Over the past few weeks here at CBSSports.com, we've been putting out our annual top-10 ranking for each position group in the NFL. From quarterbacks to offensive linemen to linebackers to receivers, we've been ranking everyone, and now, we've saved the best for last: Punters and kickers.
At least, I think that's why we saved this one for last.
If you're a Cowboys or Colts fan, you know how important a kicker can be. Both of those teams missed plenty of field goals last season, and both teams are still trying to deal with the mess that is their current kicking situation. If you're a fan of a team that has a bad kicking situation, feel free to print out this article so that you can send it to the front office of your favorite team with a note begging them to trade for one of the players on this list.
In the punting department, some fans might not even be able to name 10 punters, but we're ranking 10, because by gosh, punters are people, too. Right, Tress Way?
(Spoiler alert: Tress Way made our top-10 list.)
Alright, let's get to the rankings.
Top 10 kickers
10. Jake Elliott, Eagles
Elliott has only been in the NFL for three years, but he's already made a name for himself in Philadelphia. Elliott basically became a legend in the city during his rookie year when he beat the Giants with a 61-yard walk-off field goal in Week 3.
Elliott then capped off his rookie year in 2017 with a 3-for-3 showing in Philly's 41-33 win over the Patriots Super Bowl LII. Of course, being a kicker in the NFL is all about what you've done lately, and Elliott has done plenty. During the 2019 season, the Eagles kicker started the year by making 14 straight field goals, which set a franchise record. Although Elliott did hit a lull late in the season when he missed four field goals over a four week span (Weeks 13 thru 16), the 25-year-old bounced back nicely in the playoffs. During the Eagles' 17-9 wild-card loss to Seattle, Elliott scored all of Philly's points with three field goals. Elliott's field goal and extra point conversion rate has improved every year that he's been in the league, so the thinking here is that he's only going to get better from here on out.
9. Mason Crosby, Packers
Like a fine wine (or a very good cheddar cheese), Mason Crosby has only gotten better with age. Some players get worse as they get older, but not Crosby, who had a career year in 2019. The 35-year-old nailed 91.7% of his field goals last season, which ranked fifth in the NFL for accuracy and marked the first time in his 13-year career that he's converted more than 90% of his kicks in a season. As Lions fans probably remember all too well, Crosby came up clutch all year for the Packers in 2019. The Green Bay kicker beat Detroit twice last season with field goals as time expired. His leg almost single-handedly carried the Packers to wins in multiple games last year. Although Crosby has to kick in one of the NFL's toughest environments -- the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field -- he still manages to put up consistently good numbers year in and year out.
8. Matt Prater, Lions
When it comes to being an NFL kicker, the two things you really need if you want to be good are strength and accuracy. Some kickers are strong, but not so accurate (I'm looking at you Brett Maher) while other kickers are accurate, but not so strong. Neither of those things is issue for Prater though, and that's because he checks both boxes. 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). Prater has been in Detroit since 2014, and although Lions fans haven't had a lot to cheer about over the past few years, Prater has been the one guy who almost always comes through for them, which might explain why he's so popular in Detroit.
Although Prater wasn't at the top of his game in 2019 -- he hit just 83.9% of his field goals, which was his lowest total since 2014 -- he's been consistently good for years and his "bad" year in the accuracy department still ranked in the top half of the NFL for 2019.
7. Dan Bailey, Vikings
Through the first six seasons of his career (2011-16), Bailey was the most accurate kicker in NFL history, but then the wheels fell off the wagon in 2017 when he suffered a groin injury during his final year with the Cowboys. After the injury, Bailey wasn't the same. As a matter of fact, he almost kicked his way out of the NFL in 2017 and 2018, two seasons where he hit just 75% of his field goals. The reason Bailey is on this list though is because he rebounded big time in 2019 with the Vikings, hitting 93.1% of his field goals (27 of 29), which ranked fourth in the NFL. Bailey was so good last season that he didn't miss a single field goal after Week 7 as he closed the year with 22 consecutive successful kicks, including the playoffs. Including 2019, Bailey has ranked as one of the NFL's five most accurate kickers in four of his nine seasons, and he's currently ranked as the sixth-most accurate kicker of all-time. The 2020 season will be a big one for Bailey. If he can continue his success from 2019 and make 2018 a distant memory, he'll shoot up this list, because when he's at his best, he's easily one of the top-five kickers in the league.
