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Old 04-23-2020, 07:27 PM
FlikTheBlue is offline
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NFL kickers and a question on the nature of difficulty in sports.


I was reading an article on EPSN about the time Sebastian Janakowski was drafted in the first round about 20 years ago, and how rare it is for a kicker to be drafted in the first round. I started thinking about why exactly this would be and came up with two hypotheses, although I'm sure there are other possible explanations as well. I think the real reason is a little of both, but I think it's mostly the first reason.

1. Kicking in the NFL is a relatively easy job. Not because the kickers aren't getting hit, but because there is not much of a difference in performance between the #1 guy and the #32 or even #64 guy. On the other hand, for most other positions there is a big difference between the top player and the worst backup.

2. Kicking isn't that big a part of the NFL game.

My guess is that the first hypothesis is more likely to be correct. If so, is this a good way to define how difficult a given task is? To put a (obviously not the only) formal definition to difficulty, I'm proposing this. A difficult task is one in which there is a bigger difference in abilities between the very best, the best, the above average, and so on. An easy task is one where the best performer is only minimally better than a below average performer.

So this is a twofold debate. Am I right about why NFL kickers aren't as valuable as other position players? Is this definition of difficulty a useful definition?
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Old 04-23-2020, 08:04 PM
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Generally, a team has many more pressing needs in the 1st round to draft than kicker - defensive back, pass rusher, QB, WR, etc. But another reason is that historically there have been very few kickers who could truly be regarded as "great" (Adam Vinatieri is the only one that comes to mind.) Many kickers have been great for a few seasons, then suddenly nosedived. Nick Folk and Dan Bailey were both highly accurate kickers for a few seasons, then suddenly regressed badly and were cut from their teams.

I don't know if there has ever been any kicker who has had 90% for his whole career, for many seasons. Someone like that would be the Tom Brady of kickers, and truly worth a first round pick.
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Old 04-23-2020, 08:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
I don't know if there has ever been any kicker who has had 90% for his whole career, for many seasons. Someone like that would be the Tom Brady of kickers, and truly worth a first round pick.
https://www.pro-football-reference.c...T/TuckJu00.htm

Justin Tucker has a 90.8% success rate for his first 7 years. Accuracy is one thing, but if you're a great kicker with a big leg, your coach is going to make attempts at further distances, which will bring your success rate down. You have to be pretty good to make it worth while to attempt a 58 yard FG.

It's similar to why MLB outfields with excellent arms often have low numbers of throw outs because runners won't run on him. They may not be a leader in that stat because the scenario change because they're so good.
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Old 04-23-2020, 09:20 PM
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It has to be both of the things you mention.

How many times a game will a team attempt a field goal? How many times per game will they attempt a pass into the endzone? Now double that second number. A good quarterback is worth at least that much more than a good kicker. Probably more, because you get valuable yardage even when you don't get touchdowns (possibly putting your kicker in range to begin with).
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Old 04-23-2020, 09:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Telemark View Post
https://www.pro-football-reference.c...T/TuckJu00.htm

Justin Tucker has a 90.8% success rate for his first 7 years. Accuracy is one thing, but if you're a great kicker with a big leg, your coach is going to make attempts at further distances, which will bring your success rate down. You have to be pretty good to make it worth while to attempt a 58 yard FG.

It's similar to why MLB outfields with excellent arms often have low numbers of throw outs because runners won't run on him. They may not be a leader in that stat because the scenario change because they're so good.
Ah good point. Kind of like how good cornerbacks usually have relatively few INTs because quarterbacks won't throw at them.
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Old 04-23-2020, 09:29 PM
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Ah good point. Kind of like how good cornerbacks usually have relatively few INTs because quarterbacks won't throw at them.
Yeah, first guy I thought of was Deion Sanders. Not in the top 20 for career interceptions, but maybe the most dangerous CB ever.
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Old 04-23-2020, 10:03 PM
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(Disclaimer: I aspired to be a kicker when I was in high school, and I've been a student of the position ever since.)

