The NFL approved a rule change this week, moving the traditional Point After Touchdown (PAT) kick from the 2-yard line to the 15 yard line for the 2015 season. Two point attempts will remain at the 2-yard line, but defenses will now be allowed to return failed kicks or turnovers for an equal score (one point for a score on a failed kick, two points on a failed two point try).
So how will this affect the value of kickers?
Probably very little. The internet has been abuzz about the possibility of an explosion in two-point attempts after touchdowns, and bettors are worried about affected point spreads other than the traditional 3 and 7 point variations becoming the norm rather than the exception. But I can allay your fears with one sentence; NFL coaches are creatures of habit, and most won’t tread outside of their comfort zones very often, if at all.
Here’s the math. In the past five years, kickers have averaged a tick over 99% accuracy on PAT kick attempts. By comparison, kicks from the 22 or 23 yard lines (where the new PATs will be kicked) have seen better than 94% accuracy since 2012. While that does reflect a slight downtick in accuracy, we’re not talking about a lot of misses here. Last year, the top 10 kickers only missed three total PAT kicks in 461 attempts. In that same year kickers hit 96.7% of 33- and 34-yard field goals. As you can see, accuracy isn’t going to be a huge concern for most teams, and coaches are going to remain fairly confident in getting that extra point on almost 97% of kicks.
On the other hand, two point conversions were successful on only 47.5% of attempts last season. No team had more than five two-point attempts on the season (CHI and AZ both had 5 attempts), and a fourth of the league (TB, HOU, SF, SD, OAK, DAL, PHI, and NYG) didn’t attempt any (and notice at least 5 of those teams had very capable running games).
NFL coaches will almost always take the safe play, simply because if they take the safe play and it fails, the blame is deflected to the players; if a coach attempts a risky decision and fails, the blame falls on the coach (yep, coaching is a self-preservation game, wouldn’t you know it?). And having a 97% chance of making a kick will outweigh the odds of that 47.5% chance at two points. Some will argue that if a team tries two-point attempts, the odds are they convert half of them. But most coaches will take the odds of making one point 97% of the time versus needing two chances to hit two points.
I have no doubts that there will be a slight uptick in two-point attempts this season. But it will be a very slight uptick. Overall I feel that most NFL teams have a kicker they consider reliable enough to try PAT kicks at roughly the same rate as in past years. Two point attempts at the end of closely-contested games will also happen at pretty much the same rate as in years past. The situations where I see two-point attempts happening most often are on teams that don’t have a lot of confidence in their kicker, and if a kicker misses two kicks early in a game, a coach may try to make up lost ground and attempt two-point tries the rest of the way.
So do kickers become more valuable now? In the grand scheme of the game, I don’t think they do. In fact, I would argue that they actually become less valuable, simply because of that slight downtick in attempted kicks coupled with the miniscule uptick in missed attempts. So as you watch games this Fall, feel free to hate your team’s kicker just as much as you always have!
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball.