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How Good Is Nick Folk?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kicker Nick Folk is one of the longest tenured Jets on the roster. 2016 will be his seventh season with the team. It seems to me like the perception is that Folk is a quality, reliable kicker. I have personally expressed skepticism in this view in the past. I wanted to really dig deep, though, and look at the numbers.

Using stats in football is a dangerous game. For most players, they require context. Stats are used, misused, and misunderstood. I don't think that's true for kickers, though. If you are a kicker, your numbers are what they are.

So let's get down to it. How good is Nick Folk? These numbers are from 2010,when Folk started his Jets career, to the present.

Is Folk a good field goal kicker?

Overall

Folk League Average
81.3% 84.0%

So when it comes to field goals, Folk is a shade below the league average. Let's dig a bit deeper, though.

The Pro Football Reference Play Finder unfortunately does not allow us to separate distance on kicks, but we can judge kickers on attempts based on where the ball was snapped.

Ball Snapped From Folk League Average
1-10 yard line 93.9% 97.3%
11-20 yard line 89.1% 90.2%
21-30 yard line 75.4% 78.7%
31-40 yard line 64.3% 65.9%
40 yard line + 0% 33.8%

So there you have it. Folk is a bit below average across the board.

Is Folk a good kickoff guy?

Let's see how Folk fares as a kickoff guy. Here is where the Jets have ranked in touchback rate in Folk's six seasons with the Jets. The 2015 total accounts from the point of Folk's injury. that ended his season. Numbers are from teamrankings.com

2010 24th
2011 31st
2012 32nd
2013 22nd
2014 31st
2015 32nd*

A couple of months back I heard a new theory. The argument was the reason Folk's touchback rate is so low is the Jets intentionally have him kick the ball short of the goal line so their coverage units can pin the other team deep.

Let's take a look at that theory using the Play Finder. If this theory is correct, the Jets should be regularly pinning opponents inside the 20 yard line since that is superior to a touchback.

Folk League Average
32.2% 21.8%

So this particular theory does pan out to a certain extent.

Still, we are talking about an 11% edge here. How much below the league average is Folk's touchback rate?

Folk League Average
24.6% 44.3%

So yes, Folk does pin his opponents inside the 20 at a rate 11% higher than the league, but does that make up for a touchback rate (which pins opponents at the 20) almost 20% below league average? At the very least, I think we have to conclude that Folk is a below average kickoff guy.

Is Folk Clutch?

It is a popular belief that Folk has been a clutch kicker during his time with the Jets. He might not be all that accurate, but he makes them when they count.

Let's use the Play Finder to test that theory out. Here is how Folk rates with under the fourth quarter or overtime with his team trailing by 3 or less or tied.

Folk League Average
78.90% 79.00%

Is Folk supremely clutch? You can't say he's unclutch, but he doesn't seem to be Suoerman with the game on the line either. He seems to be pretty much on the dot as clutch as the average kicker.

Are the numbers skewed at all by distance? Due to sample size, we won't use ten yard intervals here.

Ball Snapped From Folk League Average
1-30 yard line 87.50% 88.00%
31 yard line + 33.30% 47.70%

Again, the numbers suggest Folk is merely average in clutch spots. He has made a number of clutch kicks for the Jets,  but he is not among the best in the league in a big spot.

Why does Folk get so much praise?

I don't think the numbers suggest Folk is a horrendous kicker, but I do think they suggest he is probably below average. Many fans rave about his reliability and clutchness, but he doesn't seem to be inordinately so. I think he is around average (maybe a touch below) for field goals and a  bit of liability on kickoffs both from my eyes and the numbers.

I think some positions are easier to get praise than others. Kicker is one of those spots where it is easy to come away with a positive impression. There is a high success rate. Last year Matt Bryant finished 31st in the league in field goal percentage. He made 77.8% of his kicks. Even a guy at the bottom of the barrel succeeds three out of four times. Throw in a few clutch kicks early in a player's career with the team as Folk had with the Jets, and you create a good  perception.

Is Folk worth the money the Jets are paying?

Folk's contract is around $3 million. That is the twelfth highest annual deal for kickers in the NFL. Folk isn't paid like a elite, elite guy, but he is in the upper class even though there is ample evidence to suggest he is a bit below average.

The question becomes how hard is it to find a better kicker?

We can start by looking at the resources required to find a top of the line kicker. Let's look at the current NFL kickers who have made All Pro teams, and see where they have been drafted.

Adam Vinatieri undrafted
Robbie Gould undrafted
Stephen Gostkowski 4th round
Blair Walsh 6th round
Justin Tucker undrafted

'

Now for good measure, let's add in two other guys in the top five in field goal percentage among active players.

Dan Bailey undrafted
Steven Hauschka undrafted

Forget about average. It is possible to find a really, really good kicker from the scrap heap.if a team knows what it is doing.

But the Jets wouldn't need to find an elite kicker. A rookie kicker who is merely at the same level of below average as Folk would be quite useful. The team could save money against the cap that could be used elsewhere.

Why have the Jets kept Folk this long?

This isn't a phenomenon specific to the Jets. They are not the only one paying a kicker too much money despite the evidence teams can find quality kickers for cheap.

I think a lot of it has to do with fear. Even if a known commodity is below average, it is still a known commodity.

Teams are afraid of becoming the next Detroit with Nate Freese. The Lions went with Freese, a rookie, in 2014. Freese missed four field goals in three games and cost the Lions a game.

Teams would rather overpay for a known mediocrity because they do not trust their ability to scout and avoid a disaster.

Conclusion

I do not hope to be overly critical of Nick Folk. He made some of the biggest kicks in Jets history. He had a wonderful 2013 season by any measure.

Simply looking at what we know, though, I do not think he is worth his current salary to the team. The Jets would not face a high hurdle to get younger, cheaper, and better.