Long fIeld goals in NFL: 60+ will soon be just ‘very good’

By lee cleveland - July 16, 2022

On September 26, 2021, Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens set an NFL record. With three seconds remaining and his team trailing the Lions 17-16, he booted a 66-yard field goal that hit the crossbar and bounced over for the victory.

The successful field goal was the longest in NFL history, breaking Broncos’ Matt Prater’s mark of 64 yards, set in 2013.

The NFL record for the longest field goal has been a peculiar one through the years.

It stood for 43 years

Tom Dempsey’s historic record-breaking 63-yard field goal on Nov. 8, 1970, was unequaled for nearly three decades until Jason Elam tied it in 1998.

1970 Tom Dempsey 63 yd field goal

And thirteen years after that, Sebastian Janikowski would also connect on a 63-yarder in 2011 to tie Dempsey and Prater for the then NFL’s longest field goal. And, just one year later, David Akers joined the 63-yard club with a record-tieing kick of his own.

Finally, in 2013, Matt Pratter, by hitting a 64-yard attempt, shattered the record which had stood for 43 years.

Think about all of the track & field, swimming, cycling, and weightlifting records that were broken multiple times between 1970 and 2013.

Given all of the advancements in sports science, the NFL’s previous ‘longest field goal record’ of 63 yards should have been shattered much sooner.

They are so much better

Since the 1980s and 90s, NFL kickers have made great strides in distance and accuracy.

For instance, back in the 80s, a 50-yard field goal was considered a long, fairly low-percentage attempt. Today, not so much. A kicker is expected to make 3 of 4 from that distance.

FACT: The longest field goal made in college football history, which is also the longest field goal made in organized football, is 69 yards. The kick was made by Abilene Christian University’s kicker, Ove Johansson on October 16th, 1976; during the first half of ACU’s homecoming game against East Texas State University.

NFL kickers are so good now that some may not realize how special a 50-yard field goal used to be.

Here’s how many 50+ yard field goals were made in the first year of each new decade since 1960. Notice the massive increase from 2010 to last year.

2020: 106 *
2010: 59
2000: 38
1990: 28
1980: 23
1970: 17
1960: 5

*69 percent success rate

And they aren’t only kicking farther, they’re more accurate. Below are the NFL’s all-time leaders in career field goal percentage. Notice 19 of the top 20 kickers began their career in 2001 or later, further supporting the argument kickers have gotten much, much better since the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

1Justin Tucker90.74%2012-2021
2Harrison Butker90.44%2017-2021
3Chris Boswell88.24%2015-2021
4Josh Lambo87.08%2015-2021
5Wil Lutz86.59%2016-2021
6Robbie Gould86.48%2005-2021
7Mike Vanderjagt86.47%1998-2006
8Kai Forbath86.36%2012-2020
9Stephen Gostkowski86.34%2006-2020
10Jason Myers86.31%2015-2021
11Nate Kaeding86.19%2004-2012
12Dan Bailey85.86%2011-2020
13Rob Bironas85.66%2005-2013
14Matt Bryant85.56%2002-2019
15Shayne Graham85.49%2001-2015
16Stephen Hauschka85.16%2008-2020
17Cody Parkey84.62%2014-2020
18Ka’imi Fairbairn84.55%2017-2020
19Shaun Suisham84.06%2005-2014
20Dan Carpenter83.99%2008-2016

Courtesy: NFL.com

Back in the 80s and 90s, Morten Andersen (79.6%), Nick Lowery (79.8%), and Gary Anderson (80%) were kicking gods of sorts. Today, they’re not even in the top 20 for career field goal percentage nor is Patriots/Colts legend Adam Vinatieri who kicked from 1996 to 2019 and was successful 83.78% of the time.

Because kickers have gotten so much better, especially in the last 10-20 years, expect to see more teams take chances on 60+ kicks.

Versus the 1980s and 90s, 60 will soon become the new 50, and attempts under 47 yards will be highly predictable. In fact, some would argue they already are.

Message to kickers: Get it while you can because the NFL will be forced to make more rules changes to address the predictability and infuse more excitement in the place-kicking game.… Tacking on an additional 15 yards to extra points, in 2015, was only the first step.

Yes, they can

In practice, it’s not uncommon for an NFL kicker to connect on attempts over 60 yards. For instance, Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker drilled a 77-yard field goal during an offseason workout and banged one from 70 during pre-game warmups. Of course, there were no defenders trying to block it. However, he’s clearly exhibited he has the strength and accuracy to connect from 70+.

Above, Harrison Butker nails a 70-yard field Goal in warmups, albeit with no defenders.

Start of a trend

For years, coaches have been watching kickers bang from 60+ yards in practice but have been reluctant to try from such distances in NFL games because, in all fairness, place-kicks (from any distance) are much harder when kicking against an onrushing defense with millions watching, and with the added pressure of a being real game.

… But, coaches are getting braver as time goes on.

Flashback: Today, 4th down conversion attempts are fairly common for offenses; But, for those old enough to remember, going for it on 4th down was rare during the 80s and 90s. Back then, the vast majority of 4th down conversion attempts happened late in the 4th quarter and when the game was on the line.

Expect a similar change in attitude with field goal attempts over 60 yards. We don’t see many 60+ yard attempts because coaches are reluctant to take the risk, not because kickers can’t convert.

Until an imminent rules change, expect to see a lot more 60+ yard attempts and conversions; especially given kickers connected on a whopping 69% percent of 50+ yard attempts last year.

Please share your thoughts below on long field goals in the NFL.

Tags: football, nfl