Golden age for NFL kickers
Football is undergoing its second great transformation in the art of what gave the sport its name: Putting a foot on the ball.
In the mid 1960s, Pete Gogolak and his brother Charlie, the first kicker drafted in the first round, became pro football's first soccer-style kickers. The innovation swept through the game, instantly raising field-goal accuracy rates and causing countless conventional-style kickers to throw their heavy, square-toed shoes into the nearest garbage can.
Now, placekicking is undergoing yet another makeover. It's the dawning of the Super Leg era, one in which every field goal is expected to be made, no matter the distance, the time on the clock or the score.
“Guys certainly are making some big kicks, some long kicks,” Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham said. “Just about anybody in the league, from 60 (yards), you have a chance to make a field goal.”
It wasn't all that long ago that a field-goal attempt beyond 52 or 53 yards, especially on a grass field, was almost unheard-of except during dire circumstances. Today, kicks in the 54- to 56-yard range and beyond are commonplace.
Rams kicker Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein hit from 58 and 60 in the same game and barely missed a potential game-winning 66-yarder. Even as the distances get greater, field-goal accuracy is up a staggering 5 percent since last season, the kind of quantum leap that's seldom seen in a major pro sport.
NFL kickers are converting at an 87.7 percent rate (370 of 422), up from 82.9 percent (838 of 1011) in 2011.
NFL Network analyst Charles Davis credits the upsurge to athletes who once gravitated to skill positions such as quarterback and wide receiver now being content to make their living as kickers.
“I think kickers are more athletic than they have ever been,” Davis said. “If you were bored and went through all the media guides and checked on the background of the kickers now, I think you would find all of them were very good athletes in high school.”
A few decades ago, kickers often were position players who kicked on the side.
As late as 1963, NFL kickers made less than half of their attempts (49.6 percent), and even that was an upgrade from the 35.2 percent of 1942.
The success rate began climbing substantially when other soccer-style kickers such as Jan Stenerud followed the Gogolaks; Stenerud was hitting at 70 percent when straight-on kickers were averaging about 50 percent.
While 63 yards remains the NFL record, it's one that could be broken this season. And the unheard-of — a 70-yard field goal — might not be that far away.
“I've made them from 70 in practice,” said Suisham, who is 14 of 15 with his only miss coming on a 54-yarder in Tennessee.
Suisham's 74.2 percent rate (23 of 31) was among the league's lowest in 2011, but not that long ago it would have been about the norm. League-wide accuracy is up 10 percent from 10 years ago, when kickers were at 77.5 percent (737 of 951).
“Your snapping and holding, your entire operation, has become efficient,” Suisham said. “Sometimes, the fields are a lot better than they used to be.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers finalize 53-man roster
- Former Steelers linebacker Harrison retires
- Veteran Keisel settles into role with Steelers
- Steelers claim former Cowboys cornerback Webb
- For Steelers outside linebacker Jones, size is not an obstacle
- Steelers’ Polamalu downplays emotional outburst
- Steelers notebook: Safety Mitchell faces former team, hurts leg
- Preseason valuable for Steelers’ offensive line
- Former longtime Steelers publicist Kiely dies
- Steelers notebook: Team cuts 15 players, including LB So’oto, RB Hall