Remember when NFL kickers used to miss?
Well, they still miss of course, but kickers miss a lot less than they used to. Nowadays, a field goal attempt from anywhere less than 40 yards out is assumed to be automatic. But it wasn’t always so.
We’re nearly halfway through the season and kickers have made a stunning 85.9% of their field goal attempts. In just 10 years, kickers have increased their accuracy by nearly 10%.
Not only that, but they’re kicking longer as well. So far this season, kickers have made 78% of their attempts between 40 and 49 yards. That’s better than the NBA’s league-wide accuracy from the free throw line (76.3%).
And the numbers from attempts over 50 yards out are even more impressive. This season, kickers have nailed 45 of their 63 attempts from 50 yards or more. That’s more accurate than the league was from any distance 25 years ago. Since 1994, long-range accuracy has doubled and long-range attempts-per-game are up by more than 63% from just five years ago.
Improved kicking is rapidly changing football strategy. In fact, this season is on track to be the highest-scoring season since the AFL-NFL merger, and kickers deserve a lot of the credit. Touchdowns-per-game are nearly identical to where they were 30 years ago, but field goals-per-game are up by 45%.
This high-octane accuracy is completely new to football. In 1974, the first year when the uprights were placed at the back of the end zone, kickers made just four of 30 field goals from 50 or more yards. Jan Stenerud, the only pure placekicker in the Hall of Fame, made 66.8% of his career field goal attempts. Today that’s good enough for 105th place in career accuracy. Nearly every player in the top 30 for career accuracy is currently active.
It’s not just field goals, either. NFL kickers have only missed two of their 546 extra-point attempts this year. That’s a success rate of 99.63% which would also be a league record. Think about this: There will probably be one-tenth as many missed extra-points this year as there were 25 years ago.
Can it really be called a sport when a play is more accurate than the purity of Ivory Soap? I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s time to narrow the goal posts from 18 feet 6 inches to 15 feet.
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