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FR: 2012 Franchise Players

Each year, we use Football Relativity as a tool to compare the class of franchise and transition players. We’ll compare them on a 10-point scale, with 10 being a franchise MVP and 1 being a why-bother-keeping guy.

DEFINITIONS: Under the current rules, the franchise tag guarantees them one-year salaries equal to the average of the top five at their position as determined by a new, complicated formula. There are two kinds of tags: an exclusive tag, which guarantees more money on the one-year tender and prohibits a player from negotiating or signing with another team, and a non-exclusive tag, which offers a guaranteed one-year tender but also guarantees a team two first-round picks if the tagged player signs a long-term contract with another team.

Saints QB Drew Brees, via si.com

On to the comparison. All players are non-exclusive franchise players except for the first entry, Drew Brees.

10 – QB Drew Brees, Saints – It’s amazing that the Saints couldn’t get a deal with Brees, who is an elite, championship-quality quarterback at the top of his game. But the team and Brees are so far apart on a long-term contract that they had to use the tag. That’s a good financial deal for the team in 2012 – the $15 million or so they’ll pay for the exclusive franchise tag is below market value for a quarterback of Brees’ caliber. But it keeps the Saints from tagging other free agents like OG Carl Nicks and WR Marques Colston, and it could also make it harder to get Brees signed long-term down the line. Chances are the Brees waits till the last possible moment to sign the tender, since that’s the only way he maintains leverage – by missing offseason workouts. That’s not a good way to go into the offseason and try to bounce back from a painful playoff loss in San Francisco. The Saints may claim to be financially responsible, but it seems like they’re just being cheap.

9 – RB Ray Rice, Ravens – Rice is by far the Ravens’ best offensive player, and they cannot afford to lose him. But at the same time, it’s hard to imagine paying the freight for a long-term deal for a running back who has gotten as many carries as Rice has. But the Ravens need to follow the examples of the Vikings (with Adrian Peterson), the Panthers (with DeAngelo Williams), and the Texans (with Arian Foster) and keep Rice around for the long term. Baltimore has a strong front office, and so we can expect them to make a deal at some point this offseason. Until then, Rice stays put on a $7.7 million tag.

9 (con’t) – RB Matt Forte, Bears – Like Rice, Forte is a do-everything back who is the best offensive player for his team. And while Forte was injured last season, he returned to play in the Pro Bowl to prove he is healthy headed into free agency. Forte may be half a step behind Rice in terms of talent, but he is as productive and as essential. It’ll be interesting to see how the Bears end up paying Forte over the long haul.

8 – WR DeSean Jackson, Eagles – Jackson is one of the most unique players in the league. Few receivers have the pure speed that he has, and so few receivers can take the top off a defense like Jackson. But he’s also a prickly personality who probably needs to be a premium No. 2 receiver but who demands the attention, targets, and money of a No. 1 wideout. For those reasons, the Eagles may look to deal Jackson if the right offer comes along. If not, the Eagles will pay Jackson $9.4 million to keep him around for 2012, and that price, though steep, is still palatable. The resolution of this tag situation will be one of the most interesting sagas of the offseason.

7 – WR Wes Welker, Patriots – The Patriots found Welker as a restricted free agent and turned him into the league leader in receptions. He’s nearly unstoppable coming out of the slot, and at this point he is Tom Brady’s preferred target. Welker’s reliable presence has allowed the Pats to develop tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski into down-field targets, and that should take a little pressure off Welker. But until New England finds a true outside threat, Welker is still irreplaceable. That made it a no-brainer decision to put the tag on Welker and make sure he’s around in 2012.

6 – CB Brent Grimes, Falcons – Grimes has developed into the type of cornerback who gets the shutdown label. That’s been vital in Atlanta, who had sought to find that corner first by drafting DeAngelo Hall and then by paying Dunta Robinson. Grimes is now better than both of them, and that means the Falcons can’t afford to lose him. The $10.6 million franchise tag is pretty stiff, but it’s a price the Falcons can’t help but pay. If they want to move from being an annual playoff team to being a true title contender, they need to add players like Grimes, not lose them.

