Thursday, December 15

Kick me

I have two central theses to advance:

1) Phil Dawson is very good at kicking field goals
2) The all-time list of kickers by accuracy is a strange place.

First, Mr. Dawson, the only Brown remaining from the return to the league in '99. People joke about how Dawson is our MVP because of how bad Cleveland has been, but the sarcastic praise obscures what a tremendous run he's had in Cleveland. Look at the list and notice that Dawson is 12th all-time in field goal accuracy. All-time. That's impressive enough, but then consider how many of those kicks he's had to execute on the less-than-forgiving fields of the AFC North, not least his home turf by the swirling winds of Lake Erie. Remember, those FG's he made in the snow against Buffalo in '07 (at :35 and 1:50 of the video) count exactly the same as a Mike Vanderjagt 25-yarder in the RCA Dome did.

Look at the 11 guys ahead of Dawson on the accuracy list. We've got domers (Kaeding, Vanderjagt, Hartley), novices (Hartley, Barth), and warm-weather guys (Barth, Bryant, Bironas). The only two tough-weather guys ahead of #4 are Shayne Graham and Robbie Gould, and even Graham had a year in Carolina and Miami to boost the stats. Looking at these numbers, it's hard not to be impressed with Dawson's career (and, for that matter, Gould's).

The other thing this list demonstrates is: kickers have gotten way, way, way better. 23 of the top 27 all-time in accuracy are active kickers. Think about that. The worst active NFL kicker is Washington second-year man Graham Gano, and he's 79th. You know, better than all nine kickers in the Hall of Fame.

Let's run that back: the worst kicker in the NFL today, percentage-wise, is more accurate than any NFL kicker currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Amazing. Granted, the others mostly all played legitimate positions in addition to kicking, but my goodness. Legendary Browns kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza was just under 55% - he would get cut from any NFL team in a week kicking like that, forget the nickname.

The only pure kicker in the HoF is Jan Stenerud, who introduced soccer-style kicking to American Football (every kicker now in college and the NFL now kicks that way) and even endorsed a line of kicking tees, one of which I owned as a youngster. In his 19-year career, Stenerud kicked at just under 67%, or two out of every three, again pretty lame by modern standards.

I wonder if another kicker will ever be inducted. I mean, just how good do you have to be? If Dawson puts in another seven years of highly productive, accurate kicking in tough conditions, do you think about him then? What about Matt Stover, 8th all-time in accuracy and 4th in points, and with stints in Cleveland and Baltimore? Adam Vinatieri, 10th all-time in points and 14th in accuracy and with some huge postseason kicks? What about Shane Lechler, easily the best punter of my lifetime? Ray Guy has been a finalist and Lechler's career has been more impressive, after all.

I'm frankly not sure how the HoF should handle this - maybe a separate wing to honor the best specialty players? Either way, I think we can all agree that modern kickers have come a long way, and Phil Dawson stands out among them.

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