982	95%	 95%	85%	70%	62%	26%
1981	95%	 93%	85%	69%	52%	31%
1980	95%	 95%	89%	67%	48%	29%
1979	91%	 70%	88%	66%	45%	30%
1978	93%	 93%	85%	61%	50%	18%
1977	92%	 81%	79%	62%	44%	18%
1976	91%	 96%	78%	63%	44%	18%
1975	92%	 96%	83%	66%	49%	24%
1974	92%	 81%	81%	65%	44%	13%
1973	98%	 96%	77%	64%	39%	16%
1972	97%	 94%	75%	69%	38%	25%
1971	98%	 91%	73%	56%	38%	24%
1970	97%	 91%	70%	64%	41%	23%
1969	98%	 90%	74%	55%	29%	15%
1968	97%	 94%	77%	56%	28%	14%
1967	97%	 77%	64%	56%	35%	 9%
1966	97%	 89%	68%	56%	35%	14%
1965	98%	 77%	74%	52%	28%	11%
1964	96%	 78%	67%	53%	37%	19%
1963	96%	 71%	62%	54%	30%	23%
1962	95%	 78%	65%	56%	34%	15%
1961	96%	 61%	60%	40%	21%	30%
1960	95%	 64%	60%	42%	27%	29%

Tomorrow, please check in to see the career rankings and the answer to yesterday's trivia questions.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 at 7:09 am and is filed under Best/Worst Ever. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.