6 (con’t) – DE Calais Campbell, Cardinals – Campbell has developed into a top-flight 3-4 defensive end, and those guys are incredibly hard to find. So the Cardinals are willing to spend $10.6 million to keep Campbell around for 2012. Last year was Campbell’s best, as he had eight sacks, 11 passes deflected, and even blocked three field goals. He is now a core player for the Cardinals, and so tagging him is definitely worthwhile. Campbell did get the non-exclusive tag, but it’s unlikely he will get away for two first-round picks.

6 (con’t) – WR Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – After signing CB Stanford Routt, it became obvious that the Chiefs would let CB Brandon Carr enter free agency and instead tag Bowe, who has produced big numbers as the team’s No. 1 receiver. Bowe isn’t always consistent, and he can even disappear at times, but his combination of size and speed is rare. With a new offensive system in place now that Todd Haley is gone, the Chiefs need to give Matt Cassel and company the best chance to succeed, and that means keeping Bowe in town, even if he’s not a perfect receiver a la Larry Fitzgerald. So the $9.4 million tag for Bowe is a necessary move, even if it seems too pricy.

5 – S Michael Griffin, Titans – Instead of tagging CB Cortland Finnegan for $10.6 million, the Titans chose to keep former Pro Bowler Griffin around. The former first-round pick had his best season in 2010, and he has 17 picks in his five seasons. He’s a rangy player who helps corners like Finnegan play more aggressively by providing a safety net. That’s a worthwhile role, and it makes Griffin a solid investment at $6.2 million in 2012.

5 (con’t) – DE Cliff Avril, Lions – Avril is a developing player who had a career-high with 11 sacks in 2011. Obviously, he is benefitting from playing with a talented defensive line, but he has emerged as the best pass-rusher on the end over Kyle Vanden Bosch. Avril can be a core player, but the $8.8 million one-year tag is a little steep given his resume. Still, given the premium for pass rushers on the open market, it’s no surprise that the Lions used the tag to keep him around.

4 – S Dashon Goldson, 49ers – Goldson hit the free-agent market unfettered last year, but in the compressed offseason he didn’t get the kind of attention he wanted. After signing a one-year deal, Goldson now hits the market again, but this time the 49ers tagged him. He’s worth keeping for $6.2 million because he’s a big, rangy safety who hits. By tagging Goldson, the 49ers risk losing CB Carlos Rogers, who had a fine season last year. But Goldson’s tag is cheaper than Rogers’ would have been, and he’s been a key starter in San Francisco longer.

4 (con’t) – OLB Anthony Spencer, Cowboys – Spencer, a former first-round pick, had a break-out season in 2009 but has leveled off a bit the last two seasons. He’s a good outside linebacker who can create pass rush across from DeMarcus Ware, but he’s not a dynamic player. The Cowboys need to ink Spencer to a long-term deal to lessen the $8.8 million tag he’s currently under, but they’re wise to keep him.

3 – S Tyvon Branch, Raiders – Branch is a solid starter for the Raiders, not a game-changing player. But after losing CB Stanford Routt to a salary-cap saving move earlier this offseason, and with FS Michael Huff perhaps headed for the same fate, the Raiders wanted some continuity in the secondary. Branch will now provide that at strong safety for a $6.2 million price tag. By tagging Branch, the Raiders opted to let RB Michael Bush hit the open market. Picking Branch over Bush (a part-time player who would have cost $7.7 million) was probably the right move for a team with serious salary-cap management issues.

3 (con’t) – DE Robert Mathis, Colts – The Colts franchised Mathis then quickly re-signed him just after the deadline. We discussed more about why this isn’t a great idea in this post. Still, Mathis is a quality player and a potent pass rusher, so he’s worth a contract to someone.

2 – TE Fred Davis, Redskins – Davis is a good player, but he’s not a franchise-caliber player. Plus, he served a four-game suspension under the NFL’s substance-abuse policy to end the 2011 season. But the recalculated franchise value means that tight ends are tagged at $5.4 million, and Davis is worth that. In fact, the Redskins might be better off paying him a one-year contract than investing long term in a guy who needs to answer character questions. Davis is a talented receiver, and with Chris Cooley breaking down due to injuries, he will definitely help. But if the tag was at the 2011 level that was $2 million higher, Davis would be hitting the open market. By tagging Davis, the Redskins are letting S LaRon Landry hit the market, which makes sense, because Landry would cost more and is injured too often.

2 (con’t) – PK Phil Dawson, Browns – Dawson will cost more than most kickers – $3.8 million vs. $2.6 – because he was franchised last year as well. He has proven to be a solid kicker in the unfriendly Cleveland weather, and the original Brown (at least Brown 2.0) is a fan favorite. At some point, the Browns will need to lock Dawson in on a long-term deal to keep him, but they’re willing to pay the freight year by year for now.

2 (con’t) – PK Matt Prater, Broncos – Prater has huge power in his leg, which makes him a perfect fit for the high altitude in Denver. He’s good at creating touchbacks and also dependable on long-distance field-goals. That makes him a valuable weapon, especially in the Tim Tebow era where first downs aren’t always easy to come by. The Broncos get to keep that weapon at a reasonable $2.5 million price.

2 (con’t) – PK Josh Scobee, Jaguars – Scobee isn’t well known, but he also has a big-time leg that shows itself on kickoffs and field goals. For a Jaguars team that isn’t always a big spender, paying the lowest franchise tag to keep a solid kicker in town makes sense. Tagging DE Jeremy Mincey would have cost much more but kept an impactful pass rusher, but Scobee is a guy the Jaguars need too.

1 – PK Mike Nugent, Bengals – The recalculated franchise values made it almost a bargain to keep a kicker with a one-year franchise tag at $2.6 million, which is a bit below the market value of a top kicker. That led the Bengals to lock in Nugent, the former Jet who has done a nice job of stabilizing the kicking position since moving to Cincinnati. The Bengals may be better off letting Nugent play under the tag in 2012 and trying to lock in a long-term deal for 2013 and beyond than doing the long-term deal now, since Nugent is coming off a great year but has shown inconsistency in the past.

1 (con’t) – P Steve Weatherford, Giants – Weatherford had a nice season moving across the hall in the Meadowlands from the Giants to the Jets, and his NFC championship game performance against the 49ers was spectacular. He isn’t a Shane Lechler/Andy Lee level of punter, but for a one-year, $2.5 million price tag, he’s a worthwhile investment. It’ll be interesting to see if the Giants seek to lower that cap number by investing in Weatherford for the long term, or whether they wait for him to prove it once again.

1 (con’t) – PK Connor Barth, Buccaneers – Barth has emerged as a solid kicker in his 2 1/2 years in Tampa Bay, and his 26-for-28 field-goal performance in 2011 was terrific. But he’s not a kickoff specialist – Michael Koenen does that for the Bucs – and he’s not an elite long-distance kicker a la Scobee or Prater. Still, given the low franchise-tag number for kickers, you can’t criticize the Bucs for buying a little certainty for $2.5 million.

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Jersey Numbers: Punters and Kickers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post and running backs in this post and offensive linemen in this post. Now we move to kickers and punters, who wear numbers between 1 and 19, although the vast majority sport single numbers.

1 – PK Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers hasn’t shown off the big leg he featured earlier in his career, but he has developed into a consistent threat on field goals. He gets the nod over Dallas’ Mat McBriar, a supersolid punter. Other notable 1s: Pat McAfee, Colts; Matt Turk, Texans

2 – P Dustin Colquitt, Chiefs – He doesn’t get much credit, but Colquitt may be the NFL’s best punter not named Shane Lechler. With 31 punts inside the 20 vs. just four touchbacks, and with an incredibly low average return rate of just 5.2 yards, it’s no wonder that Colquitt is second in the NFL in net punting with a 41.9-yard average. We give him the nod over good placekickers like David Akers of Philly, Mason Crosby of Green Bay, and Rob Bironas of Tennessee. Other notable 2s: Brandon Fields, Dolphins; Nick Harris, Lions; Reggie Hodges, Browns

3 – PK Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski has developed into a solid clutch field goal kicker as well as a strong kickoff specialist. It’s rare to find a single kicker who does both jobs so well. Other notable 3s: Kris Brown, Texans; Josh Brown, Rams; John Carney, Saints; Jeff Reed, Steelers; Jay Feely, Jets; Matt Stover, Colts; Adam Podlesh, Jaguars; Hunter Smith, Redskins; Matt Bryant, Falcons

