Measured Properly, Bears Kicker Robbie Gould is Most Accurate Kicker in NFL History

The National Football League ranks kickers in terms of their field goal accuracy.  All field goal attempts are not equally difficult, however.  An attempt from 52 yards is much less likely to be successful than an attempt from 22 yards.  Fortunately the NFL also maintains records on field goal attempts and successes from distances of 10-19 yards, 20-29 yards, 30-39 yards, 40-49 yards and 50-59 yards.  Using these data it is possible to calculate a measure of field goal accuracy that adjusts for differences in the lengths of the field goals attempted by each kicker.  I have computed these rates for the 12 most accurate kickers of all time and then re-ranked them in terms of “adjusted accuracy”.  The kicker that benefits the most by such an adjustment is the Bears’ Robbie Gould.  Using this preferred measure of field goal accuracy it is clear that Robbie Gould is the best kicker in NFL history.

On average, top kickers attempt roughly equal numbers of field goals from 20-29, 30-39 and 40-49 yard distances (about 30% from each group), 2% from inside the 20 yard line and 8% from 50 yards or beyond.  Gould’s adjusted accuracy moves him above Nate Kaeding and Mike Vanderjagt because the Bears have been less successful than other top teams at getting into the Red Zone since he has been on the team.  Only 26.4% of Gould’s field goals were attempted from inside the 30 yard line compared to 32.0% for Vanderjagt and 36.7% for Kaeding.   The ineffectiveness of the Bears’ offenses over the years means that Gould has attempted more lengthy field goals than his peers.  Gould has NEVER missed a field goal from inside the 30 yard line in his NFL career (now in its 8th season).   Had Gould been able to attempt field goals more similar in length to his peers, he would be considered the most accurate kicker in NFL history.

Oddly, 7 weeks into the 2012 season, Gould and Rob Bironas of the Titans have both attempted 231 field goals and made 199 of them.  Bironas’ adjusted accuracy is 1.2% lower than Gould’s because Bironas has attempted easier field goals than Gould.  Bears fans should petition the NFL to change the way in which field goal accuracy is computed.  Quarterbacks are rated based on completion percentages, yards and other measures of passing proficiency.  There is no reason why NFL kickers should only be evaluated by their completion percentages.

Adjusted Rank Kicker Adjusted Accuracy Unadjusted Rank
1 Robbie Gould 86.96% 3
2 Nate Kaeding 86.86% 1
3 Mike Vanderjagt 86.67% 2
4 Shayne Graham 85.84% 4
5 Rob Bironas 85.76% 5
6 Connor Barth 85.08% 6
7 Garrett Hartley 84.14% 8
8 Ryan Longwell 83.76% 12
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