Welcome to The Ringer’s weekly NFL rankings, where we’ll break down the good, the bad, and the absurd of the 2019 season. Every Tuesday, we’ll have a ranking of the moments, players, or story lines that are driving the conversation around the league. This week, we’re exploring each team’s kicking situation—and ranking them from best to worst.
Over the years, NFL kickers have gotten better and better and better. The top 22 players on the all-time field goal accuracy list have all been active in the league since 2010; the top 59 have all played professionally since 2000.
Lou Groza, the first kicker to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the player for whom the award presented annually to the best college kicker is named, hit just 54.9 percent of his field goal attempts throughout his NFL career. Jan Stenerud, the first pure placekicker to get into the Hall, hit 66.8 percent of his tries. Morten Andersen, the first modern-era kicker to make the Hall, hit 79.7 percent. In 2018, the NFL average for field goal percentage was 84.7. The kicking legends of the past would get cut today, and rather quickly.
However, 2019 has brought a setback. After the league kicking average rose year over year in 15 of 18 seasons from 2001 to 2018, a steady growth that saw kickers collectively improve their field goal percentage from 76.3 to 84.7, there has been a drop-off this fall. Through five weeks this season, kickers leaguewide have hit just 80.0 percent of their field goal tries, the lowest percentage since 2004. And this failure is bottom-heavy. While the top five kickers in the NFL are a perfect 45-of-45 on field goals, the worst five kickers are a combined 13-of-26. Three teams have already made performance-based changes at kicker, and more seem certain to come.
Who’s safe at kicker, and who’s on the verge of catastrophe? To find out, we ranked the kicking situation for all 32 teams, from the most stable to the least.
Absolutely, Positively Not a Damn Thing to Worry About
32. Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
Tucker is perfect on the season—10-of-10 on field goals and 15-of-15 on extra points. He is the only NFL kicker who remains perfect despite having attempted a 50-yard field goal, which he drilled in a Week 2 win over the Cardinals. There are several teams whose kickers have yet to miss, but any could conceivably fail at a moment’s notice. Any but Tucker, that is, as by virtually any measure he’s the best placekicker of all time. (He has a ways to go to accomplish as much as Adam Vinatieri, but from a talent perspective Tucker is miles ahead.)
Tucker holds the all-time lead in career field goal percentage by almost 3 full percentage points. (Tucker is at 90.48 percent; Will Lutz is second at 87.5.) Nobody else is on his level.
Perfect So Far
31. Josh Lambo, Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Jake Elliott, Philadelphia Eagles
29. Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Every kicker in this tier has maintained 100 percent accuracy on field goals and extra points so far this season. All three have established themselves as quality options over several years with their teams.
The Best of the Next
28. Harrison Butker, Kansas City Chiefs
27. Wil Lutz, New Orleans Saints
26. Dan Bailey, Minnesota Vikings
I’m putting these guys below Lambo, Elliott, and Boswell only because they have missed kicks this season, but they have exceptional résumés. Lutz and Butker are both relatively young (Lutz is in his fourth NFL season, Butker is in his third), and both have been nothing short of excellent to date. This is important, because both get called into action a lot given the productivity of their respective offenses. Bailey is a veteran who ranks sixth on the all-time field goal accuracy list, but who inexplicably struggled upon signing with Minnesota last year. He’s made seven of eight tries this season and seems to have worked his kinks out.
Ahh! Don’t Jinx It!
25. Eddy Pineiro, Chicago Bears
Pineiro has been a godsend (Ditkasend?) for the Bears in the wake of last season’s dreaded D____ D____, the kick whose name we dare not speak. He’s 8-of-9 on field goals through Week 5, and hit the kick of the year—a 53-yard game-winner that lifted the team past Denver in Week 2.
24. Austin Seibert, Cleveland Browns
One of just two kickers taken in the 2019 draft, Seibert has been reliable in the early going, converting eight of eight field goals and eight of nine extra points. The Oklahoma product gets to hang out with college teammate Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, and presumably greets him with the Horns Down signal.
Things Seem All Right
23. Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
22. Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants
21. Daniel Carlson, Oakland Raiders
20. Brandon McManus, Denver Broncos
19. Dustin Hopkins, Washington
18. Matt Prater, Detroit Lions
17. Zane Gonzalez, Arizona Cardinals
16. Randy Bullock, Cincinnati Bengals
15. Joey Slye, Carolina Panthers
These guys are all doing OK. It could be much worse!