4 – P Andy Lee, 49ers – Lee is another underrated punter with terrific averages both gross and net. He gets the nod over long-time placekickers Jason Hanson of Detroit, John Kasay of Carolina, and Adam Vinatieri of Indianapolis, who has missed much of the season. Other notable 4s: Sam Koch, Ravens; Brad Maynard, Bears; Phil Dawson, Browns

5 – P Mike Scifres, Chargers – Scifres’ numbers don’t completely reflect it, but he can be a game-changing punter, as he showed in San Diego’s playoff win over Indianapolis last season. Other notable 5s: Dan Carpenter, Dolphins; Garrett Hartley, Saints; Rhys Lloyd, Panthers; Matt Prater, Broncos; Ben Graham, Cardinals; Donnie Jones, Rams; Chris Kluwe, Vikings

6 – PK Joe Nedney, 49ers – There aren’t dominant kickers or punters at this number, so we’ll give the nod to Nedney, who has long been a solid kicker with a big leg. The fact that he’s about the funniest kicker I ever interviewed doesn’t hurt either. Other notable 6s: Nick Folk, Cowboys; Ryan Succop, Chiefs; Shaun Suisham, Redskins; Chris Hanson, Patriots; Brett Kern, Titans; Thomas Morstead, Saints; Sav Rocca, Eagles

7 – P Jason Baker, Panthers – Few kickers wear this number, so Baker, who isn’t having his best season but has been solid in his time in Carolina, gets the nod. Other notable 7s: Jeremy Kapinos, Packers; Billy Cundiff, Ravens

8 – PK Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers, and he’s 18-for-19 on field goals this year, including 2-of-2 from 50-plus. That gives him a slight nod over Buffalo P Brian Moorman. Other notable 8: Dirk Johnson, Buccaneers

9 – P Shane Lechler, Raiders – Lechler is on his way to a record-setting season. As Bill Simmons pointed out on Friday, Lechler has a chance to break the single-season record of 51.4 yards per punt (held by Hall of Fame QB Slingin’ Sammy Baugh). Lechler is currently averaging 51.7, and his net average of 44.7 yards is nearly three yards better than the single-season record, which Lechler already holds. He’s the best punter in the league and might be the best punter ever. Other notable 9s: Josh Bidwell, Buccaneers; Michael Koenen, Falcons; Jon Ryan, Seahawks; Daniel Sepulveda, Steelers; Steven Weatherford, Jets; Robbie Gould, Bears; Rian Lindell, Bills; Lawrence Tynes, Giants

10 – PK Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has had his playoff problems, but he’s been a reliable regular-season producer. That gives him the nod over Seattle’s Olindo Mare, who is having a good season but has been inconsistent in recent years. Other notable 10s: Connor Barth, Buccaneers; Josh Scobee, Jaguars; Kevin Huber, Bengals

11 – PK Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The kicker also known as Sea Bass (think Dumb and Dumber) has a powerful leg and has the distinction of being one of the very few kickers to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

15 – P Craig Hentrich, Titans – Hentrich hasn’t played this season, but we’ll recognize his strong career as a punter in Green Bay and Tennessee here. Other notable 15: Dave Zastudil, Browns

17 – PK Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham has developed into one of the most solid kickers around. Although his consistency this season has been lacking, Graham remains a good threat for Cincy. Other notable 17: Mitch Berger, Broncos

18 – P Jeff Feagles, Giants – Feagles has been punting in the NFL forever, but he still has a roster spot. He’s one of the few practicioners of the art of directional punting left in the league as well. Other notable 18: David Buehler, Cowboys

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Cowboys/Broncos thoughts

A few thoughts on the Week 4 game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans, both from an on-field perspective and a fantasy football perspective. Denver won the game 17-10.

