What is a Replacement Kicker?

(Note: Apologies for the weird update schedule lately. There have been problems with emails getting to and from each of our writers and we’ve lost an article or two, including this past week’s pick’em standings. On top of that, Bam is taking a well-deserved vacation of sorts so we’re down one administrator. We should have everything fixed up by the end of the week. -Brian.)

Ever since Jeff Reed’s struggles became noticeable this season, and especially with the news that he was released, I started wondering how well a replacement kicker actually performs, and whether Reed was performing worse than that. This post is the result.

The most tedious thing about a study like this is creating the data set. I went to Pro Football Reference (one of the best sites out there for traditional football stats) and compiled a list of all the kickers for the past six years that played a partial season and were not injured (checking for “not injured” led me to Wikipedia, which comes with the usual grain of salt, but I think I used common sense). Thus, I had a list of all the kickers from 2004-09 that either performed poorly or replaced either a poor performer or an injured kicker. Jump it for the chart and analysis!

 

I decided to reproduce only a portion of the chart, so that it would fit on this page. The full chart, broken down by distance, is on Google Docs here.

Name Year FG% Lg Avg % FG%+ Att Made
Shaun Suisham 2009 83.3 81.3 102 24 20
Billy Cundiff 2009 78.3 81.3 96 23 18
Steven Hauschka 2009 69.2 81.3 85 12 9
Mike Nugent 2009 50 81.3 62 8 4
Shane Andrus 2009 0 81.3 0 1 0
Connor Barth 2009 73.7 81.3 91 19 14
John Carney 2009 76.5 81.3 94 17 13
Garrett Hartley 2009 81.8 81.3 101 11 9
Nick Folk 2009 64.3 81.3 79 28 18
Jason Elam 2009 63.2 81.3 78 19 12
Matt Bryant 2009 70 81.3 86 10 7
Ricky Schmitt 2009 66.6 81.3 82 3 2
Graham Gano 2009 100 81.3 123 4 4
Matt Stover 2009 81.8 81.3 101 11 9
Lawrence Tynes 2008 100 84.5 118 1 1
John Carney 2008 92.1 84.5 109 38 35
Garrett Hartley 2008 100 84.5 118 13 13
Martin Gramatica 2008 60 84.5 71 10 6
Taylor Mehlhaff 2008 75 84.5 89 4 3
Jay Feely 2008 85.7 84.5 101 28 24
Nick Novak 2008 60 84.5 71 10 6
Connor Barth 2008 83.3 84.5 99 12 10
Dave Rayner 2008 100 84.5 118 1 1
Matt Prater 2007 25 82.8 30 4 1
Morten Andersen 2007 89.3 82.8 108 28 25
Olindo Mare 2007 58.8 82.8 71 17 10
Martin Gramatica 2007 100 82.8 121 5 5
Dave Rayner 2007 68.2 82.8 82 22 15
John Carney 2007 85.7 82.8 104 14 12
Justin Medlock 2007 50 82.8 60 2 1
Totals 610 454
Percentages .744

The thing to take away from this long chart? The replacement-level kickers had a collective percentage of 74.4%, 91% of the success of, or about 7.5 percentage points below, the average field goal kicker. Jeff Reed’s field goal percentage this season is 68.2%, so he has indeed performed well below that. A big part of Reed’s downfall was going 0-for-4 between 40 and 49 yards. The replacement-level kickers kicked at just below 60% at that distance, while the league as a whole has hovered around 70% the past few years.

The second question that has to be answered is: could Reed still have been an 81.9% field goal kicker that just had a poor nine games? I won’t bore you with the statistical details (those that know can calculate themselves to check my math, it’s Binomial(22, .819); sorry, I couldn’t resist), but there is only an 8.7% chance that, if Reed really is still an 81.9% kicker, he would miss 7 of 22 field goals. So, there likely is something wrong with Reed, either mentally or physically.

A couple interesting things I noticed while creating the chart:

  • Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you can’t kick anymore. John Carney and Morten Andersen in particular were guys in their 40s who were signed as injury or poor performance replacements and had among the best seasons of their career
  • Scrap heap kickers can be good finds. The Steelers know this firsthand; if I’d gone back further, Reed himself would have been on this chart. The Bears also found Robbie Gould as an injury/performance replacement for Doug Brien.

On a final note, one of the better replacement performers in that chart is none other than Shaun Suisham. He was off to the best season of his career last year (85.7%) until he missed a 23-yard field goal in Week 12 and was released the following week. So, as far as replacement kickers go, you could have far worse, like Steven Hauschka, for example.

 
Shaun Suisham    2009    83.3    81.3    102    24    20      
Billy Cundiff    2009    78.3    81.3    96    23    18      
Steven Hauschka    2009    69.2    81.3    85    13    9      
Mike Nugent    2009    50    81.3    62    8    4      
Shane Andrus    2009    0    81.3    0    1    0      
Connor Barth    2009    73.7    81.3    91    19    14      
John Carney    2009    76.5    81.3    94    17    13      
Garrett Hartley    2009    81.8    81.3    101    11    9      
Nick Folk    2009    64.3    81.3    79    28    18      
Jason Elam    2009    63.2    81.3    78    19    12      
Matt Bryant    2009    70    81.3    86    10    7      
Ricky Schmitt    2009    66.6    81.3    82    3    2      
Graham Gano    2009    100    81.3    123    4    4      
Matt Stover    2009    81.8    81.3    101    11    9      
Lawrence Tynes    2008    100    84.5    118    1    1      
John Carney    2008    92.1    84.5    109    38    35      
Garrett Hartley    2008    100    84.5    118    13    13      
Martin Gramatica    2008    60    84.5    71    10    6      
Taylor Mehlhaff    2008    75    84.5    89    4    3      
Jay Feely    2008    85.7    84.5    101    28    24      
Nick Novak    2008    60    84.5    71    10    6      
Connor Barth    2008    83.3    84.5    99    12    10      
Dave Rayner    2008    100    84.5    118    1    1      
Matt Prater    2007    25    82.8    30    4    1      
Morten Andersen    2007    89.3    82.8    108    28    25     
Brian Schaich

About Brian Schaich

Brian studied computer engineering long enough to know he just wanted to talk about sports all day for a living, so that's what he does.

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