This offseason I hope to take a look at some of Georgia Tech's units and try and see if we can learn anything about how their performance will change for 2014. An interesting piece, to me at least, of the puzzle for next year will be Harrison Butker's performance as a sophomore. So I decided to take a look at what kickers from the last 9 seasons can tell us about his possible performance next year.
In the past 9 seasons, 2005-2013, there were 484 different kickers that attempted at least 12 field goals in a season. The 12 field goals in a season limit was to try and limit our data set to only starting kickers. This led to 945 "kicker seasons" to analyze because some kickers are in the data set multiple times, being the starter for multiple years. To see how typical it was for a freshman to start I looked at the breakdown by class for all of the seasons. This study does not differentiate between redshirt and non-redshirt players.
|Percent of Total
So approximately 15 percent of starting kickers over the last 9 seasons were freshman or redshirt freshman, so Harrison Butker being a starter from day one is pretty atypical. Before we get any further lets see how Harrison Butker did perform this year:
|Average Kickoff Yards
This works out to a 71.4% field goal percentage, with a 96.1% extra point percentage. In addition Harrison was also our kickoff specialist. So how did the average freshman kicker do? Over the last 9 seasons freshman kickers made 72.1% of the field goals they attempted, however the average field goal percentage was 71.5 percent (average field goal percentage treats each kicker evenly, the first percentage just totals the field goal attempts and makes for all freshman kickers). So Harrison did pretty much exactly as well as one would expect as a freshman starting kicker. Since he performed about average as a freshman it would be reasonable to assume he would perform at about average as a Sophomore. Sophomore kickers over the last 9 seasons have made 72.4 percent of the field goals they have attempted (72.2% average field goal percentage). Each class made around 96% of their extra points. Here is the performance by each class over the same time frame.
So we really do not see that much improvement as a kicker gets older. How many field goals you make on average is more about talent than experience (duh) but I thought there would be a little more of an example of progress with something that is very skill based.
But we are forgetting something when it comes to predicting how well Harrison Butker will kick next year. He won't just be a Sophomore kicker, he will be a Sophomore kicker who also was a starting kicker as a freshman. That caveat could change our expectations, because kickers who were starting kickers as freshman and sophomores had to be good enough to kick in both years, not just as a sophomore. When we look at the performance of sophomore kickers who also started as freshman (so we removed 2013 freshman kickers from our data set because they haven't kicked as sophomores yet) we see some interesting results. Those kickers only made 71.8 percent of the field goals they attempted, about half a percentage point less than sophomore kickers overall. I would have pretty much guaranteed you that number would have been higher than average before this study began, so I have no idea why this effect exists. Being a sophomore kicker who also started as a freshman seems to hurt your expected performance.
There is one more effect I want to explore, and that is exploring the impact that being your team's kickoff specialist has on your field goal performance. Perhaps being the kickoff specialist means you are a better than average kicker, but it could also tire out your leg and lower your expected performance. Here are the results from 3 different categories; the field goal performance by class, field goal performance for kickers who also kicked off at least 12 times per season, and freshman kickers who kicked off at least 12 times their freshman season.
All Starters and
All Starters and Kickoff
Specialist as Freshman
So what can we expect moving forward from Harrison Butker? Not much improvement just simply based on being a year older and more experienced. In fact, the fact that he started as a freshman and also kicked off would seem to hurt him in any projection system you would make. But of course, there are a couple of caveats I would like to include about this study.
- Just because the average Field Goal kicker does not improve all that much from year to year doesn't mean Harrison won't. He could have fixed his technique, or improved upon his leg strength, or any number of things that this study doesn't even come close to looking at. All I am saying is that kickers who performed at Harrison's level in their freshman year don't improve all that much from year to year and don't outperform kickers who didn't start or kickoff as freshman.
- Not all field goals are created equally. Someone who hits 80% of their field goals but all from within 30 yards is probably not as good as someone who hits 70% all from 45+ yards out. But don't worry, I'm working on that :)
- The future performance of kickers who started as freshman is a little skewed beyond their performance as sophomores. There are some kickers who started in 2011 who aren't yet seniors and some in 2012 who aren't yet juniors, yet I just lumped them all into one group. It was easier, my apologies.
- And finally, there is some trend that field goal kickers are getting better. For instance removing the 2013 freshman from the freshman performance hurts the overall average, and the overall percentage has definitely increased since 2005, however so slightly. This could affect the overall results.