Justin Tucker Had the Best Year at Any Position, Ever
Justin Tucker made 38 of 39 field goals this season, with the only miss as a blocked kick. That includes 10 of 10 from 50-plus yards and 14 of 14 from 40 to 49 yards. The guy was doing Jordan-esque shrugs after makes, and deservedly so.
Kickers have gotten progressively better every year (which is the primary motivation for moving the extra point back). Below are the estimated probabilities of a league-average kicker making a field goal, and how that has improved with each season. The solid line shows estimates for 2016:
Even with that trend, Tucker's 2016 campaign is the biggest of outliers. Coming into this year, the most efficient season by a kicker was from Blair Walsh in his 2012 rookie season. That year he went 35 of 38 including 10 of 10 from 50-plus yards. He amassed 33.62 Net Expected Points (NEP) for 0.88 points contributed per kick attempt. For kickers with at least 20 attempts, the highest NEP/FGA we have seen was Matt Prater in 2013 at 1.03. In 2016, if we remove Tucker's kicks, kickers added 0.28 NEP per kick.
With that build up out of the way, here are Tucker's numbers from 2016.
|Player||FGA||FG NEP||FG NEP/Play|
Tucker added over 50 points to the Ravens offense above expectation. If they had a league-average kicker, that kicker would have finished with a mere 10.92 NEP. By having Tucker on the team, the Ravens added +2.47 points per game! Joe Flacco actually lost the Ravens 4.02 points per game versus a league-average quarterback this year.
Compared to Blair Walsh's aforementioned best kicking year of all time, Tucker's season looks even more ridiculous. Tucker posted numbers 50% better than the top performance since 2000 -- and likely in history given the improvements of kickers. To give you an idea of just how absurd that 50% increase actually is, here is how far down the list of players you have to go for each position to find a 50% increase for the best season since 2000.
|Position||Best Season||NEP||50% Rank||50% Season||NEP|
|K||Justin Tucker, 2016||50.4||2nd||Blair Walsh, 2012||33.62|
|QB||Tom Brady, 2007||280.81||19th||Drew Brees, 2009||180.17|
|RB||Marshall Faulk, 2000||119.66||9th||Darren Sproles, 2011||78.65|
|WR||Torry Holt, 2003||166.42||144th||Roy Williams, 2006||110.7|
|TE||Rob Gronkowski, 2011||134.18||31st||Tony Gonzalez, 2006||89.06|
Tom Brady owns the most efficient quarterback season since 2000. That season was only 6.1% better than the second-best quarterback season (Peyton Manning in 2013). To get to the first season where Brady's 2007 output was at least 50% better, we have to move down to the 19th-ranked season. The closest "outlier" season to Tucker's by position is Marshall Faulk's 2000 "Greatest Show on Turf" campaign, which included 18 rushing touchdowns and eight receiving touchdowns, but even Faulk has a reasonably close No. 2 in Charlie Garner, who posted 102.84 NEP in 2002.
All of this should be qualified, though, since Tucker is still only a kicker. Kickers simply do not have the opportunity to produce at the level of other skill positions. Eight quarterbacks this year alone added more than Tucker's 2.47 points per game above average at his position.
Here is every kicker season since 2000.
There are two blatant outliers: David Akers 51 field goal attempts in 2011 and Justin Tucker's 2016 field goal efficiency. With that kind of production, the second-best singer with the initials J.T. could go down as having the greatest kicking season of all time.