Over the past few weeks here at CBSSports.com, we’ve been putting out our annual top-10 ranking for each position group in the NFL.
Fromto to to , we’ve been ranking everyone, and as we do every year, we’ve saved the best for last: kickers and punters. At least, I think that’s why we saved them for last. No one was really clear about it, so I’m just going to assume this is a classic “save the best for last” scenario. We’ve got our ranking of kickers coming at you first, and then later this week, we’ll be unveiling our list of the top 10 punters.
Ranking NFL kickers is pretty easy — at least at the top — because all you have to do is put Justin Tucker at No. 1 and then go from there. Tucker is actually one of three kickers from the AFC North that cracked the top 10 this year, which basically means that if you need a fantasy kicker this year, you should probably look to the AFC North. They know what they’re doing there.
Alright, let’s get to the rankings.
Just missed: Tyler Bass (Bills), Jason Sanders (Dolphins), Graham Gano (Giants)
Some players get worse with age, but not Folk, who arguably had the best year of his career with the Patriots in 2021, despite the fact it was his 15th season.
Folk hit 92.3% of his kicks in 2021, which made him the fifth-most accurate kicker in the NFL last year. That followed a 2020 season where he hit 92.9% of his field goals, which makes him one of just three kickers in the NFL to hit 92% of his field goals in each of the past two seasons (Younghoe Koo and Daniel Carlson are the others)
Folk showed off his value last season during a Week 15 game against the Titans, when he kicked five field goals en route to scoring 18 of New England’s 36 points in a 36-13 win. At 37, Folk might not last much longer in the NFL, but he could extend his NFL career if he keeps playing like he did last season when he went a perfect 35-for-35 from inside 53 yards. (Folk only missed three kicks on the season and they were all from 54 yards or longer.)
Gould has been so good for so long that it’s impossible to keep him off this list. Over the course of his 17-year career, Gould has made 86.6% of his field goals, which makes him the seventh-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Although he missed four games due to injury in 2021, which caused him to slightly struggle, it should be noted that he’s one of the most clutch postseason kickers in NFL history. Gould has attempted 21 career field goals in the playoffs and he’s MADE THEM ALL, which means he holds the NFL record for most postseason field goals without a miss.
If you watched the 49ers in the playoffs last season, then you know why Gould is so valuable. In the divisional round, he booted the 49ers to a stunning win over the Packers with a 45-yard field goal as time expired.
Although Gould’s accuracy numbers have slightly waned in the regular season over the past few years, he continues to be as good as Gould in the playoffs.
There’s only one kicker on this list who’s coming off his rookie season and that’s McPherson, who just completed possibly the most impressive rookie year in NFL history.
McPherson might have been the most clutch kicker in the NFL last year and he proved that in the playoffs when he hit 14 field goals, which tied Adam Vinatieri’s record for most field goals ever in a single postseason. However, McPherson’s playoff performance was arguably even more impressive because he didn’t miss a single kick (Vinatieri went 14-for-15 during his postseason run).
Of those 14 makes, two were game-winners, including a field goal against the Chiefs that sent the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 33 years.
McPherson’s 14 postseason field goals are the third most in NFL playoff history without a miss (only Robbie Gould and Chris Boswell have more).
One reason the Bengals love McPherson is because of his booming leg. During the 2021 season, McPherson hit nine field goals of 50 yards or more. Not only did that lead the NFL, but it was just one off the NFL record for most field goals of 50 yards or more in a single season.
If McPherson did have one weakness in 2021, it was hitting kicks from between 40 and 49 yards. Of the 17 kickers who attempted at least nine field goals from that range, McPherson had the second-worst conversion percentage (66.7%). Of course, he was just a rookie, so it won’t be surprising if he improves upon that number in 2022.
The good news for the Bengals is that he’s still hitting clutch kicks for them even though it’s the offseason.
Including the playoffs, the Bengals kicker hit a total of five game-winning field goals last season.
