Estimating The Monetary Value of a Star NFL Kicker

By Max Mulitz

 

Now that the NFL has completely disincentivized kicking touchbacks, the value of a Place Kicker falls almost entirely into his Field Goal kicking ability. Using this awesome paper from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, we can estimate the seasonal value of an elite kicker.

In each of the past three seasons, teams have averaged 1.9 FG attempts per game.  A top-10 kicker over the sample of the paper was worth about 0.1 points per field goal attempt above average. If we set a replacement level at bottom 3rd of the 55 player sample, then replacement level is about -0.06 points added per kick, so a top-10 kicker is worth about .2 points a game above average and maybe .3 points a game above replacement level. The best kicker in the sample was Rob Bironas, who was worth .262 points per kick above average. For the sake of a thought experiment, we can imagine an uber kicker who is the greatest kicker ever and is worth .3 points per kick above average, with kickers improving throughout the league, it may be unlikely we ever see this player, but this acts as a good fill in for the possible ceiling for a kickers’ value. This uber kicker would be worth just under .6 points per game above replacement. The following table shows these estimates extrapolated to a 16-game season, assuming 2 attempts per game.

Per the HSAC’s Pythagorean won loss formula, about 36 points equals a win, so the hypothetical best kicker possible is worth a quarter of a win per season and 0.3 wins per season over replacement and a top 10 kicker is worth about 0.08 wins per year.

In terms of betting lines, a team that is a 9.5 point favorite in a given game is 81.1% likely to win the game, so if we imagined all the value of our Uber kicker compressed into one game he would be worth ~.3 wins, very similar to our estimate. 3 Point favorites win 59.4% of the time, so if we imagined all of the value of a top 10 kicker in a season concentrated into one game he would be worth .09 wins per year, again mirroring our earlier estimate.

Using our Season Win Probability Model, we can find some equivalent values for .3 and .1 wins per season.

.3 Wins is Equal to… .1 Win is equal to…
Improving Offensive or Defensive Yards/Carry by   .3 Improving Offensive or Defensive Yards/Carry by .1
Improving Offensive or Defensive sack rate by 1.2 sacks/100 Improving Offensive or Defensive sack rate by .4 sacks/100
Improving Offensive or Defensive Yards/Attempt by .2 Improving Offensive or Defensive Passing Yards/Attempt by .06

Basically, any player that provides even a marginal improvement in the running or passing game is as valuable as a very good kicker. Further, the ability of a kicker to provide surplus value is limited by the low ceiling for even the best kicker imaginable.

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