Just one year after being drafted in the late second round, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo is now the face the “why would you use a top-150 pick on a special teams player” take, officially surpassing Bryan “drafted before Russell Wilson” Anger. In Aguayo’s rookie season, he only made 4 of 11 kicks of over 40 yards. After missing on his only extra point attempt and a 47-yard field goal on Tampa’s last drive of the night, general manager Jason Licht waived Aguayo following just the first preseason game of the kicker’s sophomore season in the NFL.
The Twitter takes flowed. Many came out and said that they would never use a second-round pick on a special teams player. Many people are missing the point on the Aguayo evaluation. Many thought that Aguayo was a generational kicker. Licht called him “the best kicker in the history of college football.” He wasn’t anything close to that. The evaluations were wrong.
While special teams are boring to the casual fan, the value of kicking in the NFL is incredibly important. The top 36 scorers in league history are all kickers. In 10 NFL seasons, Mason Crosby has scored more points than Jerry Rice, the league’s top non-kicker in the category, did in his 20 seasons as a professional receiver. According to Bet Labs, about one-fourth to one-fifth of NFL games are decided by three points or fewer, with the deciding factors in those games mostly coming down to kickers. Despite those facts, very rarely are kickers featured in draft coverage. Even rarer are educated opinions of kickers.
Let’s take a couple of moments to look at what kicking looks like in the NFL, to give you the framework that evaluators should have compared Aguayo to coming out of Florida State.
Kicking percentage is similar to completion percentage. It’s a way to measure efficiency, but not the level of difficulty of an attempt. Sam Bradford broke the completion percentage record last year, but the Minnesota Vikings were just 31st in yards per completion, which also doesn’t take into account of yards after the catch.
We know it’s harder to accomplish athletic tasks the further away you are from the target. We can measure it in the NBA with a three-point line and separate two-point and three-point percentages. It’s not that easy to measure accuracy through the scope of distance in the passing game, though good friend of Setting the Edge Cian Fahey is trying to quantify it through film study.
The effort it takes to quantify kicking distance and to assign relative skill to specific distances is much closer to the two-point, three-point split of basketball than football’s passing game. We measure the distance of every kick. While websites don’t post efficiency numbers (percentages) of NFL kickers in certain areas of the field, they do post the volume numbers (makes/misses.) Here are the numbers for the NFL’s combined made and attempted field goals in the 2016 season.
|<20 Made||<20 Attempted||20-29 Made||20-29 Attempted||30-39 Made||30-39 Attempted||40-49 Made||40-49 Attempted||50+ Made||50+ Attempted|
If we wanted to make a relative scale for success rate in these areas, it wouldn’t be hard. The data is asking to be used. If we multiplied the success rate by three points, the same value of a field goal, we would get the “expected” point value of an attempt in those ranges. Through that lens, it would be easy to identify which teams were underperforming or overperforming in the kicking game last season, be it in specific ranges of the field or overall.
|Range||Made Percentage||Expected Points|
The data is clear: Field goal kicking is harder the further out you go. That’s not shocking. What that does mean is that a 50-yard field goal, with a success percentage of 56.67%, shouldn’t be treated the same as a field goal under 20 yards, with a success percentage of 100.00%. Disregarding the traditional “field goal percentage” numbers and moving toward a model that measures performance relative to “expected” numbers gives us a better look at which field goal percentages were simply just over inflated by low-difficulty attempts.
|New York Giants||5.42||2.16||3.26|
|Los Angeles Rams||1.48||2.80||-1.32|
|San Francisco 49ers||1.12||1.94||-0.82|
|Kansas City Chiefs||0.18||-3.76||3.94|
|New England Patriots||-0.36||-2.76||2.40|
|New Orleans Saints||-0.42||-2.48||2.06|
|New York Jets||-0.76||-1.82||1.06|
|Green Bay Packers||-1.27||-1.59||0.32|
|Los Angeles Chargers||-4.87||1.27||-6.14|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||-15.20||-1.70||-13.50|
Above are the numbers on NFL kicking games in 2016. Any positive number is earned points above expectations. Any negative number is lost points below expectations. The reason for the split of field goals of 40 yards or more and 39 yards or less is that when you look at the execution numbers, that is where you see by far the most variation league-wide.
On kicks of under 40 yards, there were only five teams that had a difference of more than just one field goal compared to what was expected. On kicks of 40 yards or more, there were seventeen. The most successful (+4.32 points) and unsuccessful (-3.76 points) teams in the short kicking game relative to expectations couldn’t come close to touching the variance between the most successful (+21.68 points) and unsuccessful (-13.50 points) teams in the long kicking game.
The standard deviation of the efficiency of teams on kicks of under 40 yards is 2.91 points. The standard deviation of the efficiency of teams on kicks of 40 yards or more is 6.33 points. Kicks of 40 yards or longer have 218% of the variance of kicks of under 40 yards. What makes or breaks NFL kicking games is their ability to connect on long kicks, not short kicks. For the most part, it’s the sole factor in deciding if a team has a good or bad year in that unit. It makes or breaks careers.
In Aguayo’s rookie season, the Buccaneers were 13.50 points under expectation in kicks of over 40 yards, 3.68 points worse than any other team in the league. The issue with holding up Aguayo as the reason that specialists shouldn’t be drafted at all is that you would have to assume that this couldn’t have been predicted before he played an NFL game. That’s simply not true. Aguayo also struggled with deep kicking in his college career.
Above is a list of all of the kickers drafted since 2014, players who theoretically should still be on their rookie contracts, sorted by their points scored on kicks of 40 yards or more relative to NFL expectations. Aguayo cost Florida State 6.76 points in deep kicking in his last year with the Seminoles, despite most running with the “generational talent” narrative that spun from a three-time First-Team All-American kicker declaring for the draft as a junior. From a volume perspective, only three non-Buccaneers teams left more “expected” points on the board in the deep kicking game last year than Aguayo did at Florida State. Two of them (Cincinnati-Jake Elliott, Cleveland-Zane Gonzalez) drafted kickers in the 2017 draft.
Aguayo was a poor deep kicker in his last year in Tallahassee by NFL standards, let alone for a kicker who was asked to play to the standard of “the best kicker in the history of college football.” Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The “bust” of Aguayo should have been seen from miles away.
As a side project, I wanted to look at which college kicking prospects we should be keeping an eye out for in the 2018 draft. To do this, I set up a filter:
That left us with just three names.
|Jason Sanders||SR||New Mexico||5.08|