Clutch Kicks, 1985-2019
Every few years around here, we've updated some numbers on the history of clutch kicks. Arif Hasan of The Athletic wanted to cover those numbers on a podcast so I figured rather than just share the latest numbers with him, I would do a big data dump for everybody.
The last time we posted numbers on clutch kicks was back in 2015. At that point, our numbers covered 1989-2014. Now, our numbers cover 1985-2019. There's another change we made in compiling these numbers. When the extra point was moved back to the 15-yard line in 2015, we started to count extra point attempts in our count of clutch kicks. In the average yardage listed below, clutch extra points are listed as 33 yards (or whatever they actually are, if they were moved back or forward due to penalties).
The definition of a clutch kick is any kick in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime that either ties the game or gives the team a lead. Again, this is mostly field goals, plus extra points for 2015-2019. We still aren't counting extra points before 2015, which means John Carney's miss after the River City Relay isn't in here.
The basic idea behind these posts: First, a player's reputation as a clutch kicker often comes from having opportunities, not necessarily from the best rate of making clutch field goals. Second, that past "clutchiness" for kickers seems to have no predictive power for future ability to hit clutch field goals.
In 2015, I wrote about Matt Bryant as possibly the greatest clutch kicker ever. And in fact, in keeping with the idea that "clutchiness" has no predictive power, Bryant's numbers have gone down since I wrote that last article in 2015. In the last five years, Bryant missed 2 of 6 clutch opportunities. One was a 58-yard field goal that would have beaten San Diego in Week 7 of 2016. That's a hard one. The other was easier, a 33-yard extra point that would have tied Arizona in Week 6 of 2019, and the Falcons went on to lose 34-33.
So who is the best clutch kicker of all time now? It depends how you want to measure it. If you want to base it on just total clutch kicks, it's Adam Vinatieri. But Vinatieri doesn't have the best rate in hitting these kicks, he just has 16 more career opportunities than any other kicker.
Do you want kickers who were actually perfect on clutch kicks? Jake Elliott of the Philadelphia Eagles is 9-for-9. So was former Chicago and Minnesota kicker Paul Edinger. Former Colts and Rams kicker Dean Biasucci was 8-for-8.
If you want something in the middle, Detroit kicker Matt Prater is historically 20-for-21 (95%). Do you want a higher threshold of opportunites to be ranked? Then Bryant and Jason Elam are each 26-for-29 (90%).
Here are the numbers on every kicker with at least 12 clutch kicks from 1985 through 2019. Postseason is included, but Week 1 of 2020 is not.
And a few more active kickers: Jason Myers is 7-for-10. Randy Bullock was 7-for-10 not counting Week 1 of this season. Harrison Butker is 7-for-9. Cody Parkey and Zane Gonzalez are each 6-for-9. Josh Lambo is 7-for-8.
Late add note: Obviously, there's a lot more analysis we could do here; we could look at each kick compared to the average from that distance and adjust for the fact that kickers have gotten better over time, for example. I called it a data dump because it wasn't originally scheduled to be an article today but I put it together in 20 minutes because someone asked for the basic data. So this is just the simple numbers.
30 comments, Last at 17 Jan 2022, 1:25pm
#1 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 18, 2020 - 12:43pm
Is there a better case for comparing against career average?
Take Chris and Matt Bahr look poor down at 67% and 69% respectively but Chris averaged 63% through his career and Matt was 72% which highlights that kickers weren't as good back then.
Adam Vinatieri at 83% is pretty much on his career average of 83.8%; Morten Andersen at 68% is well down on his 80% career average.
Maybe throw in some decent statistical analysis to see if the difference is significant e.g. Chris Bahr 67% clutch vs 63% career.
#2 by TGT // Sep 18, 2020 - 12:43pm
It'd be nice to have an expected make percentage based on the distance of each kick, instead of the average distance of their kicks. Going 2/3 on a 37 yard average looks bad, but if it's two 25 yarders and a 61 yarder, it's expected.
#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 18, 2020 - 1:02pm
As a Lions fan, I will say that Prater and Murray are absolutely slotted into their appropriate positions, and Hanson's position feels right.
My most comfortable moments watching Detroit were when Prater was coming on in the last 30 seconds to kick some 50+ yard bomb. Those converted as predictably as the opponent converting a Hail Mary against Detroit.
Murray, by contrast, not only kicked with both hands wrapped firmly around his neck, they were soon accompanied by his head coach's hands, followed by those of every fan who could reach him.
