Justin Tucker’s FG Spray Chart
Last week, Justin Tucker became the highest paid kicker in the NFL, when he and his agent forced the Ravens hand at the deadline to extend players who were under the franchise tag. Under the franchise tag, Tucker would have earned just over $4.5M for 2016. However, he wouldn’t have the security of a long term contract. Even though long term contracts aren’t fully guaranteed, the guaranteed money is significantly higher over a longer term deal, as a percentage of the overall salary.
Tucker and his agent alerted the press that they “would not entertain further offers from the Ravens” if they did not meet the 4pm deadline the following day to extend him. The Ravens didn’t want to risk losing one of the best kickers in the game, locking him into a four-year, $16.8M deal with $10.8M guaranteed. He more than doubles his money from the franchise tag, even if he doesn’t play another NFL game.
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The $10.8M guaranteed is the highest among kickers, ahead of the Patriots Stephen Gostowski who earned $10.1M in his deal a year ago. The 32-year-old Gostowski is slight ahead of Tucker, 26, in average annual value at $4.3M to Tucker’s $4.2M.
Tucker is a fan favorite and many are happy to see him locked in to Baltimore for multiple years to come. Given what he’s accomplished in his career to this point, I have no problem paying him dollars similar to the elite specialists in the game.
But kicking is finicky. Kickers are as volatile as closers in baseball, if not more. They can have it one week, lose it the next. Have it one year, lose it the next. Billy Cundiff was an All-Pro for Baltimore in 2010. 2011 came, and we know how that ended. Heartbreak. It led to the Ravens trying out Justin Tucker the following year, undrafted out of the University of Texas. Cundiff wound up looking for employment elsewhere when Tucker won the job during camp. What happened? Look around the league. Steven Hauschka is a guy the Ravens tried out before Cundiff. Didn’t really get the job done, moved on, and now with Seattle is among the most reliable kickers you’ll find. What happened? Before the Ravens found an All-Pro in Cundiff, he was passed around by eight different teams where he played, or got a tryout. What happened, that he went from not good enough to All-Pro, and back to not good enough, just like that? Graham Gano is another guy who never made the Ravens 53-man roster, but tried out for them. Eventually he landed in Carolina and was the top kickoff specialist among touchbacks generated a couple years back. The next year, he lost a lot of power on his kickoffs. What happened?
We hope Justin Tucker isn’t the next guy that we are left wondering, “what happened?”
Not all closers are Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman. Not all kickers are Matt Stover or Adam Vinatieri. More often than not a kicker is stumbled upon by accident. Just like closers. Jim Johnson and Zach Britton are two guys Baltimorians are more than familiar with. Two guys just given a shot at the job and stuck there for a while. Johnson was a Billy Cundiff, flash in the pan. Britton is no flash in the pan, but he has long way to go to reach the all time greats. His 97-98mph sinker is one of the most un-hittable pitches in baseball. He may be a Stover, Vinatieri like as far as specialists go when it’s all over, but time will tell.
Some kickers are on the radar so much as early as college that they get drafted. Tucker didn’t get drafted in 2012. He wasn’t on the radar like Sebastian Janikowski was years ago. Or Mike Nugent. Both of which are okay kickers. Not worth drafting, in my opinion. We’ll see how the Bucs do with Roberto Aguayo whom they even traded up to draft at number 59 overall in 2016.
It’s not an easy thing to do. Kicking involves more variables than pitching. Pitchers are always 60 feet 6 inches from their target. They are in complete control of the ball until it leaves their hand.
Kickers have to adjust for distance, left or right hash mark, down the middle, wind is also a factor. A snap has to be made. A poor one can throw off the timing. A holder has to spot the ball. “Laces out, Dan!”. They can be just as much to blame for a missed kick if the spot is off, or tilted a way the kicker doesn’t like. Then the kicker has to execute.
Can you even forecast what a kicker can do? Or do you sign the check over and hope for the best to continue being among the best? How does a Justin Tucker go undrafted when the afore mentioned kickers are taken very high in the draft? Even Gostowski was a fourth round pick. The Packers Mason Crosby was a sixth rounder. Are there trends that could lead teams to better predict future success of kickers. I don’t know, I don’t know If I’m going to find out, but here’s my best shot.