For some teams, the extra point was an adventure last season -- just ask the Colts about that; they watched Adam Vinatieri miss six PATs last year -- however, the Steelers didn't have to worry about missed extra points in 2019 and that's because Boswell was one of just three kickers with 25 or more attempts who nailed every PAT he tried (28 of 28).
It was a nice change of pace for the Steelers, who had to deal with a disastrous 2018 season from Boswell. During a very down year in 2018, Boswell hit just 65% of his field goals and less than 90% of his extra points. No one would have blamed the Steelers if they moved on, but the team decided to stick with their beleaguered kicker and the gamble paid off. Boswell was one of the NFL's best kickers during his first three years in the league (2015-17) and he returned to that form in 2019. Not only did he hit every extra point he attempted, but he also ranked third in field goal percentage. Despite that 65% year in 2018, Boswell still ranks as the seventh-most accurate kicker in NFL history, which tells you how good he's been in every other season of his career.
Lutz has been in the NFL for four seasons, and in each of those seasons, he's been one of the NFL's best kickers. Over the past two years alone, Lutz has ranked in the top-seven in accuracy, including 2019, when he hit 88.9% of his field goals, which ranked seventh overall (He ranked sixth in 2018). When Lutz catches fire, he gets in a groove that few other kickers can match. At one point in 2018, the soon-to-be 26-year-old hit 26 straight field goals, which set a Saints franchise record. Lutz followed that up by putting together two impressive streaks in 2019. Not only did he make 15 straight field goals starting in Week 1, but after that streak ended, Lutz started another streak where he hit 18 straight field goals before finally missing in the playoffs. Lutz's biggest game of 2019 came against the Cowboys in Week 4 when he scored all of the Saints points with four field goals in a 12-10 win.
4. Robbie Gould, 49ers
Gould was the hardest player to rank on this list, and that's because he made just 74.2% of his field goals in 2019. Normally, a kicker who struggles through that kind of year has no business on a top-10 list like this -- let alone top five -- but Gould is here, because it's hard to blame him for his struggles. One key thing to remember about kicking is that the kicker has to rely on two other people to do their jobs (the holder and the snapper) before they can do theirs. If one of those two messes up, then the kicker is going to struggle, and that's basically what happened to Gould to start the 2019 season.
Although Gould struggled last year, it's hard to blame him for the misses. Not only did the 49ers have a rookie holder last season in Australian punter Mitch Wishnowsky, but they also went through four different long snappers in Garrison Sanborn, Colin Holba, Jon Condo and Kyle Nelson. Nelson, the regular long snapper, was suspended for the first six games of the season, and not coincidentally, Gould went 12 of 19 through the first six weeks without him on the field. After Nelson returned, Gould finished the year 17 of 18, which includes making two big kicks in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs. Gould also went 3-for-3 in the NFC title game, including one make from 54 yards.
Basically, when Gould is at the top of his game, there aren't many kickers who are better, and when his team isn't cycling through long snappers, he's proven he kicks at the top of his game. From 2016 to 2018, Gould hit 96.5% of his field goals (82 of 85), which included hitting a perfect 100% in 2016, 95.1% in 2017 and an NFL-leading 97.1% in 2018.
3. Josh Lambo, Jaguars
Lambo must love kicking in Jacksonville, because he's made almost every kick he's attempted since signing with the team in 2017. During his two years in Jacksonville, Lambo hit 92.7 percent of his field goals, and then somehow, he TOPPED that number in 2019. Last season, Lambo was the NFL's most accurate kicker, hitting 97.1% of his kicks (33 of 34). The reason you don't hear Lambo's name more is because he plays for a bad team, which means he's rarely in a position where he's trying big kicks. That being said, Lambo did hit a monstrous kick last season against the Broncos in Week 4 when he hit a walk-off field goal from 33 yards out that gave the Jags a 26-23 win.