Hey, What’s Going On?
14. Robbie Gould, San Francisco 49ers
When I wrote my first draft of this ranking on Monday afternoon, Gould was the second-most accurate NFL kicker of all time. But after a dreadful Monday Night Football performance in which he missed three kicks for the first time in his career, he’s dropped all the way down to fifth. (Congrats to Lutz, Stephen Gostkowski, and Lambo on moving up a spot!)
It’s possible this wasn’t all Gould’s fault, as holder Mitch Wishnowsky appeared to have problems getting the ball down. Still, that can’t be the reason for all five of Gould’s misses on the season.
13. Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams
Zuerlein has long been regarded as one of the league’s best kickers, earning the nicknames “Greg the Leg” and “Legatron,” but oddly not “Gregatron,” which seems like it should be obvious. He’s struggled this year, though, missing half of his attempts from 40 to 49 yards, including a potential game-winner against the Seahawks last Thursday.
King of Primetime survives❗— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) October 4, 2019
- Delay of game
- 44 yd FG miss by Zuerlein
Russell Wilson moves to 17-2 straight up at home in primetime!
(Regular season & playoffs)pic.twitter.com/08AnsxGgrR
To be fair, if that kick would’ve sailed about 3 feet to the left, no one would be worrying about Zuerlein. But here we are!
12. Stephen Hauschka, Buffalo Bills
11. Jason Myers, Seattle Seahawks
These two guys have trustworthy histories—Hauschka ranks seventh on the all-time field goal accuracy list, while Myers was a Pro Bowler last year—but they’ve combined to hit just seven of 11 field goals this season. (Both are perfect on extra points.) Small sample? Or potential cause for concern?
10. Ka’imi Fairbairn, Houston Texans
Fairbairn was excellent last season, going 21-of-21 on field goal attempts under 40 yards and a respectable 16-of-21 on kicks 40 yards or longer. He’s failed to match that in 2019, as he’s 1-of-3 on kicks from longer than 40 yards and just 14-of-17 on extra points. He missed two PATs in last week’s win over Atlanta, as many as he missed on 41 extra point tries last year.
Unrelatedly, does anyone else find it strange that UCLA has produced back-to-back NFL kickers named Ka’imi Fairbairn and Kai Forbath? Or is that just me?
The Elderly Struggles
9. Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
Prior to the 2019 season, Bryant had aged gracefully for the Falcons. In 2016, he made his first Pro Bowl at age 41; in 2018, he hit a career-high 95.1 percent of his field goal attempts at age 43. But Bryant missed three games with a hamstring injury last fall, and replacement Giorgio Tavecchio filled in admirably, making all 13 kicks he attempted with the team. The Falcons decided they’d go with Tavecchio in 2019 instead of paying Bryant the remainder of his three-year, $10 million contract … and then Tavecchio went out and missed five of his nine field goal attempts in the preseason.
So Atlanta brought back Bryant, a bald man with a gray beard. “I’m ready to go for a ring,” Bryant told ESPN in August, apparently without looking at Atlanta’s defensive roster. Bryant has missed two of the six field goals he’s attempted thus far, more than he missed all of last year. It’s part of a trend for a Falcons team that’s seen just about everything go wrong.
8. Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
If Vinatieri were not widely considered the greatest kicker ever, he likely would have been cut after Week 2. In the Colts’ opener, he missed two field goal attempts and an extra point in a game that Indy lost 30-24 in overtime. It was the first time he’d missed three kicks in a game since 1999. Vinatieri followed that up by missing two extra points in the team’s 19-17 win over the Titans, and vaguely hinted that he was considering retirement.
However, he’s turned it back on since then. Vinatieri is a combined 14-of-15 on field goal and extra point tries from weeks 3 through 5, with his only miss coming on a desperation 57-yarder. He went 4-of-4 on field goals in last Sunday’s 19-13 win over the Chiefs. It’d be entirely fair for age to catch up with Vinatieri—he’s 46, after all, the third-oldest player in NFL history. That has to happen eventually, right? Or has Vinatieri, like his former teammate Tom Brady, figured out how to reverse the human aging process in a way that will allow him to apparently thrive in the NFL forever?
I originally thought that Vinatieri would retire last season after breaking the league’s all-time scoring records. Now, my working theory is that he wants to stick around long enough for his son, South Dakota State senior Chase Vinatieri, to make the league. Can his leg hold out?