McPherson set several franchise records during his rookie season. Not only did he hit the longest field goal in team history (58), but he also broke the record for most CAREER playoff field goals at 14. Before McPherson came along, no Bengals kicker had ever hit more than nine career playoff field goals.
The Eagles kicker is cracking this list for the first time after a career-best year in 2021. Last season, Elliott was one of just three kickers in the NFL who hit at least 90% of his field goals while making every single one of his extra point attempts (Justin Tucker and Younghoe Koo were the others).
The bounce-back season was huge for Elliott, who wasn’t very popular in Philadelphia following a 2020 season where he hit just 73.7% of his field goals. Fortunately for Elliott, that’s really the only bad season he’s had in his five-year career.
The most impressive part of Elliott’s 2021 season might have been the fact that he didn’t miss a single kick on the road, going a perfect 15-for-15.
If last season proved one thing, it’s that having a clutch kicker can play a large part in whether a team gets to the Super Bowl. A big reason the Bengals made the Super Bowl was because of Evan McPherson, and a big reason the Rams made it was because of Matt Gay.
During the Rams’ run to the Super Bowl, Gay kicked not one, but two game-winning field goals during the playoffs. First, he beat the Buccaneers with a 30-yard field goal as time expired in the divisional round, then followed that up with another 30-yard game-winner against the 49ers that came with under two minutes to play in the NFC title game.
Gay’s playoff performances capped off a 2021 season where he was one of the best kickers in the NFL. During the regular season, Gay hit 94.1% of his field goals, which ranked second in the NFL, behind only Justin Tucker. Gay also made 98% of his extra points (48 of 49), which was the second-highest total out of the group of 11 kickers who attempted 45 or more on the season.
Although Gay struggled during his rookie year with the Buccaneers in 2019, he’s slowly put that behind him to become one of the best kickers in the NFL.
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5. Daniel Carlson, Raiders
Carlson was originally drafted by the Vikings in 2018, and they’re probably kicking themselves right now for letting him go. The Raiders kicker has been in the NFL for four seasons and he’s gotten better every year, including last season, when he drilled 93% of his field goals, which ranked fourth in the NFL. Carlson is one of just four kickers in the NFL who has hit at least 90% of his field goals in each of the past two seasons.
Not only is he accurate, but he’s good from long range, hitting 11 of 12 field goal attempts from beyond 50 yards over the past two years. The Raiders clearly know what kind of weapon they have in Carlson, which might explain why he led the NFL in field goal attempts last season with 43. Carlson ended up making 40 of those kicks, which is tied for the second-most field goals ever made in a single-season.
Carlson was a big reason the Raiders made the playoffs last season. Not only did he go 5-for-5 in the team’s regular season finale against the Chargers, but he won the game with a 47-yard field goal.
Carlson scored 150 points in 2021, which was tied for the most in the NFL. Last season marked the second-straight year that he tied for the league lead in points. Carlson’s career field goal percentage of 87.2% makes him the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
4. Younghoe Koo, Falcons
Since taking over the Falcons starting job in 2019, Koo has been one of the best kickers in the NFL. In 2021, he was the third most accurate kicker in the NFL with a field goal percentage of 93.9%, which is even more impressive when you consider that Koo is the ONLY kicker in the NFL who has hit more than 93% of his field goals in EACH of the past two seasons.
Koo was also one of just THREE kickers in the NFL in 2021 who hit 90% or more of his field goal attempts and 100% of his extra points (Justin Tucker and Jake Elliott were the others).
His impressive 2021 came one year after a 2020 season that was just as impressive. The Falcons kicker got voted to the Pro Bowl in 2020 after a season where he hit 37 of 39 field goals, including 8 of 8 from beyond 50 yards. Koo has actually been nearly perfect from long range in his career, hitting 13 of 14 attempts. Over the course of his career, Koo has hit exactly 90% of his field goals, which makes him the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Despite the fact that he’s only been in the league since 2017, Butker has already proven himself to be one of the best kickers. And if he keeps playing the way he’s playing, he might soon be at the top of this list. In five seasons with the Chiefs, Butker has hit 90.1% of his field goals (146 of 162), which makes him the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history behind only Justin Tucker.
