Lets Stop With the Chicago Bears Kicker Bs...
EVERYBODY understands that the Bears 2018 season abruptly ended with the infamous "Double Doink." The Chicago Media and fan base have been holding onto the thought of Robbie Gould coming back to Chicago. I can't begin to explain how happy I am that Robbie signed a contract. It's the kind of 'closure' Chicago fans needed. Some fans were hanging on to the thought of Robbie coming back like a desperate ex. Sometimes you need to see them with someone else to move on.
It's easy to admit that Robbie was probably the most qualified candidate, and he did everything in his power to get back to Chicago. The reality is, it would have been damn near impossible to get Robbie Gould back to Chicago. As I said, he did what he could, but it was out of his control. The only way the Bears could have signed him is if San Fran removed the franchise tag, and he became an unrestricted free agent. San Fran wasn't going to let that happen. Even if they did, Robbie would have had to take a significant pay cut. The Bears aren't looking for a no-name kicker because they want to. The books are already tight, and adding another veteran kicker will be an absolute last resort for Chicago. They already have Parkey's $4 million of dead cap on the books so another vet, with a signing bonus, would put them close to $10 million for the year. People will say the Bears could have traded for Robbie, but I assume that Lynch was asking too steep a price. The last thing the Bears need to do is give up any more draft capital. There wasn't one reliable source that said the Bears engaged in any trade talk for Robbie Gould. It was all speculation, and now that the Robbie door has closed the media has focused on the kicking competition even more. Chicago media, please be better. The introductory presser for training camp was mainly about kickers. I know the season ended on a missed kick, and I understand how devastating that is. As a senior in high school, I watched our kicker shank an extra point in overtime. It was the quarterfinals and was the last game I ever played in. I've never blamed it on our kicker. Every time I think about the game, I picture the sack I missed. I didn't wrap up. I just tried to hit stick him, and that drive ended in a score. We should have never gone to overtime. Sorry to digress, let's get back to the kickers. I made a couple of graphs to put the kicking competition in perspective.
The graph above shows the 30 kickers with the most attempts in the history of the league. I did not go in-depth within their percentages, but you can assume they were all productive enough to have such long careers. A little less than half of the kickers were undrafted free agents, but when you look more closely, nineteen of them would be considered undrafted players in 2018. The draft has evolved, and now there is a maximum of 256 picks each year. Three of the players got selected past the 256th pick, one got drafted into the AFL as a redshirt player, and one player got drafted and waived. I know this doesn't tell the whole story, but it's hard to look past the numbers. 63.3% of the kickers with the most attempts in NFL history would have been UDFA's, in the current NFL draft format. To look more closely below is a chart of the kickers who attempted twenty or more field goals in 2018.
This chart features kickers from 2018 with twenty or more field goal attempts, draft status, career FG%, career FG% under 50 yards, and seasons played. I added the career FG% under 50 yards because the players with stronger legs attempted more long field goals, which dropped their percentages dramatically. 17 of the 27 kickers went undrafted, and two of the players got waived and picked up by another team. I am not going to say teams can't find a good kicker through the draft, but the most productive kickers are UDFA's. Nine of the players in this chart have played ten or more seasons. Only four of those players got drafted, and as a group, they haven't been as successful as the undrafted players. The undrafted kickers averaged 85.7% of their field goal attempts while the drafted players averaged 83%. The undrafted, ten year, kickers also had a slight edge from inside 50 yards with an 87.8% success rate to the drafted players 87.2%. I can take into account that a couple of the undrafted players have kicked in dome's, but Robbie Gould and Stephen Gostkowski's production is similar. They're the top two older vets, but Robbie was undrafted, and Gostkowski was a fourth-round pick. I'd never claim that Gostkowski was a bad pick, but I'd prefer to see the Bears use their fourth-round selections on guys like Eddie Jackson.
Looking at the chart, in its entirety, it's easy to see that UDFA kickers are more effective than kickers acquired through the draft. UDFA kickers also more common throughout the league, but this number is weighted for multiple reasons(less turnover, lower draft demand, 32 total kickers, ect.) Multiple factors play into the success of UDFA kickers. When any player goes undrafted, it decreases their chances of making a roster. It is easier for a team to let go of a player knowing they invested little money and no draft capital on them. A UDFA kicker knows that one bad day can ruin their opportunity to make the team. The constant fear of being cut helps develop mental toughness, a quality all kickers need. A lot of these players are picked up and dropped multiple times and used as camp legs. Only a few of them land a roster spot. Constantly proving your ability, and beating out other kickers should give a kicker the confidence he needs if he earns a job. There are a lot of players with the physical skill sets to kick, but its the mental side that makes or breaks a kicker.
I hope this article gives Bears fans more perspective on how UDFA kickers have faired throughout the NFL. Paying for a veteran kicker would be a less dramatic way to fill the spot, but kicking competitions have proven to be extremely effective. Chicago fans just have to hope the Bears scouts have gotten better at evaluating kickers. If not, at least their won't be a financial tie to the player that makes it harder to cut him mid-season.