You’re Supposed to Aim for the Big Yellow Tuning Fork, Guys
7. Matt Gay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Other than Seibert, Gay is the only rookie kicker who was taken in the 2019 draft. The fifth-round pick’s first real impression on the pro football world came in Week 3, when he had a chance to lift Tampa Bay to a win over the Giants. But Bucs head coach Bruce Arians made the strange decision to intentionally accept a delay-of-game penalty before the kick, which he later explained by saying that Gay is better from farther away. (I feel obligated to point out that the holder on any given kick doesn’t have to line up 7 yards back from the line of scrimmage—if Gay is so good from farther away, just snap the ball back 20 yards and let him rip!)
The ending: #Bucs rookie kicker Matt Gay misses a 34-yard game winning FG attempt. #Giants get their first win of the season.— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 22, 2019
Daniel Jones in his debut: 26/36, 336 yards, 2 passing TDs, 2 rushing TDs, 0 INTs.pic.twitter.com/GI65wAFov0
Gay missed the 34-yarder, apparently disproving Arians’s logic. This seemed like a fluke, since Gay went 37-of-38 on field goal tries from under 40 yards during his college career at Utah. On the other hand, Gay also missed two extra points in that game, costing Tampa Bay five points in a 32-31 loss. While Gay has rebounded, going 13-of-13 on field goal attempts and extra points since the Giants loss, the Buccaneers get a bump in these rankings for their cursed kicker history—they’ve had 11 kickers since 2009.
6. Jason Sanders, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins really have this tanking thing figured out from A to Z, as even their kicker seems to have gotten the memo. Sanders could’ve won the Rookie Kicker of the Year award in 2018 if such an honor existed, going 18-of-20 on field goal attempts and making a game-winning 47-yarder in overtime to beat the Bears. This year, he’s 4-of-7 and has already missed more field goals than he did all of last season. Sanders would be wise to miss if he has another opportunity for a game-winner; Miami didn’t trade away all of its best players just for some kicker to send the team to 1-15.
5. Brett Maher, Dallas Cowboys
In September 2018, the Cowboys made the surprising decision to cut Dan Bailey, who had spent much of his career as the most accurate kicker in NFL history (damn you, Justin Tucker!), so that they could roll with Maher, whose career highlight to that point was getting named to the 2017 CFL All-Star team as a punter. While he failed to score any rouges as an NFL rookie, Maher performed acceptably in 2018 while Bailey struggled in Minnesota. Dallas’s decision looked OK.
However, Maher’s 2019 isn’t going great. His long field goal on the season is 36 yards, as he’s missed both of his attempts from 40 yards or longer. He also missed a 33-yarder in Sunday’s 34-24 loss to the Packers. Maher is a league-best 17-of-17 on extra points, so he’s not fundamentally broken, but it’s a bad start through five weeks to be sure.
4. Chase McLaughlin/Ty Long, Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers’ top option at kicker is Michael Badgley, who impressed as a rookie in 2018 by hitting 15 of 16 field goal attempts, with the only miss coming on a 52-yarder. But Badgley has been out all season with a groin injury, forcing punter Ty Long into spot kicking duty. That’s gone poorly: Long missed two second-half kicks (of 39 and 41 yards) in a 13-10 loss to Detroit in Week 2.
After four weeks of asking Long to pull double duty—something nobody has done full time since 1981—the Chargers finally brought in an outside kicker for their Week 5 matchup against the Broncos. Rookie Chase McLaughlin, out of Illinois, promptly missed his first kick in a 20-13 loss.
The Chargers should be fine as soon as Badgley comes back … but the Chargers clearly anticipated that Badgley would be back by now. That’s why they waited a month to add McLaughlin in the first place. The Chargers also get a bump in these rankings for their cursed kicker history—they’ve now had eight players attempt field goals in the three seasons since their ill-fated decision to let Lambo leave for the Jaguars in 2017. (Lambo really seemed to enjoy kicking a game-winner against the Chargers.)
The Disaster Zone
3. Mike Nugent/Younghoe Koo, New England Patriots
It’s funny to see the Patriots in this space for the first time in recent memory. If the NFL were fair, there would be a rule allocating all of the really good kickers to the really bad teams, and all of the really bad kickers to the really good teams, because maybe that’d make things interesting. Instead, the Patriots have had an unprecedented 25-year run of kicking excellence. First they had Vinatieri, who will go down as the greatest kicker in the sport’s history. Then they let him walk … and replaced him with Stephen Gostkowski, who has actually been statistically better. Whenever the Patriots have needed to convert a key kick in a critical moment over the past two decades, a historically reliable kicker has stepped in and calmly sent the ball through the uprights.