Not only is Butker accurate, but he’s shown that he can be clutch from long range, which isn’t something you can say about every kicker in the NFL. In 2020, he hit a 58-yard game-winning field goal against the Chargers that still stands as the second-longest overtime field goal in NFL history. Butker actually hit two different 58-yard field goals in that game, making him one of only two kickers in NFL history to hit multiple kicks from 58 yards or longer in a game.
The Chiefs kicker also showed off his booming leg in Kansas City’s Super Bowl LV loss to the Buccaneers. In that game, he became the first and only kicker in NFL history to hit multiple field goals of 49 yards or more in a Super Bowl.
If there is one knock on Butker, it’s that he has been known to struggle with his extra points, but he improved in that area last season. In 2021, Butker hit 95.9% of his extra points, which was the second-highest total of his career.
2. Chris Boswell, Steelers
Back in 2018, nearly everyone in Pittsburgh wanted to see the Steelers release Boswell after a disastrous season where he hit just 65% of his field goals.
The Steelers decided to keep their kicker despite the plea from fans, and the gamble definitely paid off because Boswell has been one of the best kickers in the NFL over the past three years. Boswell has hit 90% or more of his field goals in each of the past three seasons, which makes him the ONLY kicker in the NFL who has pulled that off.
Boswell took center stage for the Steelers in Week 18 when he kicked them to the playoffs with an overtime game-winner against the Ravens.
In 2020, he hit 19 of 20 field goals, which is even more impressive when you consider that his only miss came from 59 yards out.
Boswell was one of the NFL’s best kickers during his first three years in the league (2015-17), and he’s returned to that form over the past three years, which seems to indicate that the 2018 season was an anomaly. One other reason Boswell is ranked so high is because he’s never missed a single field goal in the playoffs. Over the course of his career, Boswell is 16 of 16, which is the second-most field goals in postseason history without a miss.
One reason it can be difficult to rank kickers is because many of them are kicking in different environments, and you could argue that no one has to kick in a more difficult environment than Boswell. Despite that, he’s put up impressive numbers over his career, which is another reason why he’s so high on this list.
1. Justin Tucker, Ravens
It’s not often that you talk about a kicker being a lock for the Hall of Fame, but Justin Tucker is getting close to being in that category after 10 NFL seasons. Although the Pro Football Hall of Fame has only inducted two true kickers — Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen — in its 59-year existence, Tucker is making a strong case for being the third (or fourth, if Adam Vinatieri gets in), so needless to say, he’s at the top of our best kicker list.
Being a great kicker in the NFL comes down to one main thing, and that’s the ability to make field goals. No one does that better than Tucker. Over the course of his career, he’s made 91.1% of his kicks, which makes him the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Tucker’s accuracy numbers would be even higher if the Ravens didn’t regularly trot him out for crazy kicks. Over the course of his career, the Ravens have asked him to attempt six field goals of 61 yards or more (he’s 2 of 6 on those kicks).
Of course, the reason the Ravens have him attempting such crazy kicks is because he sometimes makes them — like he did back in October when he hit an NFL record 66-YARD FIELD GOAL to beat the Lions.
The longest field goal in NFL history before that kick was 64 yards, which was kicked by Matt Prater back in 2013. To put Tucker’s kick in perspective, NFL kickers are 1-for-31 all-time when attempting a field goal from 65 yards or more.
The crazy thing about Tucker is that he actually seems to be getting better with age. Not only did he lead the NFL in field goal percentage last season (94.6%), but he also made every single one of his extra points. Not to mention, there’s no one more clutch than Tucker, who has made 58 STRAIGHT field goals that were attempted in either the fourth quarter or overtime.
The Ravens kicker has been voted a first-team All-Pro a total of five times, which is wildly impressive when you consider that no other kicker has done it three times. Also, Tucker is a scoring machine who has scored at least 130 points in six straight seasons, which is an NFL record.
At 32 years old, Tucker is still young by kicking standards, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him play eight to 10 more seasons.