Ever since Robert Aguayo, the second-round kicker who was virtually automatic from short range but went five-of-ten on field goals from 40-plus yards out in his senior season at Florida State, I have been looking at kicking prospects and weighting their performance by distance.
In this article, we’re going to look at Anders Carlson, the kicker that the Green Bay Packers drafted in the sixth round of the 2023 draft, presumably to replace current free agent Mason Crosby (more on that later.) The best way to look at college kicking stats, in my opinion, is by weighting for the expected points that a kick should earn a team — based on a sample pool of drafted NFL kickers.
The NCAA tracks field goal length in 10-yard buckets (for example 20- to 29-yard field goals are in one bucket) and their current career data stretches through the 2018 draft class. The best way to explain expected points, from a field goal kicking perspective, is like this:
- 230 of 244 field goals (94 percent) from drafted NFL kickers were made in the 20- to 29-yard range during their college careers (2018-2023 drafts.) The expected points on those kicks is 2.8 points based on those averages.
- 71 of 122 field goals (58 percent) from those same kickers were made in the 50- to 59-yard range. The expected points on those kicks is 1.7 points based on those averages.
We want to know that massive difference in expectation, which is why we should weigh the distance of kicks instead of just looking at field goal percentage. Still, this method isn’t perfect. It doesn’t include a multitude of factors, including weather, the quality of a snap, hold or a kicker’s protection, if the ball is in the middle of the field or on a hash or how close a field goal was to going in on a miss. It’s a good snapshot, though, as you’ll see below.
The table above shows the expected points in the four relevant 10-yard buckets for every place kicker drafted into the NFL since 2018, based on their college careers. The final column “vs Ex (total)” is a kicker’s combined points versus expectation for a draftable kicker.
As you can see, Carlson is very good in the very short range, but is either the worst (40-plus) or second-worst (30-39) out of the bunch beyond 29 yards. Is that a meaningful stat? Does this efficiency metric mean anything significant? If you’re unfamiliar with the names on the list, here’s a breakdown of the kickers who have at least two NFL seasons under their belt.
Veteran Players Who Scored Well
- Matt Gay: Was named a Pro Bowler in 2021.
- Evan McPherson: Tied Adam Vinatieri for the most field goals made in a single postseason. McPherson is a widely-respected kicker who has made 84 percent of his NFL field goals.
- Daniel Carlson: Two-time All-Pro and scoring leader. He set the record for the most 50-plus-yard field goals in a single season last year. Remember this name.
- Tyler Bass: Recently signed a four-year, $20.4 million deal with the Buffalo Bills.
Veteran Players Who Scored Poorly
- Sam Sloman: He’s currently in the XFL.
- Justin Rohrwasser: Never played in an NFL game.
- Jason Sanders: Led the league in scoring in 2020, despite his college stats.
- Austin Seibert: Is out of the league after spending time with three teams over four years.
Notice the trend here? Outside of Jason Sanders, the kickers who would wind up being good in the NFL stood out in college as efficient and the kickers who struggled in the league didn’t look the part from that perspective. Carlson — the recent Packers pick — is more than two times less efficient, over the course of his college career at Auburn, than any other kicker drafted since at least 2018.
So did Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst bomb the pick? Maybe. Maybe not.
The narrative around Carlson’s career is that he has not played a healthy season since he was named a Second-Team All-American in 2020. In 2021, he tore his ACL in his left (non-kicking) leg. In 2022, he wore a brace on that leg and only at the combine began to kick without it, when he finally was able to show NFL teams that he has made strides in his recovery. Carlson also fractured his shoulder in November of 2022, ending his final year of college ball prematurely.
As Sanders has already proven, this metric is just a data point. Place kickers are people and people have obstacles and choices, which means their fate isn’t set in stone. One reason the Packers turned in this selection, according to Gutekunst, is because of the confidence that special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia has in the kicker. Bisaccia, who turned around Green Bay’s special teams units last year in his first season as special teams coordinator, coached Anders’ brother — that Daniel guy from earlier in the article — while with the Las Vegas Raiders.
If Bisaccia is right that Anders is a diamond in the rough in a class that saw two other place kickers come off the board much earlier than in the sixth round, then this will be another gold star on his resume. Because the numbers don’t back this selection up at all.
At the end of his press conference on Saturday, following the draft, Gutekunst noted that the team would “never close the door” on Crosby returning to the Packers. It’s worth noting, though, that Green Bay had the least-worst mark in touchback percentage (22.5 percent) with Crosby as the kickoff specialist last season. It would be a tight squeeze, from a 53-man roster perspective, but maybe there’s a chance that Crosby is the place kicker in 2023 and Carlson is the kickoff specialist — a role 2022 practice-squadder Ramiz Ahmed was supposed to play last year up until a hamstring injury in pre-game warmups derailed the plan.
Either way, Carlson is a name to watch for when the rookie start to report to Green Bay. The cold hard numbers say that he’s not much of a prospect, but All-American honors before his injuries, an All-Pro brother at the position and maybe the best special teams coordinator in the league vouching for him makes me think that he can be an exception to the rule.