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  • Justin Stombler

The Point(s) After: 2023's Added-Value FBS Kicker Ranking

In 2020, I began ranking all the FBS kickers with a value-added rankings to quantify their success against one-another. After a year's hiatus and a very entertaining season, we're back for 2023.

 

Football is an extraordinarily complex game. Every play, every moment, every decision is carefully considered. Compared to the understanding of the average fan, football is much more than meets the eye.


Kicking, antithetically, is not. In a game of incredible calculations, kicking is the outlier, the simple, the understood. Snap, hold, kick, couldn't be easier. Perhaps that is why we as fans love to hate on it. "I could've made that!", a refrain so popular College Gameday has begun urging fans to put their money where their mouth is, often to humerous results.


As simple an action as it may be, every football fan can tell you the importance of a good kicker. Whether it be horror stories of games lost or euphoric retellings of all-time moments, kicking is indelibly and disproportionally linked to the outcomes of games. Nowadays, the line between bad and good kicker is getting slimmer, and the gap between good and great has become infinitesimal. It can be very difficult to determine which kicker was, in fact, the best.


Over the last few seasons, I have looked to rank kickers relative to one another, while controlling for their opportunities. My solution was the value-added statistic, which I explain below.


Let's run it back.


 

The Data


This year, the data for my rankings came from ESPN's 2023 FBS Kicking Statistics page. Data was compiled using some web scraping, with manual entry to fill in the gaps. After some basic beautification in the pandas library, the data for this year's rankings looks as seen below.


Side note: to prevent the rankings from being clogged by those with little playing time and long/short distance specialists, the dataset only includes FBS kickers who attempted 9 or more field goals on the season.


By numbers, this results in the following totals:


Number of Kickers: 130 (Most in a single ranking)


Attempted Extra Points: 4,907 (+315 over previous ranking)


Successful Extra Points: 4,820 (+330 over previous ranking)


Attempted Field Goals: 2,409 (+212 over previous ranking)


Successful Field Goals: 1,846 (+193 over previous ranking)


Misses from within 20 Yards: 0


Alas, whether it be skill or a general lack of trying, no kicker missed from within 20 yards this year, as everyone avoided the unfortunate mention that usually accompanies this article.


Longest Field Goal: 61 Yards (tie: Harrison Mevis (MIZZ)/Jack Browning (SDSU))


To be clear, 61 yards in the college game is crazy. Harrison Mevis' kick took down then #15 Kansas State and Jack Browning's kick hit the net, and would've likely been good from 65+. 


The totals above represent the most kicks analyzed in a single ranking, meaning there were more chances for value to be gained and lost. To determine exactly how much, we need to look at the successful kick percentage by each yardage split.


From here, we can multiply the conversion by the points awarded for each successful make (1 for XP, 3 for all else) to get the expected value of a kick from each distance.



These values are the most critical for the calculation of the ranking. Below, we'll get into exactly how that happens.

 

Value Calculation


The formula for a kicker's added value is pretty simple:


Actual Value = FGM * Actual Point Value of Kick

Expected Value = FGA * Expected Point Value of Kick

Added Value = Actual Value - Expected Value


For a quick example, let's consider Georgia Southern kicker Michael Lantz for a breakdown of his 2023 season.



Lantz had quite a good season overall, making 23 of 28 field goals and going perfect on extra points. By my valuation, he came in at 3.728 points of added value over the average kicker. This was good for 35th place across all kickers ranked this year.


Now that we have reviewed the metric, let's take a look at the overall landscape as well as best (and worst) performers.

 

Results


Below is the FBS 2023 Total Value Added Chart:


As pretty as it is unreadable. Let's zoom in on the ends.


The Best



What a fantastic group of kickers. The 10 of them combined for 215 makes on 241 attempts; just shy of 90% conversion!


The Oscar Goes To...

Firstly, congratulations to Miami (OH)'s Graham Nicholson for being the #1 Ranked FBS Kicker of 2023! This is certainly better than the Lou Groza Award he also took home.


His stellar Total Added Value of 14.900 is 2nd all-time in these rankings, behind only the "Thiccer Kicker" Harrison Mevis's absolutely startling 2021 value of 15.272 (if you re-calculated that season using this year's values, Mevis would've amassed 16.035 points. Domination of the highest order. But more on him later).


Nicholson reached these heights with incredible efficiency, only missing 1 FGs on the year, from 48 in the MAC Championship. His mix of conversion rate and high attempt rate of longer kicks secured his success.



