- Justin Stombler
The Point(s) After: 2021's Value-Added FBS Kicker Ranking
In 2020, I devised a value-added ranking system to quantify the success of FBS kickers relative to one-another. People seemed to enjoy it, so we're back for 2021.
If death and taxes are the two certainties in life, college kickers are their perfect antithesis. There's no feeling quite like watching your team's kicker standing behind the holder, awaiting the snap. You know that within the next second you'll either feel a sense of relief, or a pang of pure disappointment. Kicking isn't easy, as you're likely aware, but that never quite stops you from wondering just what your team would look like with someone else, someone better. But then again, maybe all college kickers are the same.
Last year I looked to rank kickers relative to one another, while controlling for the opportunities they got to kick. My answer to this task was the value-added statistic. Let's run it back for 2021.
Similarly to the previous entry, the data for this year's rankings came from the The Football Database's 2021 FBS Kicking Statistics page, with any missing data being manually entered using ESPN's player stats for each kicker.
The dataset totaled 118 kickers, 2,157 FGs, and 4,592 PATs, and the next step was to use the data collected to determine the total number of makes and attempts by yardage. Below is the successful FG% for each distance + PATs.
Similar to last year, kicks from within 20 yards were far and away the fewest attempted with only 16 tries on the year. Of those 16, Andre Szmyt of Syracuse was the only unfortunate miss as he found the right upright going into the half in Lane Stadium. Otherwise, despite having far more attempts in 2021, the successful FG% of each yardage were similar to seen in 2020.
Now that we have these percentages we can create expected values for each field goal by simply multiplying the value by 3 (or not, for PATs worth 1 point).
Using these, we can calculate added value.
The formula for a kicker's added value is pretty simple:
For PATs: #Makes - (#Attempts*Expected Points) = PAT Added Value
For FGs: (#Makes * 3) - (#Attempts * Expected Points) = FG Added Value
Add these together, and you get a kicker's full season Added Value.
For a quick example, let's consider Auburn's Anders Carlson.
PATs - 35/36: 35 - (36*.9778) = -.2008
1-19yd - 0/0: 0
20-29yd - 6/6: (6*3) - (6*2.7903) = 1.2582
30-39yd = 2/4: (2*3) - (4*2.4189) = -3.6756
40-49yd = 6/8: (6*3) - (8*2.019) = 1.848
50+yd = 0/3: (0*3) - (3*1.3611) = -4.0833
Total Added Value: -4.8535
Unfortunately for Carlson and Auburn, we can say he lost 4.853 points for his team compared to an average kicker.
With this method in mind, let's look at the full results for Total Added Value.
Results - Total Added Value
Below is the FBS 2021 Total Value Added Chart:
While very pleasing to the eye, it can be difficult to breakdown the data from this view. Let's take a quick look at the best, and worst, kickers in total added value for the season.
First, it's worth noting how many more opportunities kickers had compared to the COVID shortened season. The top 10 kickers in 2020 averaged 17.8 field goal attempts (FGA), while in 2021 the top 10 above averaged 21.7. As such, point values were much higher. The top 2 kickers on the season, Harrison Mevis and Nate Needham, would have both been #1 in Total Added Value in 2020, as then leader LSU's Cade York put up 11.565 points.
Speaking of Cade York, he is the only kicker in the country to have managed top 10 status in consecutive years, as BYU's Jake Oldroyd, Auburn's Anders Carlson, Alabama's Will Reichard, UTSA's Hunter Duplessis, UL's James Turner, and WKU's Brayden Narveson all fell out of their distinguished spots.
Additionally, Mevis Magic? Brothers Harrison and Andrew Mevis both managed top 5 appearances, as well as becoming the first brother pair to ever been nominated for the Lou Groza award for the FBS's top kicker.
As it was above, so it is below. With more opportunities to kick means more opportunities to miss. In fact, even the sixth-worst FIU's Chase Gabriel would've been the floor in 2020.
There was a lot of total separation this season, as Harrison Mevis and Charlie Kuhbander accounted for a total spread of almost 29 points of added value. However, unlike 2020, the average FGA for the bottom 10 is far lower than the top as the 10 kickers shown above averaged 16.8 FGA, almost 5 fewer kicks than the top 10. Although, considering Kuhbander went 6/13 on the season, I'm not sure how much of a difference 5 more attempts would have made.
Speaking of total attempts, as kickers have almost no say in how many attempts they are given in a season, it's a good idea to break the data down on a per attempt basis. Let's do that now.
Results - Added Value Per Kick
Below is the FBS 2021 Added Value Per Kick Chart:
The first immediately noticeable piece of information is that due to the lower average FGA of the bottom kickers, the spread is far wider to the left side than it is the right. Let's break it into top/bottom 10 again.
As could be expected, 8 of the top 10 in this list are also found in the Total Value rankings. The two new additions being South Carolina's Parker White and Texas Tech's Jonathon Garibay. The additions are the result of kickers who had incredibly accurate seasons, but fewer than average FGA.
Both kickers finished their seasons with 13 makes on 14 attempts. White's lone miss came from 38 against Vanderbilt, while Garibay's was from from 53 as time expired, allowing Baylor a place in the Big 12 title game. Despite these, White was 8/9 from 30-39, with no misses from 40+, and Garibay was 8/9 from 30+, including the kick of the year from 62 as time expired to beat Iowa State. Both were incredibly accurate, but aggressive coaching prevented the opportunity for more attempts, as both TTU and SCAR went 14/29 on the year on 4th down conversions, likely killing some drives that would have been within their kickers' ranges.
