For the past few weeks here at CBSSports.com, we’ve been putting out our top-10 rankings for every position group in the NFL heading into the 2019 season. Well, except for one group, because we’ve decided to save the best for last.
After ranking everything, to , to , we’re closing out our rankings this week with kickers and punters.
If the 2018 postseason proved one thing, it’s that those two positions are two of the most important on the field, even if punters and kickers are only actually on the field for five or six plays per game. Ask any Bears fan about the importance of a good kicker and after they punch you in the face for reminding them about Chicago’s double-doink playoff loss to the Eagles, they’ll likely start sobbing and letting you know how much they wish they still had Robbie Gould, who, by the way, ended up ranked very highly on our top-10 list of kickers.
As for punters, last season’s Super Bowl showed America just how much fun a football game dominated by punters can be. Sure, the game was kind of boring to anyone who doesn’t appreciate phenomenal punting, but for everyone else, watching Johnny Hekker put himself into the MVP conversation with one of the best punting performances in NFL history added some serious spice to the game. In what will probably come as a surprise to no one, Hekker ranked very highly on our top-10 list of punters.
Oh, and one thing you’ll notice about the punter portion of our list is that there are two Australians on it. At the rate we’re going, the punter list might be made up entirely of Australians at this point next year.
Anyway, let’s get to the rankings.
Top 10 kickers
10. Matt Bryant, free agent
Bryant doesn’t have a job right now, which is kind of crazy, when you consider the fact that he’s been one of the best kickers in the NFL over the past few seasons. Since 2016, Bryant has hit 90.7 percent of his field goals, which ranks third overall in the span. If you look at the numbers from just last season, Bryant hit 95.2 percent of his field goals, which ranked third in the NFL. Bryant also hit 11 of 12 kicks from beyond 40 yards, which was tied with Robbie Gould for the best percentage of any kicker that attempted more than 10 field goals from that distance. The biggest knock on Bryant is that he’s 44 years old and his body is falling apart, but despite that, he seems like he still has enough left in the tank to play for at least one more season. Any domed team looking for a kicker might want to give him a call (and yes, I’m looking directly at you Minnesota).
9. Matt Prater, Lions
For some teams, the extra point was an adventure last season — just ask the Steelers about that, they watched Chris Boswell miss five PATs last year — however, the Lions didn’t have to worry about missed extra points in 2018 and that’s because Prater was one of just three kickers who nailed every PAT he attempted last year. Not only was Prater perfect on extra points, but he was also pretty impressive in the field goal kicking department, hitting 28 of 32 kicks. The most impressive thing about Prater is that he’s a solid combination of strength and accuracy. Not only is he one of the 25 most accurate kickers in NFL history, but he also holds the NFL record for longest field goal (64 yards).
8. Josh Lambo, Jaguars
Although Lambo’s career got off to a rocky start with the Chargers, he’s made nearly every kick he’s attempted since signing with the Jaguars in 2017. Over the past two seasons, Lambo has hit 92.7 percent of his field goals, which ranks third in the NFL over that span. During his two years in Jacksonville, Lambo has slowly turned into one of the most reliable kickers in the league, which is why he’s ranked so high on this list. He’s also the only kicker on this list who brought his dog to his contract signing.
That’s a good dog.
7. Adam Vinatieri, Colts
If these kicker rankings were based on what you’ve done over your entire career, then Vinatieri would be at the top, but that’s not how we did things here. In these rankings, the only thing that matters is whether or not a kicker will be effective during the 2019 season. Although Vinatieri’s numbers were mostly average last season — he ranked 18th overall in field goal percentage — the bottom line is that there’s not many other kickers you’d want on your sideline during the fourth quarter of a close game. Of course, if Vinatieri completely implodes in a playoff game again this year like he did last season against the Chiefs — he missed a 23-yard field goal and an extra point — then we might have to pull him off of next year’s list.
Patriots fans seem to have a love-hate relationship with Gostkowski, and by that, I mean half the fan base seems to love him and half the fan base seems to hate him. Although Gostkowski has had his struggles over the past few years — he’s missed one kick in each of the past two Super Bowls he’s played in — the fact of the matter is that he’s almost always clutch when it counts.
One of Gostkowski’s best games of 2018 came during New England’s regular season game against the Chiefs. In a 43-40 win, Gostkowski hit five field goals, including a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter with 3:15 left to play and a 28-yarder as time expired to give the Patriots the win.