Lambo actually started his career with the Chargers, which is worth noting, because the Chargers have basically spent the past three years looking for a kicker. The bottom line is that they had one in Lambo, but they got rid of him after two years, and now, he's gotten the last laugh. During his five seasons in the NFL Lambo has hit 88.5% of his kicks, which makes him the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
2. Harrison Butker, Chiefs
Fun fact: Harrison Butker was originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers, and it's probably safe to say that the Panthers are kicking themselves for losing this kicker, who has developed into one of the NFL's top players at his position in just three years. Despite the fact that he's only been in the league since 2017, Butker has already proven himself to be one of the best kickers. In three seasons with the Chiefs, Butker has hit 89.7 percent of his field goals (62 of 69), which makes him the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history behind only the guy who's ranked at the top of our list.
Butker was a huge weapon for the Chiefs in 2019, and he was a big reason why Kansas City was able to earn a bye in the playoffs. One reason the Chiefs got that bye is because of a 23-16 win over the Patriots in Week 15 where Butker scored 11 points with three field goals and two extra points. Butker also came up big with in 26-23 win over the Vikings in Week 9, a game where he scored 14 points, which included making two pivotal kicks -- a 54-yarder with 2:36 left that tied the game and a 44-yarder that he hit as time expired. Butker closed the season by hitting 17 straight field goals, including the playoffs.
Although that streak doesn't include offseason kicks, it probably should, and that's because Butker hit a 77-YARD FIELD GOAL while practicing with himself back in April.
Andy Reid, if you're reading, don't be a coward, let Butker try one of those during the season.
1. Justin Tucker, Ravens
It's not often that you talk about a kicker being a lock for the Hall of Fame, but Justin Tucker is getting close to being in that category after eight NFL seasons. Although the Pro Football Hall of Fame has only inducted two true kickers -- Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen -- in its 57-year existence, Tucker is making a strong case for being the third (or fourth, if Adam Vinatieri gets in), so needless to say, he's at the top of our best kicker list.
One reason he's at the top is because he's the most accurate kicker in NFL history, which is kind of important, because if you can't make your kicks, you're not going to last long in this league. Missing kicks isn't something the Ravens ever have to worry about though, and that's because Tucker rarely ever misses. Over eight NFL seasons, Tucker has nailed 90.8% of his field goals, which makes him the only kicker with a career percentage above 90. Tucker hit 96.6% of his kicks in 2019, which ranked second in the NFL. His only miss of the entire season didn't come until Week 11, and when it happened, people were shocked.
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.
As an added bonus, he also sings that Joe Exotic song from "The Tiger King" better than Joe Exotic.
There's nothing Tucker can't do.
Just missed: Brandon McManus (Broncos), Randy Bullock (Bengals), Austin Seibert (Browns)
Just missed due to injury: Stephen Gostkowski (Free agent). When he's healthy, Gostkowski is easily one of the top 10 kickers in the league, but the problem for him in 2020 is that there's no guarantee he'll be healthy. The 36-year-old missed 12 games due to a hip injury last season, and for kickers, serious injuries to the lower half of their body can be difficult to come back from. Ryan Succop, Adam Vinatieri and Dan Bailey are all kickers who have struggled at times over the past few years after suffering a lower-body injury. If I knew for a fact Gostkowski was going to be healthy, he'd probably slide into the seventh or eighth spot on this list, and everyone would slide down a spot, which would cause Elliott to fall out of the top 10.
Just missed due to injury: Greg Zuerlein (Cowboys). Although Zuerlein played in all 16 games last season, he hasn't been the same kicker since missing multiple games to a groin injury in 2018. The former Rams kicker hit just 72.7% of his field goals last season, which was one of the worst percentages in the NFL. Zuerlein also missed six kicks between 40 and 49 yards, which was the most in the league. The Rams clearly weren't convinced that he would rebound in 2020, which is why reason why they let him walk in free agency.
Top 10 punters
10. Kevin Huber, Bengals
Although Huber won't blow you away with any of his numbers, he's lasted 11 years in the NFL, because he's consistently ranked in the top half of the league in most punting statistics. In 2019, Huber's net punting average was 42.1 yards, which ranked 10th overall in the NFL. The Bengals punter was even better at pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line. Huber did that a total of 30 times last season, making him one of just eight punters in the league who were able to pin their opponent inside the 20 at least 30 times. One thing Huber does better than almost any one is draw a fair catch, which is important, because it cuts down on return yards, and makes life easier for your punt coverage team. In 2019, Huber led the NFL by drawing 30 fair catches in a year where no one else even had 27. Thanks in large part to his booming kicks, opponents only averaged 5.7 yards per return against the Bengals, which was the fifth-lowest return rate against any full-time punter.
