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.