FanPost

The Evolution of Kicking (or why the Extra Point should go)

Imagine the scene. It’s the middle of the 2d quarter, and after a promising beginning, the drive has stalled at the 25 after an errant pass. With an indifferent look on his face, bordering on arrogance, the kicker trots onto the field. As I sit on my couch, a thought has starting running through my head in recent years – "this is automatic."

I don’t remember thinking this in the past – that a 43 yard field goal should be considered automatic. As I grew to love football, I considered a 40+ yard field goal as essentially a 50/50 proposition. When had that changed?

These were just idle thoughts until recently, when the news struck that the NFL was considering eliminating the extra point. That got me wondering – how had kicking, and particularly kicking accuracy changed over the years?

Sure enough, over the last 40 years, kickers have gotten, making almost 25% more of their attempts, even while attempting more frequently from distance. In 1973, kickers made an average of 63.1% of their attempts, while this past season they made 86.5%. Likewise, when just considering attempts over 50 yards, in 1973 kickers successfully converted only 10 of 62 attempts – a 16% conversion rate. In 2013, they were successful on 96 of 143 attempts – a 67% conversion rate. The below graph and table provide the details (I had a graph, but couldn't get it to publish correctly - suggestions requested in the comments).

Historical FG Conversion Rates

1973

1978

1983

1988

1993

1998

2003

2008

2013

86.4%

86.2%

91.1%

93.9%

93.8%

94.8%

96.2%

98.2%

97.6%

30-39

64.2%

61.0%

75.7%

77.2%

86.6%

85.0%

82.7%

89.1%

89.8%

40-49

39.5%

49.0%

58.6%

57.4%

61.3%

69.6%

69.4%

74.5%

83.0%

50+

16.1%

17.6%

38.0%

40.0%

50.8%

54.0%

48.4%

63.5%

67.1%

XP

96.8%

92.0%

95.2%

95.6%

96.8%

98.3%

98.4%

99.3%

99.6%

Overall

63.1%

63.1%

71.5%

71.7%

76.6%

79.6%

79.2%

84.5%

86.5%

When we just consider Extra Points, kickers have always converted at a high rate, never dipping below the 92% of 1978. But even missing 8% of XP added enough uncertainty to make it somewhat suspenseful. There hasn’t been much suspense in the last 2 decades. In 2013, kickers missed only 5 of the 1,267 attempted XP. Speaking for myself, I feel imminently comfortable heading off to the kitchen for a refill during XP – a statement I can’t make for any other play in football. In short, Goodell is right. There is no excitement in an extra point – it no longer adds either entertainment or competitive value to the games.

My aim is not to provide a solution, though there are a number being bandied about: eliminate XP altogether; move XP back to the 20 (which would come close to the conversion rate from 1973), etc. I’m sure others might have better solutions. But the reality is that the game has changed, and thus some rule changes are also be in order. I would also argue that we might also think about some changes to FGs - perhaps narrowing the goal posts – to make the choices on coaches just a little harder, to make restore an element of strategy that has diminished a bit, and to put a premium on those kickers who truly "Split ‘em."

That we are having this discussion is a testament to the great skill and dedication of the specialists. From long snappers, to holder, to kickers, to the coaches, the advances have been remarkable. But as a final bit of food for thought – how much are you truly willing to pay Bailey, who over his career has made 91% of his FG, compared to a league that averages almost 87%? If everyone makes FGs, the skill becomes increasingly a commodity, in which economical use of resources might trump a few percentage points of accuracy or yards of distance.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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