However, he did miss one extra point. Had it been converted, he would have overtaken Mevis by quite a margin to be #1 in the all-time ranking. Conversely, Nicholson should consider himself lucky that these statistics did not take bowl games into account, as an additional missed extra point in Miami's bowl game would have actually put UNLV's Jose Pizano in the top spot.


Back from Boise

Congratulations are in order as well for Boise State's Jonah Dalmas. He has joined LSU-alum Cade York as the only kickers to ever grace the top-10 in multiple seasons. After finishing 8th in 2021, he's remained consistent enough to take the 5th spot this year.


The Model(s) of Success

There are two ways to be a valuable kicker. One way is to take a lot of attempts, preferably from 40+, and make most of them. This is the standard method by which most kickers accumulate Added Average. However, kickers can also have tremendous seasons by taking very few attempts and make them all. The reason being is that inside of 50 yards it actually hurts a kicker worse to miss than it helps a kicker to make.


The kickers in the top 10 this year took an average of 24.1 attempts this year, making 21.5. Fantastic, but far from perfect, and every kick counts. It is by this logic that it is not too surprising to see that Auburn's Alex McPherson took the 6th spot this year, despite only attempting 13 kicks.


McPherson achieved this ranking by being consistent, not missing a single of his 13 attempts on the season, with all but 3 coming from further than 29 yards out.



The Worst



If the first group was remarkable, this group is...less so. These 10 kickers combined for only 108 makes on 175 attempts, "good" for a 61% conversion rate.

With Apologies To...

Matt Quinn - UAB


If I can offer any one condolence to UAB's Matt Quinn, let it be this. You were still almost a full point ahead of 2021 Northwestern's Charlie Kuhbander to avoid the all-time worst distinction.


A quick look at Quinn's stat line shows a kicker who was very shaky in the middle distances, while also being given fewer than average chances. While a missed extra point didn't help, it wouldn't have been enough to drag him out of the bottom spot.



...and also...

RJ Lopez - UCLA


Opposite to Alex McPherson above, RJ Lopez became an outlier in 2023 for his negative value amassed on few opportunities. He attempted only 11 kicks on the year, making 6. Some costly misses from 20-29, 30-39, and one extra point tanked his ranking very quickly. He was given adequate attempts from 40-49 but was only able to convert the one. All told, his Added Value per FGA was a brutal -.755, easily the worst of the season.



However, not only was he not the worst all-time in this distinction, he wasn't even close. In 2021, both Charlie Kuhbander and Nebraska's Connor Culp lost more than 1 point of value per FGA!


...and finally

Joe McFadden - UCONN


Joe McFadden had a weird year. A few missed extra points here, some solid consistency there. However, he struggled mightily within the 40-49 range. As a matter of fact, in terms of Added Value, Joe McFadden between 40-49 yards was statistically the 4th worst kicker in the FBS, as he amassed -10.7 points on his 1 make on 7 attempts.



But hey, 1 for 1 from 50! Good on you Joe.

 

With The Laces Out: Interesting Findings


The Finest of Lines

Given that the range in Added Value between Graham Nicholson and Matt Quinn is over 27 points, it's fair to say that the separation between the best of the best and the worst of the worst FBS kickers is pretty large. However, as I've seen year in and year out the line between good and bad is much finer than that.


As an example, take the two kickers below. Can you tell me who is better?



Sure, South Carolina's Mitch Jeter was slightly more consistent, but Kansas State's Chris Tennant was more effective from range, and didn't miss a kick from 50+. In a vacuum, I would give these kickers equal weight and ability. However, Jeter was ranked 33rd (3.89 Added Value), while Tennant was technically a below average kicker, ranking 70th (-.1 Added Value).


This metric is not intended to be a good measure for if a kicker is good or not. It should be viewed only as a relative ranking amongst one another. They're FBS. They're all good kickers. Need proof? Here's Joe McFadden, the same one from above, drilling field goals with ease.


Harrison Mevis and the Search for True Consistency

Harrison Mevis has been hard to explain.


The holder for all-time best Value Added season in 2021; he's been nothing short of fantastic during his time at Missouri. Well, almost. The last two years have been plagued by (very mild) struggles. In 2022, he struggled from short range, missing 2 from within 30. He more than made up for that this year, going 11-11, but instead struggled from beyond 40 yards, making only 5 of his 10 attempts.


I personally think Mevis is incredible, the ball just flies off his boot. With that, it was hard to swallow that he was only the 50th best FBS kicker this year. If he's finally out of eligibility, he'll be sorely missed at Missouri. It's been a pleasure getting to watch and dive into the numbers. I mean come on...look at this.



 

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 Excel for some easy formatting.

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