On-field
*The Cowboys have a lot of quality offensive weapons. In fact, with their offensive line and their stable of backs, Dallas should be a run-first juggernaut, much like the Panthers were last year. But you have to wonder whether coordinator Jason Garrett is willing to move that way as a play-caller. But a run-first approach would feature Marion Barber and Tashard Choice (as well as Felix Jones, when he gets healthy again) and allow Roy Williams to be a down-field threat and Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett to be mid-field threats via play-action. This kind of approach best fits the Cowboys’ offensive line as well, because they would be able to use their size to their advantage. It would also cover up the lack of depth Dallas has at wide receiver behind Williams.
*Moreover, leaning into their running strengths would allow the Cowboys to take pressure off of Tony Romo, who isn’t playing up to his physical gifts right now. He made killer mistakes that cost the Cowboys a Denver touchdown and a scoring chance of their own, but Romo was precise throwing the ball most of the time. He’s good with no pressure on him but seems to wilt under the pressure too often. If the Cowboys ran more, it would take some pressure off Romo and perhaps let him get his feet back under him.
*This is my first extended look at the Broncos’ defense, and I’m more impressed than I thought I’d be. OLB-DE Elvis Dumervil, who had his seventh and eighth sacks of the season, is quick and determined on the pass rush. The one thing the Broncos’ front seven has is speed, and that made for a bad matchup in pass protection for Dallas’ huge but slow offensive line in pass-rush situation. But Dallas’ line did a good job on several screen passes of making outside blocks to spring big plays.
*Rookie OLB Robert Ayers, one of Denver’s first-round picks this year who plays beside Dumervil on many passing downs, is downright tiny and will have to put on weight to be a force, but he is quick off the edge.
*The play Knowshon Moreno made on his second-quarter touchdown catch shows why the Broncos wanted to draft him even though he didn’t fit a need. Moreno is extremely talented, and Denver could build its offense around him if it wanted. It just doesn’t seem as though Josh McDaniels wants a run-first team revolving around a bell-cow back. Of course, Correll Buckhalter is a good player as well, so using both guys makes sense. But Denver could and should get more out of Moreno.
*Denver’s passing game, though, is less than the sum of its parts. Part of that is because Kyle Orton is OK but not special as a quarterback. He’s not able to utilize WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal the way strong-armed Jay Cutler was last year.
*Brandon Marshall can cause his share of trouble, but you saw at the end of the game why the Broncos haven’t cut the cord. Marshall’s leaping catch and then double-cutback run for the game-winning touchdown was a jaw-dropping play, and it indicates just how talented Marshall is.
*It’s not fair that Denver’s Matt Prater gets to kick off at altitude eight times a year. Combine his strong leg with the Mile High altitude, and you get the strange sight of Dallas RS Miles Austin standing five yards deep (in the stranger sight – the diamond-patterned end zone) to receive the kick. Prater becomes a field-position weapon for the Broncos on kickoffs in home games like this one.

Fantasy Football thoughts
*There are few things better as a fantasy owner than watching Marion Barber run as hard as he did and push the pile into the end zone as he did on his first-quarter touchdown. He’s a hard-nosed runner who’s a sure-fire starter as long as he’s healthy. The problem with his running style is that it keeps him from being healthy all the time.
*I like the skill set of both Broncos RBs, Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter, but neither seems to be enough of a focal point to make them fantasy starters week to week. But both are good players, and they’re worth having on your roster because they’re decent options if you get in a bye-week or injury-caused pinch.
*I wouldn’t want to have to rely on any of the receivers from this game. For Dallas, Roy Williams simply isn’t a true go-to guy, which means Dallas won’t rely on him. And the other receivers – Patrick Crayton, Miles Austin, and Sam Hurd – are as unimpressive as any 2-3-4 combo in the league. Even Jason Witten, a terrific player, is losing numbers because defenses can focus on him – to the point that I might start looking for a replacement if I owned him. For Denver, Orton’s not able to make full use of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, and so their numbers suffer as well. None of these receivers, as talented as Williams or Marshall or Royal are, are among the top 20 fantasy wideouts, and only Marshall can make an argument to be in the top 25. He’s worth a shot in most leagues because he can break a big play, but I wouldn’t center my team around him.

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FR: Clutch kickers

If you’re paying attention to Football Relativity, you know that we have a bit of an obsession with kickers. From our Crazy Kicker of the Week award to the songs of kickers that are constantly running through our head, we spend way too much time considering the status of these soccer-stylers. (I blame my days writing the kicker reports for Pro Football Weekly‘s fantasy football preview mag.) Since we’re thinking about them, we thought we’d use a Football Relativity comparison to assess the most clutch and least dependable placekickers in the league. The 10 level is for the kicker you’d want taking the game-winning kick in the Super bowl; the 1 level is for a kicker you wouldn’t trust to keep you out of overtime in the preseason.

