I saw the post defending Prater and it raised some questions in my mind.
1. How did Prater compare to the rest of the league last year?
2. How does Prater compare to the rest of the league over the past decade?
3. Does he bring advantages to outweigh any of his flaws?
Read on to find out more about our place kicker and whether or not we should be looking for a replacement...
Prater has been the Broncos starting kicker since 2008. His career number look like this in terms of FG performance. Prater has actually missed two XPs - but I think one was blocked.
Prater'c career accuracy
We see that Prater during his career has been horrible hitting on distances from 40-49 yards, while he has been great from 50 or more yards out. Prater's career FG% is 79.1% (that includes his brief stint with the Falcons). Ok, but how did the rest of the league do last year and how has the league down over the past decade. We need to put his accuracy into context.
League-wide 2012 FG accuracy
League-wide over the past decade
Ok, so now we see why Prater has started to catch some flack. He is below average overall in terms of accuracy. Over the past decade FGs have been hit at 82.2% and Prater is at 79.1% for his career - below average. Over the past decade the league average accuracy from 40-49 yards out is 73.9%. Prater's career accuracy from that range is 57.8%. Prater is probably the worst kicker in the league from that range over the past decade. If you focus on last year there were three other kickers who had problems from that distance Bironas (5 of 10), Akers (7 of 13) and Gostkowski (9 of 13). However, each of those guys has been much better throughout their careers than Prater from 40-49: Bironas 77.4%, Akers 68.1% and Gostkowski 70.9%. Additionally it is not like Prater has had one bad year from this distance to mess up his average. He has been poor from 40-49 yards throughout his career. in his first two seasons (07 and 08) he was a combined 5-14 from this range. In 09 and 10 he was a combined 12 of 15 (80% which would be above average most years). In the past two seasons he regressed to his old form hitting only 8 of 17 from 40-49 yards. So he can be average to above average from this distance, but he hasn't been for most of his career. That's the bad with Prater.
Now let's look at the good things that Prater brings:
Prater is better than average from 30-39 and from 50 and beyond. His career 90.7% is great relative to the league over the past decade (86.3%). His career average from 50 and beyond is amazing 75.0% compared to the league average of 55.2%. Now some might argue that he is aided by the altitude, but it doesn't matter how far you can kick the ball if you can't get it to go between the uprights. Matt is the second most accurate kicker in NFL history from 50 and beyond (although that is for a minimum 15 attempts - Blair Walsh of the Vikings was an astounding 10 for 10 from 50+ last year). It is interesting to note that accuracy throughout the league from 50+ has gone up in the past two years. I'm curious to see if it stays up. I would also be interesting to see how often the league hits at 60% or more from 50+ and beyond historically. My instincts tell me that there can't have been many years with better than 60% accuracy. Another interesting point is that Phil Dawson has hit 14 of 15 FGs (93.3%) from 50 or more over the past two years, but he is still only 24 of 34 for his career (70.6%).
So what about the other aspect of the game that you need from your placekicker? That would be how well they tackle and Prater is a great tackler, for a kicker (3 tackles last year). Just kidding. That other aspect would be how often they force your opponent to start drives on their own 20 (or worse if their idiot returner tries to bring one out from 9 yards deep in the end zone). So here are the Broncos, i.e. Prater's, touchback %s since 2006 - keep in mind the rule change in 2011 moving the kickoff point up by 5 yards. I threw in 06 and 07 to see how Prater compares to Elam in his last two years with Denver
The caveat with this data is that because of the altitude Prater has an advantage in terms of touchback percentage, but you can see that Prater is still better than what was done against Denver in most years, that is he is much better than the average kicker on KOs even if you remove the altitude factor. IIRC he had some leg-fatigue late in the season in 2010 that caused his kickoffs to all be short. Looking at 2007 you can see one of the reasons why Elam was not brought back - Elam (or whoever was kicking off for us then if it wasn't Elam) was not getting the job done. So Prater definitely adds value to the team in terms of opponent's field position.
Another point in Praters favor is his "clutchiness." According to this article "there is no decline in accuracy" for FGs in clutch situations (tied or losing by 3 or fewer late). So if Prater is average in those situations it is to be expected and if he is better than normal in those situations he is "clutch". Looking at the team's website tell's you just how WELL Prater has fared in those clutch situations: Has made 40-of-43 career field goal attempts in the fourth quarter or overtime, including four game-winning field goals on the last play of the game in 2011 (3 in OT, 1 one last play of regulation) to tie for the second most in a single season in NFL history. That is pretty "clutch." For his career he is 59 of 74 (79.8%) when we are losing by 7 or less or tied. So he has done what he normally does - hit his average - when we are close but behind or tied, and he is really good when it is late in the game (40 of 43 is 93.0%). Being money when it is late and close is the definition of "clutch". So ask yourself whether it would be easy to replace a guy who actually gets more accurate during clutch situations?
The last piece of the equation is the money. Prater is making a lot of money for a kicker, although he (according to this reference) is not one of the top 10 highest paid kickers. Prater is scheduled to make 2.5 million in 2013 which would put him in the top 10 in terms of highest paid kickers (unless I am doing the math wrong). So the question from a business standpoint is whether or not we could get a kicker who is better than or equal to Prater for the same amount of money or less (less being preferable)? I think we would be hard pressed to do so.
I'll close with this - to win the super bowl your team needs to be AT LEAST average in all facets of the game and elite in a few of them. While I would hate to lose the super bowl on a missed 43 yard FG (hello, Buffalo), I would also hate to not get there because the Broncos didn't have a kicker who could hit from 59 yards away to tie a game and send it into overtime. My final take is that Prater is worth the money even if he has trouble hitting from 40-49 yards out. What do you think?