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Let’s find the Packers a rookie kicker

There are three good candidates this year

NCAA Football: Louisiana State Spring Game Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams aren’t the sexiest phase of football, but, considering how the 2021 Green Bay Packers season ended, there’s plenty of room for improvement for all six of the Packers’ special teams units going into 2022. One of them is the placekicker position, where Mason Crosby missed nine field goals and two extra points, for various reasons, over the past year. Those reasons range from protection issues, snapping issues, holding issues, weather impacting the kick and/or simply missing the kick entirely. No matter how you skin the cat, though, Crosby’s production on the field and the fact that he commands $3.4 million in cash in 2022 doesn’t bode well for him sticking around on the roster next season.

Behind Crosby, Green Bay does have practice-squadder J.J. Molson signed to a futures deal, but Molson hasn’t kicked a single field goal in his two years with the Los Angeles Chargers and Packers. In the 2021 preseason, the only NFL preseason he has participated in, Molson connected on one extra point and kicked six kickoffs with just one touchback recorded. If general manager Brian Gutekunst wants to pinch some pennies and save some cap space to pay starting-caliber players, the Packers could let Crosby go for some cap relief, but his replacement will likely have to be an out-of-house selection in the upcoming draft or be signed as an undrafted free agent.

So...how do we evaluate kickers? No one wants to watch kicker film. I don’t even want to watch kicker film. So here’s what I did:

  1. Use the NCAA’s data to track how well kickers who were drafted in the last four draft classes performed at varying distances.
  2. Create an expected points number for “draftable kickers” based on varying distances.
  3. Rank 2022 draft class kickers alongside 2018-2021 draft class kickers for some context on how efficient the kickers in this draft class are.

Step 1: Use the NCAA’s data to track how well kickers who were drafted in the last four draft classes performed at varying distances.

NCAA.org lists the kicks made and attempted by every kicker in college football by 10-yard groups. For example, you can find out how well Matt Gay did in field goals of 20 to 29 yards (17-of-17) over his college career as well as field goals of 50 to 59 yards (5-of-8.) Longer kicks are obviously more difficult to make than shorter kicks and we want to weigh those kicks properly instead of just looking at raw field goal percentage. (See: Aguayo, Roberto.)

Step 2: Create an expected points number for “draftable kickers” based on varying distances.

Based on the college football careers of the kickers drafted since 2018, here are the field goal percentages of drafted kickers over the last four draft classes by 10-yard ranges:

  • 1-19 yards: 100 percent (5-of-5)
  • 20-29 yards: 92 percent (136-of-148)
  • 30-39 yards: 86 percent (140-of-163)
  • 40-49 yards: 70 percent (101-of-144)
  • 50-59 yards: 62 percent (39-of-63)

If you convert those percentages into expected points (with making a kick counting as three points and missing a kick counting as zero points) then here are your expected points per attempt by those 10-yard ranges:

  • 1-19 yards: 3.00 points
  • 20-29 yards: 2.76 points
  • 30-39 yards: 2.58 points
  • 40-49 yards: 2.10 points
  • 50-59 yards: 1.86 points

Step 3: Rank 2022 draft class kickers alongside 2018-2021 draft class kickers for some context on how efficient the kickers in this draft class are.

Based on the expected points numbers we calculated earlier, we can measure points vs expectation, essentially how much better or worse kickers performed compared to the average of drafted kickers over the last four years. Here is how many points the individual kickers drafted from 2018 to 2021 were worth, based on their college careers:

Points vs expectation (draft picks, 2018-2021):

  1. Matt Gay, Utah: 12.9 points
  2. Evan McPherson, Florida: 7.5 points
  3. Daniel Carlson, Auburn: 4.1 points
  4. Tyler Bass, Georgia Southern: 1.8 points
  5. Sam Sloman, Miami (OH): -3.0 points
  6. Justin Rohrwasser, Marshall: -5.3 points
  7. Jason Sanders, New Mexico: -7.4 points
  8. Austin Seibert, Oklahoma: -10.7 points

The four kickers with positive points per expectation have outperformed the players with negative points vs expectation, though the sample size is small.

Gay was a Pro Bowler in 2021. McPherson was named to the All-Rookie Team compiled by the Pro Football Writers of America this season. Carlson was a second-team All-Pro in 2021 and has led the NFL in scoring the past two years. Bass is the Bills’ current starting kicker, going 56-of-66 in his career, and was named the AFC’s special teams player of the month in October.

On the flip side, the kickers in the negatives haven’t faired well. Sloman is on his third team and just signed a futures deal with the Steelers. Rohrwasser was beaten by Nick Folk for a starting job and is no longer in the league. Sanders is the exception to the rule and was an All-Pro in 2020. Seibert is on his third team after being waived by the Browns in 2020 and the Bengals in 2021.

Again, a small sample but efficient kickers typically have more success in the NFL while inefficient kickers don’t. Quite the concept, right?

The kickers we will compare to the standards of recently drafted kickers are the combine invites (Gabe Brkic-Oklahoma, Cade York-LSU, Cameron Dicker-Texas), the Senior Bowl invites (Dicker, Andrew Mevis-Iowa State) and the Shrine Bowl invites (Caleb Shudak-Iowa, Parker White-South Carolina.)

Points vs expectation (selected kickers, 2022):

  1. Cade York, LSU: 11.2 points
  2. Gabe Brkic, Oklahoma: 5.7 points
  3. Caleb Shudak, Iowa: 4.7 points
  4. Andrew Mevis, Iowa State: -5.6 points
  5. Cameron Dicker, Texas: -8.4 points
  6. Parker White, South Carolina: -19.0 points

By just using college make and miss data with the context of distance, the three kickers who look like potentially successful kickers in this draft class are York, Brkic and Shudak, who somehow was skipped over by both the Senior Bowl and NFL combine for Dicker. Unlike York and Brkic, Shudak is not an early declaration for the draft and actually didn’t start as Iowa’s kicker until his senior year. Up until that point, he was a kickoff specialist for the team.

If you wanted to root for something in the seventh round of the 2022 draft, when the Packers have their final two draft picks to spend, York, Brkic and Shudak should be on your radar.