After booming his way to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2018, Dickson fell back to earth last season with a year that wasn't quite as impressive as first one in the NFL. After ranking second in the NFL in yards per punt in 2018 at 48.2 yards per kick, Dickson fell all the way to 20th in 2019 with a 45.1 average. Although Dickson lost some distance, he made up for that with his pinpoint accuracy. The Australian punter placed 34 of his kicks inside the 20-yard line, which ranked tied for third in the NFL. Dickson's ability to aim the ball also kept returns to a minimum with opponents only averaging 6.3 yards per return against the Seahawks. Only 10 full-time punters in the NFL surrendered 6.3 yards or less per return in 2019 and Dickson was one of them.
Dickson will be a fascinating player to watch in 2020, if only to see if he gets closer to his 2018 numbers or if the 2019 season was more indicative of the punter he's going to be going forward.
8. Cameron Johnston, Eagles
Last year, Michael Dickson was the top ranked Australian punter on our top 10 list, but this year, that honor belongs to Johnston, who's going into his third season with the Eagles. During the 2019 season, Johnston ranked in the top 10 in both yards per punt (46.4) and net yards per punt (42.3), and if you look at the past two years combined, Johnston looks even better. Since the start of the 2018 season, the 28-year-old is third in the NFL in yard per punt (47.2) and fifth in the NFL in net yards per punt (42.5).
Johnston is also good at drop-kicking the ball, which didn't really help his rank on this list, but it is fun to watch him do it.
Although Johnston will be playing the 2020 season on a one-year deal, he'll like be in Philly for at least two more seasons since he'll be a restricted free agent in March 2021, and it won't be surprising at all if the Eagles end up giving him a long-term deal.
7. Logan Cooke, Jaguars
Logan Cooke wasn't voted the Jaguars' team MVP in 2019, but he probably should have been, and that's because he spent his entire season digging Jacksonville out of trouble. Whenever the Jaguars offense sputtered, which was often, Cooke would come out and flip the field, which caused opposing offenses to usually start their drives with bad field position. Although Cooke ranked just sixth in the league in yards per punt (46.5), he was tied for first in the all-important net yards per punt with an average of 44.5. One reason Cooke's net average so high was because he forced a lot of fair catches. Opposing returners called for 26 fair catches on Cooke's punts last season, which was tied for the second-highest total in the NFL. Opposing returners also only averaged 5.3 yards per return against the Jaguars, which was tied for the fourth-best coverage in the NFL, which means Jacksonville was actually good at something last season, even though it kind of seemed like they were bad at everything.
6. Bryan Anger, Texans
If you feel like you've heard Anger's name before, that's probably because you know him better as "the punter who got drafted ahead of Russell Wilson in 2012." Although Anger's career hasn't been quite as successful as Wilson's, he has played well enough to crack our top 10 list here, and at this point, that's all you can ask for. Anger was so good last season that the Texans literally made a highlight reel of all his punts, which is something that doesn't usually happen for punters.
The best of Bryan Anger's 2019 punts.— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) April 6, 2020
If you're wondering why Anger got a highlight reel, it's because he one of the NFL's best punters in 2019. For one, he had a net average of 44.5 yards per punt, which was tied with Logan Cooke for the best in the NFL. Also, thanks to Anger, the Texans only gave up 53 PUNT RETURN YARDS ALL YEAR, which led the NFL (that's an average of 3.1 yards per game, if you're scoring at home). A big reason that number was so low is because only 17 of his 45 punts were returnable. Of the other 28, 16 ended on a fair catch, two went for a touchback while the other 10 were either downed or went out of bounds.
After signing Anger to a one-year deal in 2019, the Texans were so impressed with him last season that they ended up giving him a three-year, $7.5 million extension in December.
5. Brett Kern, Titans
A big reason the Titans defense was so good last year is because Brett Kern was always putting them in a position to succeed. During the 2019 season, Kern placed 37 punts inside the 20-yard line of his opponent, which led the NFL, and is more impressive when you consider that only two punters even hit the 35 mark (Kern and Jake Bailey). Being able to pin your opponent deep means a punter has a lot of control over his ball, but make no mistake, Kern could also boom that call whenever the Titans needed it. Not only did he rank fourth in the NFL in yards per punt (47.1), but he also ranked fourth in net yards per punt with an average of 43.1.