But Gostkowski had hip problems this fall, and missed four extra points in New England’s first four games. He had surgery and will miss the rest of the season. So the Pats brought in a pair of kickers: Mike Nugent (famous for being drafted in the 2005 second round and getting benched as a rookie) was signed to the active roster, and Younghoe Koo (famous for missing a pair of potential game-winning field goals that cost the Chargers their first two games of 2017) was added to the practice squad.
This is a very unusual arrangement. The Pats are the only team with a kicker or punter on their practice squad. Frankly, I can’t remember any other team using the practice squad to keep a spare kicker around—it’s understood that you can go out and sign a kicker off the street if needed. You know that expression about how if you have two quarterbacks you don’t have one? The Patriots have two kickers, and, well, it’s because they don’t really have one. I’m not sure they can trust either Nugent or Koo.
Nugent went ahead and picked up where Gostkowski left off, missing his first extra point attempt with New England in last week’s 33-7 win over Washington. Maybe a critical kicking error will befall the Patriots later this season, but it seems more likely that they’ll just keep winning all their games by about 30 points.
2. Cody Parkey, Tennessee Titans
Tennessee was put in a rough position in 2019, as Ryan Succop failed to recover from offseason knee injury in time to play. So the Titans turned to Cairo Santos, a Brazilian-born kicker who had some solid seasons with the Chiefs early in his career and who was cut by the Bucs after camp in September.
Things started out decent enough, as Santos drilled a 53-yarder in the team’s 43-13 blowout of the Browns in Week 1. But his missed 45-yarder proved to be the difference in a 19-17 loss to the Colts in Week 2, and things only got worse from there. In last week’s matchup against the Bills, Santos imploded, missing all four field goals that he attempted. He became the 21st kicker in NFL history to attempt at least four field goals in a game and miss all of them; 15 of those instances happened in 1980 or earlier. It has happened only three times since 2000, and one of those was when punter Michael Koenen gave kicking a shot. The Titans lost to Buffalo 14-7 on Sunday, and Santos was cut from the team a day later.
The next guy up for Tennessee is Cody Parkey, most recently seen doing the infamous kick that shall not be named for the Bears. The good news is that by hitting the uprights a lot, Parkey would be significantly more accurate than Santos was.
1. Sam Ficken, New York Jets
It’s admittedly tough to judge any 2019 Jets kicker, because their offense has rarely come close enough to the end zone to even produce field goal attempts. They’ve tried just three in four games, last in the league. Still, it’s obvious that New York screwed up its kicker situation—which is especially damning because last season it had a fine kicker, Jason Myers, who went 33-of-36 on field goal attempts and was named to the Pro Bowl. Instead of re-signing Myers, the Jets allowed him to leave for Seattle in free agency. The rationale was that they didn’t want to pay his $3.9 million a year salary, which ranks 13th among kickers in the league.
New York’s first attempt at replacing Myers was bringing in Chandler Catanzaro, who retired at 28 years old in August after missing two of three PATs in the team’s preseason opener. Its second attempt was turning to Kaare Vedvik, who had just been cut by the Vikings after going 1-of-4 on field goal tries in preseason. Sure enough, Vedvik missed every kick he attempted in New York, failing to hit a PAT and a field goal attempt in a 17-16 loss to the Bills in Week 1.
After cutting Vedvik, the Jets signed Ficken, who originally tried to break into the world of finance after graduating from Penn State in 2015. But he was given a chance in the NFL after Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein went down with various injuries in 2017 and 2018. It didn’t go well. In his first Rams game, Ficken missed a PAT and a 36-yarder. In 2018, he went 1-of-3 on field goal tries, including missing a 28-yarder that led Los Angeles to cut Ficken in favor of Santos.
New York signed Ficken after cutting Vedvik. So far, he’s gone 1-of-2 on field goals with the team. His miss came on a 55-yarder, a tough kick for anybody. But Ficken missed the entire field goal net, so I’m not feeling particularly confident in him.
If the Jets had just shelled out a midtier salary for a top-tier kicker, they would not rank at the bottom of this list. Instead, they lost their only close game in 2019 because they’re stuck with the dregs of the kicker talent pool.