Kicker Success; Is It The Dome, Turf, or Talent?

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Kicker Success; Is It The Dome, Turf, or Talent?
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

There has been debate over what makes a successful NFL kicker has gone on for many years.  Some say that those who work indoors have an advantage, while others say that success depends on the type of turf. Could it be as simple as pure talent? 

Let’s take a look.

NOTE: To keep the data simple and relevant, I will rely on 2009 data and results only.

 

Fact or Fiction?  

  • Dome/indoor stadium kickers are more successful that outdoor stadium kickers.

Nate Kaeding of the San Diego Chargers led all NFL kickers in scoring for the 2009 season.  Kaeding kicks outdoors in his home Quallcom stadium.  No dome for him. Kaeding missed one PAT all season long (50/51) and that was the result of a block in Denver (another outdoor stadium). 

Kaeding was 32/35 in the field goal department in 2009.  Of the three missed field goals, two occurred at home and one occurred in Kansas City; both outdoor stadiums.  Also, two of these attempts were over 40 yards and one was greater than 50 yards.  In fact, Kaeding only played in a dome one time all season. 

Obviously, home games are outdoors.  Road games took place in Oakland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New York (Giants), Denver, Cleveland, Dallas, and Tennessee.  Only Dallas’ Cowboys Stadium has a stadium with the option of closing the roof. Kaeding was perfect during that game, but he was also perfect in many other games played outdoors.

David Akers of the Philadelphia Eagles was the second-highest scoring kicker in the NFL in 2009.  He was 43/45 in PATs and 32/37 in field goals for the season.  Akers also kicks in an outdoor stadium the majority of the season.  His home stadium is Lincoln Financial Field (The “Linc”).  Although the field is heated, it is still comprised of natural grass.  Both PAT misses of the 2009 season occurred against the NY Giants; one at home and one on the Giants’ grassy field.

His missed field goals all occured during road games at Carolina, Oakland (two), Atlanta, and Dallas—three misses outdoors, and two misses indoors. 

Looking at the list of the kickers who scored the most points in 2009, we next find:

  • Ryan Longwell, an indoor stadium kicker
  • Mason Crosby (Green Bay– outdoors)
  • Lawrence Tynes (NY Giants– outdoors)
  • Stephen Gostkowski (New England– outdoors)
  • Jay Feely (NY Jets– outdoors)
  • Jeff Reed (Pittsburgh– outdoors)
  • Matt Prater (Denver– outdoors)
  • Rob Bironas (Tennessee– outdoors)
  • Dan Carpenter (Miami– outdoors)
  • Ryan Lindell (Buffalo– outdoors)

With the exception of Longwell, it appears that outdoor kickers are actually much more successful than dome kickers.  This is quite a contradiction to the traditional beliefs about kicker success being limited to indoor play, isn’t it?

 

Conclusion: Fiction

Dome kickers are NOT more successful than outdoor kickers.

 

Myth or Reality: 

  • Turf kickers are more successful than grass kickers. 

Kaeding’s successful 2009 season in an outdoor stadium also goes against the idea that turf fields make a more successful kicker. Obviously, all of Kaeding’s home games are on natural grass, and his 2009 road games were mostly on grass.  Only New York (Giants) and Dallas had FieldTurf. 

Despite Kaeding’s perfection on those two surfaces, he had numerous other flawless games on grass fields. This makes it difficult to deduce that turf made him a better kicker.

Akers also kicks on grass at home and had only two road games on turf. Looking at the above list of successful 2009 kickers, Longwell, Gostkowski, and Lindell are the only players with home turf fields. 

 

Conclusion: Myth

Turf kickers are NOT more successful than grass kickers.

 

So, if dome success is a myth—and if turf success is a myth—does that mean it boils down to pure talent?  Not exactly…

There are so many variables; weather, stadium noise, altitude, etc.  Illness, injury, nerves, and other emotional issues can also play a part.  We don’t always know what all the variables are, but we know they exist. 

Kaeding, the highest scoring kicker of 2009, had a nearly flawless regular season.  In the team’s only playoff game against the Jets, he choked.  He missed three field goals and appeared somewhat unsettled on the field. 

Was it just an “off” day?  Did he have an underlying illness or something going on in his personal life?  Who knows. But these types of unpredictable situations can lead to inconsistency in the best of the best.

Other keys to kicker success include:

  • Skill of offensive line
  • Ability of special team to give the offense good field position
  • Ability of offense to move the ball into scoring position
  • Inability of the team to “punch” the ball into the end zone (yes, I said Inability). Kickers obviously score points when the team scores a TD and they get a chip shot extra point. But they score most when teams get the ball into the red zone and collapse, leaving the scoring opportunity for the kicking team.

 

Summary:  

It goes without saying that talent is a huge part of kicker success in the NFL.  It appears that talent, combined with “team” success, is much more predictive than other factors.  Who you play with is much more important than where you play.  But individual skill wins out over other pieces of the puzzle.

Fantasy Spin:  Follow fantasy rankings and cheat sheets customized to your individual league’s rules and scoring systems.  Do not give weight or extra consideration to kickers who work in domes, on turf, in good weather, etc. 

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