Part of the issue is that, as noted, once you get past the first two or three best kickers in the league at any given time, there isn't a great deal of difference in ability and performance between, say, #4 and #28. You want a reliable kicker, which typically means:
- Converts 95+% of his extra points
- Converts at least 85% of his field goals from inside of 50 yards
- Has a strong enough leg to convert at least 50% out to around 55 yards
- Consistently gets kickoffs into (if not through) the end zone

And, most of the kickers in the league can meet those standards for reliability. A top-tier kicker, like Tucker, is either (a) exceptionally accurate (well over 90%), (b) accurate out to 60 yards or so, or (c) both.

But, because there are a couple of dozen guys in any given year who can meet those reliability standards, a lot of teams don't want to overpay for a guy, or keep a veteran whose cap number keeps going up, when they know there's a pretty good chance that they can get a rookie or free agent who can reasonably meet the standard.

The question becomes whether the team believes that the incremental cost of a top-tier kicker, over that of a "replacement level" kicker, is worth the (probaby small) number of additional points and wins that you get from having a great kicker instead of only a good one.

The flipside is that, in any given year, there are a couple of teams that see their kickers struggle (i.e., they have #29 through #32 ). Some try to ride it out, some go through several kickers over the course of the season, hoping to find one that's at least moderately reliable. As much as a team doesn't want to overpay for a kicker, you don't want to be stuck with a bad one, either.

It also doesn't help that, when one looks at the kickers who *have* been drafted in the early rounds, most of them haven't been particularly successful. I suspect that teams look at that history, and don't want to repeat that kind of mistake.
- The Bucs drafted Robert Aguayo in the second round in 2016; he finished the year with the worst field goal percentage in the league, and was cut the next year.
- Going back a few decades, kickers like Russell Erxleben and Steve Little were first-round choices who famously flamed out.
- Sebastian Janikowski was a first-round draft choice by the Raiders, and had an 18-season career, but he only ever made one Pro Bowl, and he wasn't particularly accurate -- the Raiders fell in love with him because he could make long field goals, and while he was good at that, it's not a skill that comes into play that often.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 04-23-2020 at 10:06 PM.
  #8  
Old 04-24-2020, 09:03 AM
Fotheringay-Phipps is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FlikTheBlue View Post
I was reading an article on EPSN about the time Sebastian Janakowski was drafted in the first round about 20 years ago, and how rare it is for a kicker to be drafted in the first round. I started thinking about why exactly this would be and came up with two hypotheses, although I'm sure there are other possible explanations as well. I think the real reason is a little of both, but I think it's mostly the first reason.

1. Kicking in the NFL is a relatively easy job. Not because the kickers aren't getting hit, but because there is not much of a difference in performance between the #1 guy and the #32 or even #64 guy. On the other hand, for most other positions there is a big difference between the top player and the worst backup.

2. Kicking isn't that big a part of the NFL game.

My guess is that the first hypothesis is more likely to be correct. If so, is this a good way to define how difficult a given task is? To put a (obviously not the only) formal definition to difficulty, I'm proposing this. A difficult task is one in which there is a bigger difference in abilities between the very best, the best, the above average, and so on. An easy task is one where the best performer is only minimally better than a below average performer.

So this is a twofold debate. Am I right about why NFL kickers aren't as valuable as other position players? Is this definition of difficulty a useful definition?
The problem with your hypothesis is that it has to do with the way the game is structured, and not with the distribution of inherent athletic ability as applied to that task.

Imagine the best kicker in the game who can kick 2% longer than the second-best kicker in the game. How much more is that guy valuable than the other guy? How many extra kicks will the better guy make? Not much. But if you're the fastest sprinter and can run 2% faster than the second fastest guy, then you will a legend in your time and for quite a while after. Within the game of football, being able to run 2% faster than the other guy will be an enormous advantage, and a guy like this will be (all else being equal) far far more than 2% better than the guy who is 2% slower than him.

In sum, the nature of the game happens to be that incremental differences in kicking ability have an impact which is pretty much linear scaled, while those same incremental differences in other areas have impacts which are enormously magnified. I think calling that "the difficulty of the task" would confuse the issue.
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