While a lack of attempts allows kickers like Parker White to enter the top 10 on a per kick basis, the same lack of attempts causes a kicker like UCF's Daniel Obarski, who only went 5/10 on the year, to enter the bottom 10. However, the bigger story here is the unfortunate regression of both Nebraska's Connor Culp, and Northwestern's last-in-all-categories Charlie Kuhbander.
In 2020, Connor Culp had amassed a respectable positive Total Added Value. However, by the end of 2021, Connor Culp had gone 6-12, amassed -12.234 points of added value, and was replaced by sophomore Chase Contreraz who would go 2-4 the rest of the season.
Similarly, Charlie Kuhbander, who in 2020 was statistically the definition of average as the exact midpoint of the rankings, would spend his 2021 going 6-13 as a dismal characterization of Northwestern's season in general.
What happened? As far as can be told, kicking happened. As is often said, you're only as good as your last kick. Sad to say, Culp and Kuhbander did not leave good impressions, becoming the only players in the short history of these rankings to lose over a point per FGA.
With The Laces Out: Interesting Findings
The Fickle Life of Kickers: Dean Janikowski and Tanner Brown
One point I'd like to stress here is that added value does not directly translate to whether or not a kicker is good or bad, just that they may have under or overperformed compared to the league's other (very good) kickers. As an example, look no further than Oklahoma State's Tanner Brown and Washington State's Dean Janikowski.
As you can see, both kickers amassed negative added value. But did they have bad seasons? Not at all.
Truthfully, this is a spotlight on the difficulty of maintaining status as a kicker. For Tanner Brown, 1 miss apiece from 30-39, 40-49, and 50+ was enough to overcome his stellar 9/9 from within 30 yards. For Dean Janikowski, 2 misses from 40+ didn't help his chances, but it was certainly his 2 missed PATs that sunk his value into the negative. If you were to ask Washington State and Oklahoma State fans if their kicker was good this year, they'd undoubtedly say yes; Janikowski was even first team all-PAC-12. However, in a year when many fanbases could say the same it's become difficult to truly stand out. Simply put, kickers were good this year.
Positive separation stems from the 40s and beyond
Unlike in 2020, FGA across the 20s, 30s, and 40s were all fairly consistent. The 3 yardage splits accounted for 601, 698, and 627 FGA respectively. However, as was noted above, the drop in successful FG% is noticeable once an attempt hits the 40 yard threshold.
Therefore, to have a truly noteworthy added value, in addition to staying relatively perfect from <40, a kicker must be able to remain steady from 40+. In fact, no kicker who missed more than 3 kicks from 40-49 finished with a positive added value this season.
A great example here is Texas A&M's Seth Small. Perfect from 39 yards and in (PATs too), he went 8/11 from 40-49 but 0/2 from 50+. A great year, with 6.16 TAV to his name. However, his inability to hit from 50 kept him out of elite company, as if you remove these 50+ attempts entirely he would've ended the year virtually tied with Noah Ruggles for the 10th spot. Speaking of Noah Ruggles...
The Hand that Passes
Ohio State's kicker has had a tremendous year. His record was 18/19 in the regular season, his lone miss coming from 38 against Michigan State. However, he is only 10th in TAV, why? Because Ohio State's offense, per usual, has been elite. Of his 19 FGAs, only 4 have come from further than 40 yards, because Ohio State routinely drives the majority of the field with ease. Ruggles is an example of a kicker who simply wasn't put in the position to add value to his team, because his team is almost too good for him to do so. These rankings can only show how kickers did based on the opportunities they were given, and unfortunately kickers don't get to pick their own battles.
Redemption for Dicker, Regression for Oldroyd
When these rankings were posted in 2020, most of the comments seemed to be centered on Texas's Cameron Dicker. Known for a few big kicks, the rankings seemed to contrast what many believed with regards to the Longhorns kicker's ability. However, this year tells a story of improved consistency. Dicker had fewer attempts this season but the same number of makes. Unlike 2020, he was perfect from 39 yards and in, and as such his TAV swung over 10 points from -6.43 in 2020 to 3.904.
In the opposite direction, Jake Oldroyd lit it up last year as he went a perfect 13/13 (including 7/7 from 40+) en route to 11.29 TAV and a very impressive season. This year, however, he was 9/13 including a miss from 35. His swing was even more dramatic, over 13 points as he ends this year with a -2.30 TAV.
Harrison Mevis reigns supreme
Last year, there was a conversation to be had between Cade York and Jake Oldroyd as to who was better, as one led in total added value, and the other led per kick. This year, there is no need for such talk, as Harrison Mevis was simply the best by all metrics. Remarkably, of his 20 FG makes, only 5 came from within 40 yards, as he went 11/13 from 40-49, and 3/3 from 50+; which included this 56 yard FG to send it to overtime at Boston College. Truly an incredible season, hats off to him.
If you liked this article, give me a follow on Twitter at @SevenYardsBack.
If you're interested check out my Github to see the code for this project. The entirety of it was carried out in a Jupyter Notebook with the pandas, matplotlib, and seaborn libraries for Python, along with SQL for creating query tables.