10 – Adam Vinatieri, Colts – Vinatieri is the gold standard of clutch in the league, since he’s made not one but two Super Bowl-winning kicks. From the time he made a 45-yarder in the snow to advance the Patriots in the 2001 playoffs, he’s been almost automatic in the biggest moments. In fact, he didn’t miss a potential game-winning fourth-quarter kick between 1999 and 2007, an amazing string of clutchness. He’s still the best.

9 – Ryan Longwell, Vikings – Longwell has long been well above average as an NFL kicker. (I have long been well intentioned but susceptible to bad puns.) But he’s still at the top of his game, as he proved by kicking three game-winners and hitting all 6 of his attempts from 50-yards plus. The career 82 percent kicker is still one of the best.

9 (con’t) – Robbie Gould, Bears – Gould’s most famous kick was a 49-yarder in overtime that won a playoff game against the Seahawks three seasons ago. That’s an impressive achievement in the wintry, windy conditions of Soldier Field. He has an 86 percent success rate in his four-year career, which speaks even more about his ability. The fact that Gould made the one big money kick he’s tried so far indicates that his clutch ability is pretty strong.

9 (con’t) – Josh Brown, Rams – Brown was incredibly clutch when he was in Seattle, making two famous game-winners from 50-yards-plus. He’s still as clutch as he ever was – his 49-yard game-winner against Washington last year proves it – but he doesn’t have as many clutch chances as he once did. But kicking indoors will allow Brown to keep his range, and his 19-of-30 success rate on 50-plus yarders shows that Brown is an elite kicker in the league.

9 (con’t) – Shayne Graham, Bengals – Graham bounced around the league before finding a home with Cincinnati in 2003, but since then he has been one of the most accurate kickers in the league. He’s made 87.5 percent of his tries as a Bengal, which is a remarkable rate of consistency. He has three career game-winners and is 7-for-14 from 50-yards plus. And he’s done this in a city where the winter weather creates adverse kicking conditions. If Graham played on a better team, more of us would know how clutch he is, but the one-time Pro Bowler and current Bengals franchise player is among the very best in the league.

8 – Jeff Reed, Steelers – Reed hit the first game-winner of the 2009 season in overtime against the Titans, and he has proven to be a solid kicker in his eight years in Pittsburgh. He’s hit nearly 83 percent of his career field goals and has one playoff game-winner as well. He doesn’t have a howitzer for a leg, but in maybe the NFL’s toughest stadium to kick in, Reed continually makes the big ones.

8 (con’t) – Jason Hanson, Lions – Hanson has spent his entire 18-year career with the Lions, and as such he’s been a forgotten kicker in recent years. But he’s an 82 percent career kicker who still has a big leg, as he proved by making 8-of-8 tries from 50-plus-yards last year. Hanson hasn’t had a lot of pressure kicks recently, but his performance elsewhere shows that he still has the chops to make those big kicks.

8 (con’t) – Jason Elam, Falcons – Elam has long had one of the league’s biggest legs, as he proved by tying the NFL record with a 63-yarder in 1998, and he had a streak of 30 straight field goals into last season. Elam got off to a rough start this season, but his career 81 percent average and 60-plus percent rate from 50-yards-plus shows that he’s still a great security blanket in the clutch.

8 (con’t) – John Carney, Saints – Carney is 45 years old, but he’s still a quality kicker, as his Pro Bowl campaign last year showed. The fact that he’s connected on 83 percent of his kicks in his now 20-year career shows his reliability. He no longer has eye-popping range, but if you have a pressure 40-yarder, there are few kickers you would want more than Carney.

8 (con’t) – Rob Bironas, Titans – In his five years in Tennessee, Bironas has hit 83 percent of his field goal tries, and he’s also shown late-game chops. He famously had four game-winning kicks in 2005, including a 60-yarder to beat the Colts. He also had eight field goals in a single game against the Texans. Bironas is one of the best young kickers in the league.