5. Harrison Butker, Chiefs
Despite the fact that he’s only been in the NFL for two years, Butker has already proven himself to be one of the best kickers in the league. In two seasons with the Chiefs, Butker has hit 89.9 percent of his field goals (62 of 69), which ranks in the top 10 for all kickers over the past two seasons. The Chiefs have been so impressed with Butker that they actually gave him a four-year extension this offseason even though he still had two years left on his rookie contract. Although Butker isn’t at the top of our kicker rankings, he is at the top my personal ranking for best Twitter handle by an NFL player: ButtKicker7.
Yup, ButtKicker7 is here to stay. I bet the Chiefs love tweeting that name out.
If the Saints didn’t get victimized by the worst pass interference no-call in NFL history last season, most of America would know Lutz as the guy who hit the game-winning field goal against the Rams in the NFC title game (Lutz’s kick with 1:41 left put the Saints up 23-20), but we all know that’s not how that game ended. That game is worth noting though, because it’s indicative of how well Lutz played last season. The Saints kicker went 3-for-3 against the Rams and was a big reason why the game went down to the wire. Lutz was just as impressive during the regular season, hitting 28 of 30 field goals. At one point in 2018, Lutz hit 26 straight field goals, which set a Saints franchise record. The Saints were so impressed with his 2018 season that they signed him to a new five-year deal in March.
3. Greg Zuerlein, Rams
If you watched the NFC Championship game in January, then you probably know why Zuerlein is ranked so high on this list. In a span of just three minutes and 28 seconds during that game, Zuerlein kicked two of the most impressive field goals in NFL playoff history. First, he drilled a 48-yarder with 15 seconds left to play that tied things up and sent the game to overtime. Once the game got to OT, Zuerlein sent the Rams to the Super Bowl with a walk-off 58-yard field goal that would have been good from about 70 yards.
Zuerlein seems to especially love the bright lights of Hollywood, because he’s thrived since the Rams move to Los Angeles in 2016. Over the past three seasons combined, Zuerlein has hit 90.3 percent of his field goals, which ranks fourth of any kicker over that span. To put that in perspective, Zuerlein only had one season over 80 percent during his four years in St. Louis. If there’s one knock on Zuerlein, it’s that he always seems to be injured, having missed a total of five games over the past two seasons. The problem with a kicker getting injured, especially when that injury is below the waist — Zuerlein battled a groin injury in 2018 — is that you never know how they’re going to recover. For instance, Dan Bailey would have been on nearly every list of top 10 kickers at this time last year, but he hasn’t been the same since dealing with multiple injuries during his final year in Dallas (2017), which is why the Cowboys ended up cutting him and one of the reasons why he likely struggled in Minnesota. The good news for Zuerlein is that he seems to have recovered smoothly from every injury he’s had to deal with.
2. Robbie Gould, 49ers
In a twist of irony that probably makes most Bears fans want to throw up, Gould has turned into one of the best kickers in the NFL since being dumped by Chicago after the 2015 season. In the three seasons since then, all Gould has done is put together quite possibly the best three-year run of any kicker in NFL history. Since 2016, Gould has hit 96.5 percent of his field goals (82 of 85), which includes hitting a perfect 100 percent in 2016, 95.1 percent in 2017 and 97.1 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, in Chicago…
The only real knock on Gould is that he’s struggled with extra points. Since the NFL moved the PAT back in 2015, Gould has only hit 92.8 percent of his kicks (103 of 111), which is worse than Cody Parkey and Roberto Aguayo in that span. That being said, Gould is absolutely one of the best kickers in the league, even though he might not technically be in the league this year. The 49ers kicker doesn’t want to play for the 49ers, and things have gotten so contentious between the two sides that Gould won’t , let alone training camp.
We’re at the point where 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is just hoping Gould shows up for anything at all.
“I just hope he shows up by the time we play Week 1,” Shanahan said in June.
That doesn’t sound too promising.
1. Justin Tucker, Ravens
Being the most accurate kicker in NFL history is a pretty strong argument for getting the top spot in our kicker rankings, and that’s a big reason why we have Tucker at No. 1. Over seven NFL seasons, Tucker has nailed 90.1 percent of his field goals, which is not only the best number in NFL history, but it’s nearly three percent better than any other kicker ever (Robbie Gould is second on the all-time accuracy list at 87.7 percent and Stephen Gostkowski ranks third at 87.4 percent). Tucker also has the highest accuracy rate on extra points among active kickers. Basically, he almost never misses, and when he does, it’s a total shock. Like, seriously: Just look at how shocked Tucker was after he missed the first and only extra point of his career back in Week 7, a kick that came in the waning moments of a 24-23 loss to the Saints.