#19 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 19, 2020 - 6:10am
Don't think so. Last straight-ahead kicker in the league was Mark Moseley who was Washington's kicker (including MVP of 1982 strike season!) and finished off in Cleveland circa 1986. Maybe a game-winning FG against the Jets in double-overtime playoff before the loss to the Broncos and The Drive.
Eddie Murray played into the 90s as I recall before Jason Hanson took over circa 1993. Think they went about 33 years on two kickers - 1980-2013.
#21 by Joey-Harringto… // Sep 19, 2020 - 1:19pm
Murray's last season was actually 2000(!) with Washington FC at age 44. IIRC correctly, all of their kickers were terrible that year, and Murray was brought in as a street free agent. According to PFR, he was 8/12 on FG's, but I definitely remember two of his misses were potential game-winners.
#24 by LionInAZ // Sep 20, 2020 - 1:14pm
My mistake. Might have been remembering Errol Mann instead.
Didn't watch much football during that time. Was more preoccupied with grad school and beering up at Austin music venues. Seemed like Murray was one of the few positive assets for the Lions those years.
#5 by Boots Day // Sep 18, 2020 - 1:21pm
Would be nice to have a "Denver" variable added to the mix here. Elam and Bryant have the same success rate on clutch kicks, but given that Bryant's kicks averaged two yards further despite the fact that Elam spent almost his entire career kicking at altitude, Bryant's record is far more impressive. Prater also spent several seasons in Denver.
#8 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 18, 2020 - 2:20pm
Of the 9 PFR shows for Prater, only 3 were indoors or in Denver. Two were in Detroit, and one was at Minnesota's old Huggies Dome. His lone miss was blocked, when Malcolm Jenkins came through unblocked and could have knocked the ball down with his legs.
#15 by scraps // Sep 18, 2020 - 8:06pm
When people talk about clutch, they talk about the future: most people think players who have a clutch past will have a clutch future.
If I know that we can’t predict the clutch player’s future from the past, to me that means it wasn’t there as a true part of their makeup when they did a clutch thing. It’s a misapprehension of what happened. That’s why I wouldn’t call any part of a player’s career “clutch”. It makes something more of it, a personality trait that isn’t there.
At least, that’s how I see it. I’m not going to the wall with my interpretation.
#10 by jimbojonessmith // Sep 18, 2020 - 4:31pm
Prater, Tucker and Bryant are the only 3 at greater than 90% with a kick length of greater than 40 yards. That sounds pretty clutch!
I actually think Harbaugh puts way too much confidence into Tucker. As soon as the Ravens get within 50-yard FG range in a clutch situation, they play for the kick. Even last year, when there were very few clutch moments, he did it in the rain vs SF and - as usual - Tucker came through. The biggest example was during the AFC Divisional game at Denver in OT. The Ravens got to Denver's 34 on an 11-yard run for a First Down. They ran the next three plays right into the middle for a grand total of 5 yards and then brought on Tucker for the game-winning 47-yarder. Tucker is so great that it almost always works out for him, but it sure makes me nervous.
#20 by JimZipCode // Sep 19, 2020 - 12:40pm
This was in 2018, 2 or 3 games before Lamar took over as the starting QB. Tuck's XP would have been for the tie, and he missed. Saints held on for their 1-point win. Everyone was shocked. Maybe no one more so than Tucker himself.
There's no point I'm trying to make. Just a shaggy dog story: hey, remember that time Justin Tucker missed an extra point?
#14 by Dan // Sep 18, 2020 - 7:31pm
I think a good way of ranking players on this sort of stat is Number of Made Kicks minus Expected Number of Made Kicks.
For Expected Number of Made Kicks, you could estimate the probability that an avg kicker would have made that kick that year based on distance, stadium, etc. (ignoring the fact that it happened in clutch time) and add those up.
It could also be interesting to calculated expected number of made kicks for that kicker, based on that kicker's accuracy in non-clutch situations, to see how many extra clutch makes or misses they had relative to their personal standard for accuracy.
#22 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Sep 20, 2020 - 9:24am
I agree, I think these two calculations would best tell the story: Clutch Kicks Made/Expected Kicks Made vs Non-Clutch Kicks Made/Expected Kicks Made. Expected Kicks Made could be season-adjusted to reflect improvement over time, indoors/outdoors adjusted, and Denver-adjusted.
The difference between the Clutch and Non-Clutch ratios could be called 'clutchiness'. Then with all sorts of sample-size problems, you could run them season-by-season to see if past 'clutchiness' showed any sort of predictability in future seasons.
PS I loved Vrabel not getting caught up in recency bias last week on the last TEN drive when the announcers - and what's worse, possibly the opposing coach - thought that TEN would have to get a TD because Gostowski couldn't possibly make a kick after he'd missed a few in a row.