If Kern and the Titans have one weakness, it's that the Tennessee punt coverage team surrendered 9.0 yards per return. The Titans were one of just nine teams in the NFL that gave up nine or more yards per return in 2019.
On a completely unrelated note, if you are a fan of quality punting -- and who's not? -- you should probably watch as much AFC South football as possible next season. Out of our top 7 punters on this list, three of them came from the AFC South (Kern, Cooke, Anger).
Lee has been in the NFL since 2004, and somehow, he doesn't seem to be slowing down with age. In 2018, Lee led the NFL with 48.6 yards per punt, and although that's a tough performance to follow up, he was nearly as good in 2019. Last season, the 37-year-old averaged 47.8 yards per punt, which ranked second in the NFL. Lee is the only active punter who has booted multiple punts of 80 or more yards over the course of his career. One issue for Lee, and this seems to be an issue for a few punters on this list, is that he often outkicks his coverage, which leads to big returns from opposing players. In 2019, the Cardinals surrendered an average of 9.0 yards per return. Like the Titans, the Cardinals were one of just nine teams in the NFL that gave up nine or more yards per return in 2019.
3. Tress Way, Redskins
When you're the punter for the team that has the worst offense in the NFC, you're going to get a lot work, and the good news for the Redskins is that Tress Way definitely took advantage of that last season while playing for a Washington team that averaged and NFC-worst 274.3 yards per game. During the 2019 season, Way averaged a booming 49.6 yards per punt, which not only led the NFL, but it was the ninth-highest single-season total in NFL history. Way also averaged 44.1 net yards per punt, which ranked third in the NFL.
Since entering the NFL in 2014, Way has slowly turned into one of the best punters in the league, especially over the past two years. In 2018, 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.
If Way does have one weakness, it's that returners seem to always seem to find the open field with his punts. Last season, opponents averaged 9.1 yards per return, which marked the second straight year that the return number was over nine yards. Of course, a lot of that blame could be pinned on the Redskins' punt coverage team. On the other hand, Way does have a tendency to outkick his coverage every so often, like that time he hit a 79-yard punt 2019, which was longest punt by any player last year.
2. Johnny Hekker, Rams
Whenever there's a conversation about the best punters in the NFL, Johnny Hekker's name almost always comes up, which makes sense, because he's one of the best punters in the NFL. Since his rookie year in 2012, Hekker has been an absolute weapon for the Rams, and during the early part of his career with the team, he was arguably the only weapon. Hekker has been so good for so long that it's easy to forget how good he really is, so I'll do my best to remind you.
Over the course of his career, he's averaged 47.0 yards per punt, which is the second-highest number in NFL history. That total includes an average of 47.4 yards last season, which ranked third in the league. Hekker also had a net punting average of 42.4 yards in 2019, which ranked seventh in the league.
The one thing about Hekker is that he's not just a punter, he's a secret weapon. The man is a human Swiss Army knife for the Rams who does everything. Besides punting the ball, Hekker has also mastered the art of the throwing the the football. The Rams have ran so many fake punts with Hekker that he's actually completed more passes in his career than Taysom Hill.
Maybe Sean Payton should forget about Hill and think about letting Hekker be the next quarterback for the Saints.
1. Thomas Morstead, Saints
For the second straight year, Thomas Morstead is at the top of our best punters list, and that's because no one is better at punting the football right now than the guy in New Orleans. Sure, it might seem like the Saints don't ever punt, but the fact of the matter is that they actually do once in awhile, and when that happens, Morstead almost always comes through with a clutch punt.
In 2019, Morstead punted the ball 60 times and nearly half of those (29) landed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Morstead also made things easy for the Saints punt coverage team with his sky-high kicks that led to 21 fair catches. Morstead averaged 46.2 yards per punt last season, and although that only ranked 11th in the NFL, his net average of 43.1 ranked fifth overall. Morstead has ranked in the top-10 for net punting average in each of the past nine seasons and has ranked in the top-5 in seven of those seasons.
Oh, and let's not forget that he's also averaged 46.9 yards per punt over the course of his career, which ranks third in NFL history. Morstead has been in New Orleans since 2009, and if he keeps punting that way he's punting, the Saints probably aren't ever going to let him go.