Tucker’s field goal percentage could actually be higher, but he’s so good, the Ravens are always trotting him out for crazy kicks. Tucker has three career misses from beyond 60 yards, including a 65-yarder last season that came in a Week 16 game against the Chargers. Also, when Tucker misses, it’s not always his fault. Of his four misses in 2018, two were blocked and one was that 65-yarder. The only one that you could truly blame on Tucker was a 53-yarder that he sent wide left, but even that kick isn’t a gimme. Tucker has only gotten better with age and if he plays the next seven seasons like he played his first seven seasons, he could go down as the best kicker in NFL history.
As an added bonus, he can also speak eight languages and sings opera.
He might be better at singing opera than he is at kicking.
Top 10 punters
In his first full season as an NFL punter, Wile had the second-best touchback percentage of any punter in the NFL with only two touchbacks on 72 punts (Touchbacks are usually viewed as bad for a punter because the idea is to pin an opponent inside the 20, not on the 20). Wile also finished the 2018 season with a net punting average of 41.5 yards, which ranked tied for ninth in the NFL. By the way, it’s a good thing for Wile that this ranking is only taking into account his punting skills, because if we were taking into account other parts of the job — like holding — Wile probably wouldn’t have made this list. Apparently, there’s so much “concern” in Minnesota about Wile’s holding skills that it might actually cost him his job. If the Vikings dump Wile, he could potentially be an offseason steal for any team looking to add a punter … as long as that new team doesn’t ask him to hold.
9. Logan Cooke, Jaguars
If you watched the Jaguars play any games last season, you probably saw Cooke multiple times, and that’s mainly because Jacksonville’s offense was horrible, which meant they were punting nearly every time they touched the ball. Putting a rookie punter in that situation could have been disastrous, but it ended up working out for the Jags. Cooke knocked 37 of his punts inside the 20-yard line, which was the third highest number in the NFL. Cooke and the Jags punt coverage team also thrived together, holding returners to an average of just 5.0 yards per return. That return average was tied for the second-best coverage in the NFL, which means that Jaguars were actually good at something last season, even if you didn’t notice it.
The Panthers punt coverage team probably loves Palardy and that’s because he makes their job easy. During the 2018 season, opposing returners called for a fair catch on 39.3 percent of Palardy’s punts, which ranked as the third-best number in the NFL. Palardy doesn’t have the strongest leg in the league, but for the most part, he does a good job of doing exactly what the Panthers ask him to do with each punt.
7. Cameron Johnston, Eagles
For years, the Bloomin’ Onion was the most best export to come out of Australia, but now, it seems that Australia has gotten better at producing something else: NFL punters. Johnston is one of two Australian punters on our top-10 list, along with Michael Dickson, but I can’t tell you where Dickson is ranked, because we’re not quite there yet. As for Johnston, the 2018 season marked his first year as the Eagles punter and he responded by having one of the best seasons of any punter in the NFL. Johnston’s net punting average of 42.7 yards was tied for the third-best number in the league last season. To he honest, we probably should have all seen his rise coming, and that’s because back in the preseason, he punted a ball halfway to Australia.
Although Johnston didn’t boom any 81 yarders during the regular season, he did have a 68-yard punt in 2018, which was tied for the seventh-longest punt of the season.
It’s a miracle Lee’s leg didn’t fall off last season and that’s because led the entire NFL in total punts with 94. To put that in perspective, no other punter in the NFC even punted the ball 80 times in 2018. Of course, punting the ball a lot doesn’t make you good, you actually have to do something with those punts and Lee definitely did. Lee led the NFL with 48.6 yards per punt and ranked fifth overall in net yardage (42.6).
The Redskins had a total of four starting quarterbacks in 2018, which wasn’t good news for the Redskins, but it was good news for Way, who saw a lot of action after Washington’s offense started sputtering following the injury to Alex Smith. During the 2018 season, Way had one of the best years of his career. Not only did the lead the league in punts inside the 20, but he was also the only full-time punter in the NFL who didn’t kick a touchback last season. Way also forced opposing returners to call for a fair-catch a total of 26 times, which was the third-highest number in the league last season. The only knock on Way is that opposing teams averaged 9.8 yards per return against him, but we can probably go ahead and pin most of that blame on the Redskins’ punt coverage team, because it definitely wasn’t Way’s fault.
Way also invented a trivia card game, which makes him the only punter on this list who has invented a trivia card game.
