A lot has been made of how kickers haven't been kicking very well in 2015. It's a KICKER EPIDEMIC! The kickers have gone bad!
But if you look at the stats, kickers are doing just fine: Last year kickers made 84 percent of their field goals ... and this year, kickers are making 83.5 percent. PANIC! They're missing extra points! But that was expected when the line moved back. Kickers are making 94.3 percent of their extra points ... back when the rule was announced, we predicted kickers would make between 94 and 97 percent of extra points based on how kickers had fared from 30-35 yards in the past. PANIC!!!!!!!!
But there's a reason people are fretting over kickers. Most kickers are very good -- the top 16 kickers (or half of NFL kickers) are 111-of-113, or 98.2 percent, on field goal attempts and 151-of-155, or 97.4 percent, on extra points.
The rest of kickers? 86-of-124, or 69.5 percent -- not nice at all -- on FG attempts and 131-of-144, or 90.9 percent, on extra points. And they've been missing in bad situations: game-winners, game-tying attempts, chip shots.
Kicking is a difficult skill based on extreme precision. Kickers master a few specific motions, then master them again and again and again. It seems as if there are about 15, 20, maybe 25 humans in the world who have formed a clear top level of kicking talent in the NFL.
Unfortunately, there are 32 NFL teams.
If your team is lucky enough to have a good kicker, be grateful. Allow me to tell you some TALES OF KICKER WOE.
THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS, WHO HAVE LOST GAMES DUE TO KICKER WOES
Pittsburgh came into the year with a great kicker, Shaun Suisham. Last year, Suisham hit 90.2 percent of his field goals, including 28-of-29 on attempts shorter than 50 yards. He hit all 45 extra points he tried.
Then, Suisham tore his ACL, ending his season. The Steelers held kicker tryouts, but weren't impressed. So they traded for Josh Scobee, who the Jaguars apparently had decided was not as good as rookie Jason Myers.
To say Scobee was a failure for the Steelers is an understatement. In their first game, he missed a 44-yarder and a 46-yarder. Pittsburgh lost to New England by seven, so if he'd made both field goals, they would've been in position to make a fifth for the win late.
In Thursday night's game, Scobee missed back-to-back attempts -- a 49-yarder and a 41-yarder -- in the fourth quarter. After his second miss, Justin Tucker nailed a 41-yarder with seconds remaining to tie the game at 20. In overtime, the Steelers drove, but didn't trust Scobee to hit a game-winning 50-yarder, instead trying and failing on 4th-and-short. The Ravens took the ball and Tucker hit a 52-yarder. This led Snoop Dogg himself to weigh in about how the team needed to cut him. They have now cut Scobee, and the team has brought in former Rice kicker Chris Boswell, who was previously cut by the Texans and Giants.
The Steelers would probably be 3-1 with their great kicker, perhaps 4-0. Instead, they are 2-2 because of their great kicker's replacement.
THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES, WHO HAVE LOST A GAME DUE TO KICKER WOES
Philadelphia came into the year with a pretty good kicker. Last season, Cody Parkey hit 88.9 percent of his field goals, including all four from 50 yards or further.
But then Parkey hurt his groin, ending his season. The Eagles turned to Caleb Sturgis, who, as Bill Barnwell pointed out, was pretty much the worst kicker in the NFL last year.
In Sturgis' first game with the Eagles, he missed his only FG attempt -- a 33-yarder that kickers should hit almost all the time. He also missed an extra point. Philadelphia lost to Washington, 23-20, so, yeah, those four points might have helped.
The Eagles have played one game without their pretty good kicker, and they lost it because of his replacement.
THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, WHO HAVE MORE KICKER WOES THAN ALL
The Buccaneers did not come into the year with a very good kicker! Last year they had Patrick Murray, who did okay, going 20-for-24. They were poorly timed: He had a field goal blocked in a game Tampa Bay lost by two, and he missed two in a game they lost by five, but hey, Tampa Bay was happy to go 2-14 and draft Jameis Winston.
But Murray had a knee injury late in camp. The team brought in Connor Barth, their kicker from 2009-13, and traded away tight end Tim Davis for a rookie, Kyle Brindza. Brindza wowed the team in his only preseason game, knocking in 55- and 57-yarders.
I was a little bit suspect of Brindza as an NFL kicker: As a Northwestern fan, I watched him futz a couple of big kicks last year in a game Notre Dame lost in overtime. But he can kick the hell out of the ball! Sure!
When the regular season started, he was egregiously bad. Yes, he still had the leg, drilling 52- and 58-yarders, but overall, he went 6-for-12 and missed a pair of extra points. Against the Texans, he missed THREE field goals, as well as an extra point, and the Bucs lost, 19-9. Not often a kicker leaves 10 points on the field.
Monday, the Bucs cut him. It's not clear who they'll go with next.
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I think it's rather funny that people are fretting about a KICKER EPIDEMIC. Kickers are better in 2015 than at any point in football history. Of kickers to attempt at least 100 field goals, the three most accurate (Dan Bailey, Tucker and Stephen Gostkowski) are currently active, as are 10 of the 15 most accurate of all time. The top 40 have all played since 2005. The only pure kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jan Stenerud, is 96th on that list.
But there remains a chasm between the best kickers in the world and the less-than-best. That chasm is large. NFL kickers are expected to be near-perfect. Only a few humans on Earth are capable of being near-perfect at this very specific task.
Kickers tend to be under-appreciated. They're smaller than other NFL players, they're less athletic than other NFL players and they ONLY HAVE ONE JOB. Kick it through the uprights, doofus!
This is why I'm preaching to you. If your NFL team is lucky enough to have a kicker who is good -- not perfect, maybe not even great! -- don't mock him. Cherish him. Love him!
Because look at the Steelers and the Eagles, teams that had good kickers, and now have dipped into the world of replacement-level kickers. Look at the Bucs, who had an okay kicker and then had a very bad kicker and now will probably turn to somebody they thought was worse than the very bad kicker.
For the teams lucky enough to have an NFL-quality kicker, life isn't so bad. For the rest of the NFL? It's bleak.
Hug your good kicker, but not in a weird way. Buy his shirsey! (It might stay relevant for like 15-20 years!) Cheer when he kicks a field goal instead of just booing when he misses. Trust Steelers fans: it could be worse.