Saturday, November 9, 2019

Was Mike Vanderjagt the Justin Tucker of 2003?

By John Turney
Here are the all-time leading kickers, based on field goal percentage (minimum 100 made field goals), through 2003. All charts courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
Mike Vanderjagt led everyone by almost 5%. That may not sound great but it is a significant lead.

When Jan Stenerud became qualified (after he'd hit his 100th kick) he was nine percentage points better than the next-best. By the time he retired he was 14th. By then Nick Lowery was tops. And do it goes. Kickers have been getting more accurate as time goes on.

Now, of course, Justin Tucker is the GOAT kicker but only by 2.5%.  The competition is very close and a few stumbles and the things change on the leader boards.
Which brings us to Mike Vanderjagt. He struggled in 2004 and fell to 87% and the competition got close. In 2005 he hit 92% of his field goal attempts but he lost his job due to missing clutch kicks.

In 2006 he kicked for Dallas and his career ended. He was still at 85.6%, first all-time, but could never find work in the NFL again. In fact, it wasn't until 2009 that his lead was overtaken by Nate Kaeding. He did have a final stint in the CFL (where he kicker before going to the NFL) in 2008.

Vanderjagt was not necessarily liked by his team. After a playoff loss in 2003, Vanderjagt ripped coach Tony Dungy and quarterback Peyton Manning. He said Dungy was too mellow and questioned Manning's leadership. Manning called him Vanderjagt an "idiot" that got "liquored up and ran his mouth." He commented on the Patriots fitness which caused Rodney Harrison to dub him Vanderjerk.

Now, if course, we are not remotely suggesting Tucke is like Vanderjagt. We are saying that one can be on top of the world in an NFL statistical category one year and in a few short years not be able to find a job.

We think Justin Tucker is the goat. However, we also know that as time goes on things change. And while kicker are flirting with 90-95% the fact there is a ceiling of 100% there is a squeezing effect on the leaderboards but there is always going to be one person atop those boards.

And it's an interesting discussion. We will see where Tucker is in 3-5 years. While we expect him to still be at or near the top, many thought the same about Vanderjagt, too.

Stats via The Football Database


  1. I actually thought Vanderjackdaniels, comments were right about Dungy and Manning but everyone laughed them off. Vinatieri is the true GOAT, but is having a terrible year.
    Hopefully, he can recover.

    1. Adam Vinatieri has been just above average compared to the league in his career, had disadvantage kicking in NE, big advantage kicking indoors. His playoff kicking is what moves him up. He's not the GOAT

  2. John, let me ask respectfully, who in your opinion is and what is criteria? stadium-skewed FG percentage? one argument that's always been a factor for me is "duration"....Morten Andersen, Adam Vinitieri, Lou Groza, George Blanda….if you can do it at the highest level for two decades or a quarter-century, how should that be weighted?...(another position: off the top of my head, how many running backs have played at or beyond 36? John Henry Johnson, Ollie Matson, and Frank you think/agree that Gore should be a first ballot HoFer?

    1. Gore is HOFer, not 1st ballot. Highest honor was 2nd team ALl-Pro. 5 Pro Bowls.

      Longevity has its place. But to me, and I could be wrong, how good someone is next to their peers is the HOF test.

      There is a guy coming out with a book that will be great. But Morten Andersen, Adam Vinitieri were not that much above average. I mark both higher due to longevity and Vinitiere because of his clutch kicks but the guys who were ahead of their peers by the most were Groza, Stenerud, Lowery, Tucker.

      But I do think a lot of people think longevity is more important. To me peak > longevity but that's me.

  3. Gary Anderson was a great kicker to, but that 1999 NFC Championship game miss, made everyone forget about him.

    I Believe Gore will get in the Hall but not on the first ballot. If voters put Polamalu in on the first ballot, hopefully they will also put in Donnie Shell with the seniors. I thought he was better, despite different eras.