Below is a spray chart, of nearly every field goal kicked by Justin Tucker in his career. I compiled the data the best I could from the All-22 product to make my best guess where the ball crossed through, or past the uprights. In the chart I left off FG’s of under 30 yards (gimmies, chip shots). Also didn’t include PATs. About five kicks from 2012 did not make the chart either due to technical difficulties. But you’ll get the idea, and the most important part of this exercise to me, focuses on the 2014-2015 seasons.
What does this mean? Well, as you can see, most of Tucker’s misses from 2015 are to the right. So maybe it’s something he can work on when going over his mechanics. Five of his six misses from over 50 yards a year ago were off to the right. Even in the red, near miss range closest to the uprights, four of his five makes there were drifting right, all in the 40-49 yard range. He did have the one miss that hit the upright in 2015, but it was the one where the turf monster ate his plant foot in San Francisco. He gets a pass there.
But in 2014, the year before he was missing off to the right, four of his five misses from 50+ yards were missed left. Did he over compensate from long range in 2015? Can he find that happy middle in 2016?
It might help to have other kickers spray charts to compare. But I am only one man. It doesn’t look to me like Tucker hits that green range, the strike zone if you will, from long distance often. Long distance is where he’s had his problems of late, missing from 50+ yards 11 times in the last two seasons. How important is it to hit it down the middle anyway? A made field goal just that, even if it sneaks in. Look at the 2013 ones denoted in red letters.
In 2013, the All-Pro Season Tucker had, he snuck two 50+ yard FGs just inside the left upright. Even a 30 yarder and two 40+ yarders were just barely made, sneaking inside the left upright. He even missed his only field goal from under 40 yards in his career in this All-Pro season, shanking one left. But of the six that barely made it in the left side, is it possible that the difference in being an All-Pro, and being par for the course, is a matter of inches, a foot maybe? If he misses say, three of those six, is he an All-Pro? I don’t know. He didn’t miss them, but it’s close. The little guy at the bottom right is the 61-yard shot he made in the Monday night Detriot game where he went six for six. That one helped his case for All-Pro status, as well as leading the league in FGs made, going 38 for 41 on the season.
If anyone else can draw some conclusions from this chart, please, lend us your thoughts.
In the Ravens case, they didn’t have to lock up Tucker to a long term deal right now. He was going to kick in 2016 under the franchise tag. Tucker may not have been happy, but he would have been kicking for a long term contract, and thus the team would have likely gotten his absolute best. As if Tucker was auditioning for the rest of the NFL if he was actually serious about not entertaining offers from the Ravens if he remained franchised. The Ravens felt pressured and paid their guy, maybe saved themselves some money if Tucker has another All-Pro type season and Baltimore had to offer even more money to entice Tucker to go back on his words and actually remain here.
You just hope it was the right decision. It’s a little worrisome some of the trends Tucker is showing from long distance. He’s automatic from inside 40-yards. But kickers these days are supposed to be. League average in 2015 from 30-39 yards was 94.1%. In 2005 it was 85.3%. In 1995, 82.4%. 1985, 79.5%. 1975, a dismal 65.7%. These days It’s expected to be near perfect under 40-yards. Teams in 2015 were 75.7% from 40-49 yards, where Tucker has been 87.2% for his career. Teams were 65% from 50+ yards, where Tucker has been below average at 60%, and just 42.1% over the last two years that have trended down.
If Tucker goes the way of Billy Cundiff instead of Matt Stover, where he’s becomes bad enough that he needs to be replaced, he’ll have left the Ravens a relatively large lump of dead money on the salary cap. Money wrapped up in a specialist when there are question marks at some of the positions that score TDs, or prevent them.
All in all, Tucker has proven to be one of the best. He’s also made some clutch kicks for this team. 47-yards in double OT in the 2012 AFC Divisional round game, in frigid temps of Denver to win the game. 61-yards to win a must win game in order to keep playoff hopes a live in 2013, that eventually would not come to be. If it was easy to find a Justin Tucker, a handful of teams wouldn’t be changing kickers mid-season like they do. Until Tucker shows otherwise, he’s earned his money, and we should be happy to have him locked in for at least the next few years.
But it’s also ok to be on the edge of your seat when he’s called upon for a long shot, until proven otherwise.