7 – Nick Folk, Cowboys – Folk, a third-year kicker, has been extremely consistent for the Cowboys. Last year he hit on 20-of-22 field goal tries, and for his career he’s over 87 percent on kicks. He’s also 5-for-8 career on tries of 50 yards or longer. He’s also made some long game-winning or game-tying kicks, including a 52-yarder that forced overtime against Arizona last year and a 53-yarder to beat Buffalo in a 2007 Monday-night game.

7 (con’t) – Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots – Gostkowski faced the unenviable task of replacing Adam Vinatieri in New England, but he has performed well, going to the Pro Bowl last season. He’s connected on about 85 percent of his career field goals and has a strong leg both on kickoffs and on field goals, and his playoff performance has been solid as well. Gostkowski hasn’t had the moments Vinatieri had so far, but his performance indicates that he’s ready to handle them.

6 – Joe Nedney, 49ers – Of all the kickers I’ve ever interviewed, Nedney was one of my favorites. He’s a huge guy – 6-foot-5 – who has always had leg strength but who took a while to gain consistency. But he has made 88 percent of his field goals since coming to San Fran in ’05, which goes to show that he’s become a dependable guy.

6 (con’t) – Lawrence Tynes, Giants – Tynes is an 80 percent career kicker, and he also made a big-time 47-yard kick in overtime against Green Bay in the NFC championship to put the Giants into the Super Bowl, even though he had missed two shorter field goals earlier in the game. He doesn’t have a huge leg – he hasn’t made a 50-yard-plus field goal since 2006 in Kansas City – and the fact that the Giants chose John Carney over Tynes throughout the 2008 season is a red flag too. But Tynes has established himself as a trustworthy option.

6 (con’t) – John Kasay, Panthers – Kasay has been with Carolina since the franchise took the field in 1995, and by and large he has been a consistent force. He’s shown the ability to make long field goals in the clutch, but he famously failed in a couple of big spots in the Panthers’ lone Super Bowl appearance. He has 12 game-winners in his career, and even approaching age 40 he’s still a good if not great clutch option.

5 – David Akers, Eagles – Akers hit 19 straight postseason field goals before finally missing one in last year’s NFC championship game, which goes to show that he’s ultra-dependable in big spots. He’s a career 80 percent kicker, but last year was his first season in four where he surpassed the 80 percent mark for the year. Akers has a good pedigree, but his numbers are starting to leak, which makes that miss vs. the Cardinals last year loom a little larger. Still, most teams would be happy to ride on Akers’ leg.

5 (con’t) – Phil Dawson, Browns – Dawson is in his 11th season as the Browns’ kicker, and he’s made nearly 83 percent of his kicks in weather that can often be the opposite of kicker-friendly. He also has 11 game-winning kicks in that time. He’s a solid 10-of-15 on tries of 50-yards-plus, which shows he can make those kicks but doesn’t often take them. He’s provided a good comfort level for the Browns over the years.

5 (con’t)- Kris Brown, Texans – Brown, who started his career with the Steelers, has been in Houston since the Texans were born, has 11 career game-winning field goals, including eight with Houston. One of those was a 57-yarder to beat the Dolphins in 2007. His career percentage is just under 80 percent, but he has made 55 percent of his 50-yard-plus attempts. Brown has the chops to make a long field goal in the clutch, but he’s not the sure-fire three-point producer that some other kickers are.

4 – Neil Rackers, Cardinals – Rackers’ career percentage of 77.4 percent isn’t great, but he has a strong leg (19 career 50-plus field goals), and he has one Pro Bowl season in ’05. He made an NFL record 40 field goals that year. In recent years, he’s been a very solid option for the Cards, but he’s never been the ultraconsistent option other kickers are.

4 (con’t) – Mason Crosby, Packers – In his three years in Green Bay, Crosby has shown a big leg that is a little wild at times. He’s completed just under 79 percent of his kicks, which is a percentage lower than most teams would prefer. He does have the ability to hit from deep, making 7-of-12 from 50-yards-plus. He’s a great touchback guy and a long-range threat, but for a clutch 42-yarder there are better options in the league.