4. Rigoberto Sanchez, Colts
Sanchez might be the best punter in the NFL who you’ve never heard of. During the 2018 season, Sanchez had a net average of 42.7 yards per punt, which ranked third in the NFL, and that’s not even his most impressive stat. The most impressive thing about Sanchez is that opposing teams were only able to average 4.4 yards per punt return against the Colts last season, which was the best number in the NFL. A big reason the Colts’ coverage unit thrives with Sanchez is because they know exactly where he’s going to put the ball every time he punts it. Theoretically, that should be the case with every NFL team, but Sanchez and the Colts seem to have perfected it.
Here’s a play from Indy’s Week 17 win over the Titans that shows just how perfectly in-sync the Colts’ punt team was last season. The two gunners ran straight to where they expected the ball to land, and then it landed there, allowing Indy to force a pivotal turnover just before the first half ended in their 33-17 win.
The Colts have clearly noticed how good Sanchez is, and we know that, because they gave him a four-year contract extension in June.
3. Michael Dickson, Seahawks
When the Seahawks decided to trade up for a punter during the 2018 NFL Draft, everyone, but as it turns out, the crazy ones were the 31 other teams who didn’t trade up to grab Dickson in the draft. During his rookie season, Dickson averaged 48.2 yards per punt, which ranked second in the NFL. Although punting average can be viewed as a power stat that only shows how strong a punter’s leg is, Dickson also showed plenty of finesse last season with 28 of his 78 punts dropping inside the 20-yard line. As an added bonus, Dickson can also drop kick.
Can Russell Wilson drop kick? No.
Basically, what this means is that the Seahawks should tear up Wilson’s contract and give all that money to Dickson because he’s the best player on the team. OK, that’s probably taking it too far, but Dickson is definitely one of Seattle’s key players. The Seahawks offense has a tendency to go into dry spells every so often and having a punter who can flip the field is a big reason why they’re able to stay in games when that happens.
2. Johnny Hekker, Rams
You can’t have a ‘best punter in the NFL conversation’ without talking about Hekker, which is why we’re talking about Johnny Hekker. Not only has Hekker been one of the best punters in the NFL since his rookie year in 2012, but he single-handedly proved just how valuable punters can be during the Rams’ 13-3 Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. Hekker was so good in that game that there was that he was a legitimate MVP early in the second half.
During the Super Bowl, Hekker punted nine times for an average of 46.3 yards, but that wasn’t even the most impressive part. The most impressive part was that he pinned the Patriots inside their own 20 a total of five times while also setting the Super Bowl record for longest punt in the game when he knocked a 65-yarder in the third quarter that flipped the field.
Of course, if you watched Hekker at all during the 2018 season, then you probably weren’t surprised by his Super Bowl performance. Although he only punted the ball 43 times — tied with Thomas Morstead for the league-low — Hekker still was able to finish second in net punting yards (43.2), fourth in touchback percentage (only four touchbacks on 43 punts) and fifth in percentage of punts that landed inside the 20. Hekker also comes with one other talent that most punters don’t have: He’s perfected the fake punt. During his seven-year career, Hekker has completed 11 of 19 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. He also converted a pivotal fake punt against the Saints in the NFC title game.
Hekker easily could have been put in the top spot here, but instead, we went with someone else and you’re about to find out who that is.
1. Thomas Morstead, Saints
Punting for the Saints might sound like an easy job — mainly, because they never actually punt — but we’re not going to hold that against our top-ranked punter, Morstead. Although he punted a league-low 43 times last season, Morstead definitely made the most of those punts and he was a big reason why the Saints had one of the best punt coverage teams in the NFL last season. Thanks to Morstead, the Saints only gave up 60 punt return yards all year (that’s an average of 3.75 yards per game). A big reason that number was so low is because only 12 of his 43 punts were returnable. Of the other 31, 15 ended on a fair catch, four went for a touchback and 12 were either downed or went out of bounds. Thanks to Morstead’s uncanny ability to put a punt wherever he wants, he averaged 43.2 net punting yards in 2018, which led the NFL (The Saints don’t ask him to use it all the time, but he also has a pretty strong leg. Morstead averaged 46.4 yards per punt last season, which ranked seventh in the NFL. He’s also averaged 46.9 yards per punt over the course of his career, which ranks third in NFL history).
Of course, one season of great punting doesn’t put you at the top of this list. Morstead’s ranked No. 1 because he’s been doing this for years. Morstead has ranked in the top-10 for net punting average in each of the past eight seasons and has ranked in the top-5 in six of those seasons. The Saints like Morstead so much that they already have the 33-year-old under contract for the next four years.