Mason Crosby has been the Green Bay Packers’ kicker since 2007. In that time, he’s become something of a fan favorite and, by all accounts, a solid veteran presence in the locker room. This will probably be Crosby’s last season as age and injuries have taken a severe toll on his leg strength and accuracy, and his susceptibility to blocked kicks has increased as well. Crosby’s touchback percentage on kickoffs has also cratered to 25%, his lowest total since 2013.
While most fans seem to like Mason, there is a darker side that sees him as overrated, and on the surface, they seem to have a point. Since Crosby joined the NFL in 2007, 60 kickers have attempted at least 100 field goals, and he ranks just 53rd in field goal percentage.
Over that same span he is also just 11th among kickers with at least 10 playoff field goal attempts, out of 26 qualifiers. These are hardly the numbers of an above average kicker, let alone an elite one, but kickers are notoriously hard to judge, especially through statistics. While Crosby’s raw numbers may not scream greatness, when digging deeper it’s clear there is more to the story.
In baseball, it is now essentially heretical to not consider park effects when evaluating hitters and pitchers. The elevation and dimensions of a stadium have a drastic impact on offensive performance, which means we have a clear understanding of which stadiums are hitters’ parks and which ones are pitchers’ parks. For example, a player hitting a ton of bombs in Colorado will find much of that power gone upon a trade to the cavernous Camden Yards in Baltimore.
The same basic rules of physics apply to field goal kicking, where elevation, weather, and temperature all have an enormous impact on kicker power and accuracy. There is perhaps no more difficult venue to kick in than Lambeau Field, though the stadiums in Buffalo and Chicago have an argument. Crosby spent his entire career with Lambeau as his home and with Soldier Field in the division, and it definitely had an impact. In fact, for his career, Crosby’s best month was the relatively warm September, when he hit 91.7% of his kicks, compared to numbers in the high 70s in every other month but January.
Crosby also has the most field goal attempts of any kicker from 2007 to the present (472), and perhaps nothing illustrates the importance of conditions more than a comparison to Matt Prater. Prater has the 3rd-most attempts since 2007 with 434, but while Crosby was toiling away in the North, Prater was, for the vast majority of his career, in the altitude of Denver or the comfortable dome of Detroit, with cups of coffee in Atlanta and Arizona.
Few kickers have kicked so long in such pleasant environments, and in the aggregate, Prater had a career field goal percentage of 83.2% to Crosby’s 81.1%, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that Prater was a superior kicker. For starters, outdoors, Prater was slightly worse than Crosby, hitting 80.2% to Mason’s 80.4%, even with the enormous advantage Denver provides. While Prater did best Crosby in domes (87.6% to 84.8%), there are some caveats here as well, which we will get to in a moment.
To cap things off, Crosby attempted 383 field goals outside to just 79 in domes and 10 in stadia with retractable roofs. We’ll count those as domed for this exercise, which means 81% of Crosby’s career attempts have been outside. For Prater, only 55% of his attempts were outdoors.
One thing Crosby and Prater do have in common is long attempts. Almost 21% of Prater’s career attempts have been from 50+ yards, as the Denver staff was never afraid to give him a record shot. Mason also had an extremely high percentage of tries frim 50-plus yards at 16%, and the difficulty of his attempts also had an impact on his overall numbers. Another Mason contemporary, Robbie Gould, kicked for about as long, and in somewhat similar conditions to Crosby. Gould’s 86.8% conversion rate makes him one of the best of his era as does Stephen Gostkowski’s 86.9%, but just 10% of Gould’s career attempts were from 50+, and for Gostkowski, that number is 9%. The difference between Gould’s percentage and Crosby’s is just 32 attempts (or 27 makes) which, over the course of 16 seasons, is hardly anything.
From 49 yards and in, Gould has hit 89% of his kicks, Gostkowski has hit 87%, Crosby has hit 86%, and Prater has hit 85%. The 50-yarders make a huge difference to their overall totals, especially in domes. Including the playoffs, I can find 17 career misses by Crosby in domes. Of those, 9 are from 50+ yards, and 3 of those are from 54 yards or longer. It’s also worth noting that 4 of Crosby’s dome misses occurred in a disaster game in Detroit on October 7, 2018. Sometimes kickers have bad days. In any case, Crosby was better in domes (84.8% overall), but he would have been better still with fewer difficult kicks.
Finally, Crosby has actually been pretty nails in the playoffs. In domes, he has missed 3 of 11 attempts, but that includes a 54-yarder in Arizona and a 50-yarder in Atlanta. At Lambeau, he hadn’t missed at all until a block in last year’s game against San Francisco, when poor blocking was more of a culprit than anything Crosby did. All told, in the postseason, Crosby is 31-for-35 for a hit rate of 88.6%, 5th-best in NFL history among the 30 kickers with at least 20 playoff attempts.
Mason also used to be perfectly respectable at putting the ball into the end zone on kickoffs, hovering around 50%, while peaking at 62% in 2019. His numbers suffer a bit both from the pre-2010 rules where kickoffs took place from the 30-yard-line, and because the Packers experimented with intentional short kicks for a few years after the change to the 35-yard-line. Once they decided booming it was the answer, Mason did as well as most kickers, at least until recently.
Crosby isn’t Justin Tucker, but few are, and I don’t think detractors give enough credit to the difficulties of kicking in Green Bay or the random variance that impacts all kickers, to say nothing of the special teams players around him. Even the great Justin Tucker has fluctuated between 97.4% and 82.5% over his career.
I suspect Crosby is a well-above average kicker, and in his prime from 2013-2020, in which he made 86.2% of his kicks, maybe even a great one. More than anything, he was a clutch playoff performer and a reliable option to finish games. I suspect he will be historically underrated.