FanPost

Mr. Irrelevant? Try Mr. Important.

I recently read Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game – detailing one young man’s journey from the wrong side of the tracks to what we now know to be an eventual first round selection in the NFL draft. Michael Oher, the book’s protagonist, is said to be such a valuable asset to a football team due to his incredible combination of size, strength, and agility. Specifically, his unique set of physical attributes makes him an ideal candidate to play left tackle; a position which the author argues (and average NFL salaries support) is the second most important in professional football. The logic follows that as the passing game has increased in importance, so too has the value of the left tackle because good play by the left tackle is essential in allowing a quarterback to perform his duty. The quarterback’s duty is to throw touchdowns, and, as we all know, the team that scores the most touchdowns wins the game.

 

            But that’s not always the case. There is another way to score points in the game of football: namely, field goals. It has always baffled me as to why kickers get so little respect in the football universe. They are the constantly admonished for their small stature and berated for their follies - all the while their accomplishments being largely taken for granted.

 

Consider the following. Peyton Manning’s career completion percentage stands at 64.4%. Tom Brady’s is an even 63%. The active leader in completion percentage? Chad Pennington at a whopping 66%. Meanwhile, the 2007 NFL season saw 15 kickers average better than 85% on field goal attempts. Jeff Reed led the way for Pittsburgh with a 92% completion rate. Kickers, the unsung heroes of the NFL, are outperforming their quarterback counterparts. And it’s not just in completion percentage.

 

The fact of the matter is kickers score points – a lot of them. In 2008 the kicking game, and Ryan Succup specifically, accounted for exactly one third of South Carolina’s total points. Not possible you say? Believe it. Well, you might then reasonably assert that South Carolina’s offense was so putrid in 2008 that it is just not representative of football as a whole. You would only be half right. While kickers accrued fewer points across the SEC and NCAA as a whole, the percentage still hovers right around 25% (25% and 24%, respectively). In fact, we can see that the kicking game could be counted on for about 6.5 points per game on average across the NCAA while the passing and rushing games accounted for about 9.3 and 9.7, respectively.

 

  USC (2008) NCAA (2008 AVG.) SEC (2008 AVG.)
Kicking Points 6.92 6.48 6.28
Total Points 20.77 27.2 25.6
Kicking/ Total 0.33 0.24 0.25

 

  USC (2008) NCAA (2008 AVG.) SEC (2008 AVG.)
Passing Points 9.23 9.3 8.1
Total Points 20.77 27.2 25.6
Passing/ Total 0.44 0.34 0.32

 

 

  USC (2008) NCAA (2008 AVG.) SEC (2008 AVG.)
Rushing Points 3.23 9.72 9.06
Total Points 20.77 27.2 25.6
Rushing/ Total 0.16 0.36 0.35

 

Add a kicker’s point scoring ability to his other on-field duties and he is even more indispensable. A good kicker can neutralize the opponent’s ability to score on kick-off returns via touchbacks – a very real threat if the opponent has a Devin Hester-type player. In Succup’s case, his ability to handle punting duties as well further increases his value. In a close game field position takes on extra importance. An opponent pinned inside its own 10 yard line from a punt provides the punter’s team with a greater opportunity for scoring. Not only will the team likely have shorter distance to drive toward the goal once the ball is punted, the team will also have a chance to earn two points through a safety.

 

For some reason, few coaches seem to catch onto the importance of the kicking game in football. Lou Holtz, in particular, was infamous for his policy of refusing to allow a scholarship kicker on his teams. In the years under Holtz, the Gamecock teams (and fans) suffered because of it. So Kansas City fans, don’t make the mistake of thinking Ryan Succup is actually Mr. Irrelevant. Come August, he might just be the second most important player on the field.

 

           

Sources:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/pass_cmp_perc_career.htm

http://www.getlisty.com/wfaa/2007-nfl-leaders-field-goal-accuracy/

http://web1.ncaa.org/mfb/2008/Internet/trend/FBS_trend_conf_1.pdf

http://gamecocksonline.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/2008-2009/teamcume.html

FanPosts are user-submitted and are not always representative of the Garnet And Black Attack editorial staff.

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