4 (con’t) – Dan Carpenter, Dolphins – In his first season last year, Carpenter hit 21-of-25 field goals, including a last-minute game winner vs. Oakland and one 50-yarder. His only misses were from 40 yards and further, which means he was automatic on short-to-midrange tries. His career is off to a good start, but we have a long way to go before we can truly call him clutch. But like Vinatieri, Carpenter was an undrafted free agent found by Bill Parcells, so at least the pedigree is there.

3 – Josh Scobee, Jaguars – Scobee is in his sixth year in Jacksonville, but his success rate on field goals is less than 80 percent, which is not ideal. He did make four 50-yarders last year, which along with his touchback percentage shows his value, and he made back-to-back game-winners early last season. Scobee is the ultimate good but not great NFL kicker who you think can make the big one but who will always leave a shadow of doubt.

3 (con’t) – Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders – The former first-round pick (you read that right) has always had one of the league’s biggest legs, as he showed by making a 57-yard game-winner last year vs. the Jets. But his consistency level has been spotty, as shown by his 77 percent career success rate. Sea-Bass is a great option for long clutch kicks of 55 yards or more, but at more reasonable distances there are many other guys you’d rather have.

3 (con’t) – Jay Feely, Jets – Feely has bounced around a little, but his career accuracy rate is 81.5 percent, and he has five career game-winners. He doesn’t have a big leg, which shows in his scattershot rate on field goals of 40 yards or more (65 percent). So Feely is a dependable guy on the short field goals but not the guy you want taking a long attempt in the clutch.

3 (con’t) – Mike Nugent, Buccaneers – Nugent has three career game-winners, but his career percentage of 79.8 is only average among NFL kickers. Now that he’s in Tampa Bay where the environment is more kicker-friendly, he could up his percentage. But he needs to take advantage of his strong leg by making more of his long attempts before he can be considered a real clutch threat.

3 (con’t) – Olindo Mare, Seahawks – Mare landed in Seattle last year and beat out Brandon Coutu in the race to replace Josh Brown. Mare had a solid season, making 24-of-27 field goals including a game-winner against the Rams. But last year was only the second time since 2002 that Mare made more than 78 percent of his field-goal tries. He has a strong leg for kickoffs but has been scattershot on his longer attempts, making just 18-0f-39 from 50-yards-plus in his career. Mare deserves credit for holding off Coutu two years in a row, but he’s no longer an elite clutch kicker in the NFL.

2 – Nate Kaeding, Chargers – Kaeding has a big leg and great regular-season results (86 percent success rate), but his playoff results are lacking. He missed game-tying tries that eliminated the Chargers in the ’04 and ’05 seasons, and missed in four straight postseason games. So despite the fact that his stats look good, Kaeding isn’t the guy you want taking a clutch kick.

2 (con’t) – Rian Lindell, Bills – Lindell has made his chops as a bad-weather kicker in Buffalo, and he has made 80 percent of his career field-goal tries along with every extra-point he has ever tried. But Lindell’s clutch performance has been less than ideal, which means that there are better options out there.

1 – Matt Prater, Broncos – Since replacing Jason Elam in Denver last year, Prater has showed a big leg with good range, but his consistency is lacking (only 70 percent success rate). He has hit 6-of-7 from 50-plus, which helps, but he’s still someone who needs to prove his clutch chops.

1 (con’t) – Shaun Suisham, Redskins – Suisham struggled last season after performing consistently in his first two years in Washington. His career percentage is just 78 percent, and he missed a 30-yarder in his long playoff game. Suisham could still grow into a consistent kicker, but that consistency has been lacking so far.

1 (con’t) – Steven Hauschka, Ravens – Hauschka replaces long-time Ravens kicker Matt Stover this year because he’s got a longer leg both on kickoffs and field goals. The former N.C. State kicker had two long attempts last year as the kickoff specialist, hitting from 54 and missing from 52, and he’s 1-of-2 thus far this season. But he has a long way to go before he provides a comfort level.

1 (con’t) – Ryan Succop, Chiefs – Succop, who was Mr. Irrelevant in the NFL draft this year, made his first career field goal, a 53-yarder against Baltimore. It remains to be seen how clutch Succop will be, but he is one of the most intriguing to watch because his kicking leg is about three times as muscular as his plant leg. Believe me – it’s hard to stop staring at the difference.

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