When Daniel Carlson was listed among the semi-finalists for the Lou Groza award last week, no Auburn fan was surprised. After all, he's #LEGATRON to us and Gus Malzahn has confidence in him once the offense crosses the 35, saying "he's got to be one of the best place kickers in college football."
But just how do you compare place kickers? You could simply count up how many points they've earned for their teams, but surely you should penalize a kicker for misses. So you could look at field goal percentage, but long misses shouldn't be counted the same as short misses and long made field goals shouldn't be counted the same as short ones. What if there was some mythical "average" kicker everyone could be compared to?
There he is. Somewhere in the green and red above is the average kicker of the last ten years.
Using data from fbsdrivestats.com, I got the distance of every made and missed field goal attempt since 2005 in FBS vs FBS games. Teams have attempted 515 20-yard field goals (from the 3 yard line), making 491 and missing 26. Notice how the total bounces between 600 and 800 between 21 and 47-yard attempts with the misses steadily climbing. Then there's a sudden drop off for any attempts further than that (coaches clearly abide by ESPN's field goal range line) with only a handful of attempts past 57 yards.
This is a better look at that "average" kicker.
This chart shows the average points made per field goal attempt. If the average kicker made 50% of his kicks from the 47, then he effectively earned 1.5 points per attempt from that distance. Obviously, the shorter the kick, the better the odds of making it. Now, it gets a little choppy past the 40 and really bad past the 50 once sample size becomes a problem, but I think it's still useful.
How, you ask? Imagine a field goal attempt from the 10 yard line, a 27-yard attempt. The average kicker earns 2.04 points per attempt from this distance, but in one play, the kicker can only earn either three or zero points. If he makes it, he earns 0.96 points better than average. If he misses, 2.04 points worse than average.
Further out, a 52-yard attempt from the 35 averages 1.41 points, meaning an attempt from that distance is good less than half the time. On a particular attempt, the kicker can earn three points, 1.59 points over average, or miss it and earn zero points, 1.41 under average.
For now, I'm calling this stat Field Goal Points Over Average (FGPOA). In this way, we can measure how much better making a long field goal is than a short one and how much worse missing a short one is than making a long one.
So how do the 2015 place kickers stack up? Below is a table of every team's FGPOA. There's a total version (tFGPOA) that sums up all of a team's points over average and an average version (aFGPOA) that measures a team's points over average per attempt. Simply put, the former takes the number of attempts into consideration and the latter does not.
It should be useful in most cases, but understand that if a team has attempted field goals with more than one kicker, it is a measure of the team's success only, not any individual kicker.
Even worse, these numbers do not take games against FCS teams into consideration. I did not realize that until this article was nearly done. I'm not going to fill in FCS games for all 128 teams, but I will for the best kickers in a few weeks.
* = Lou Groza Award Semi-Finalist
|Offense||Attempts||Total Point over Avg||rk||Avg Points over Avg||rk|
|San Diego St.||13||1.34||58||0.10||60|
|San Jose St.||9||-2.20||97||-0.24||104|
|New Mexico St.||13||-4.69||111||-0.36||115|
|North Carolina St.||9||-6.18||118||-0.69||122|
Congrats to LSU's Trent Domingue, who through Week 10, leads the country in aFGPOA. It turns LSU is the only team to not miss a field goal so far this year, a perfect 10/10. Ten attempts isn't a lot, but there's something to be said about being perfect.
And congrats to UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbairn, through Week 10, leads the country in tFGPOA. He has made 15 of his 16 attempts, including the season's longest.
Now wait. Where's Daniel Carlson? I mean, #LEGATRON!!! Four of five past 50 yards! How can this be???
Maybe this will help.
This shows the distance of each of Carlson's 19 FBS field goal attempts sorted by game. Green circles were good and red circles were missed. The size of the circle represents how far the result was from average. Make a 50-yarder? That's a big, green circle. Miss a 20-yarder? That's a big, red circle.
Yes, Carlson has made lots of long field goals this year, but unfortunately he also has two short misses.
The image below shows the top ten teams in total and average FGPOA (15 total teams).
So, at least according to this measurement, Carlson was rightly named a semi-finalist. He's arguably one of the best 15 kickers in the country. Can he climb the rankings over the next three games? Well, he was ranked 18th in total FGPOA before the A&M game, but four made field goals propelled him up to 8th, so a few more big games can help a lot. He also is the only kicker with four made field goals of 50 yards or more. UCLA's Fairbairn has two. No one else shown here has more than one.
In a few weeks, when the finalists are announced, we'll take a look at how the "average" kicker performs late in the fourth quarter and when a lead change is on the line. It might add some "clutchness" to the rating. And eventually, I want to look back at some of the best and worst teams of the last 11 years.
But for now, I'll just leave this word of advice for Auburn's special teams. Watch out for Idaho. Kicker Austin Rehkow is 18/21, ranks in the top 30 in FGPOA, and joins Carlson as a Lou Groza semi-finalist. But don't worry too much about Georgia and Alabama, who both rank in the 100s. War Eagle!