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 corners to defensive ends to receivers, we’ve been ranking everyone, and as we do every year, we’ve saved the best for last: Punters and kickers.
At least, I think that’s why we saved this one for last. No one was really clear about it, so I’m just going to assume this is a classic “save the best for last” scenario.
Ranking NFL kickers is pretty easy — at least at the top — because you just put Justin Tucker at No. 1 and then go from there (Although Tucker’s grip on the top spot isn’t as firm as it used to be).
In the punting department, some fans might not even be able to name 10 punters, but we’re ranking 10 because punters are people, too. I mean, who can forget the time that a punter won the NFL’s award for Clutch Performance Play of the Year back in 2019 and he won it by throwing a pass to a KICKER.
Alright, let’s get to the rankings.
Top 10 kickers
Carlson was originally drafted by the Vikings in 2018 and they’re probably kicking themselves right now for letting him go. The Raiders kicker has been in the NFL for three seasons and he’s gotten better every year, including last season, when he drilled 94.3% of his field goals, which ranked sixth in the NFL. Not only was he accurate, but he also showed off his range as he was one of just four kickers in the NFL who attempted four or more field goals from beyond 50 yards and made all of them.
Carlson scored 144 points in 2020, which was tied for the most in the NFL.
The Raiders like Carlson so much that they gave the restricted free agent a second-round tender, which is a high tender for a kicker (The tender means a team would have had to give the Raiders a second-round pick to steal Carlson away this offseason). Thanks to the tender, Carlson will make $3.38 million in 2021.
After only playing eight games with the Falcons in 2019, Koo returned in 2020 and made his case to be the team’s long-term kicker and he made a pretty solid case. Not only did Koo make more field goals (37) than any other kicker in 2020, but he also finished with the sixth-highest accuracy rate (94.9%). Koo was deadly from long range, hitting 8-of-8 from 50 yards or more, making him the only kicker in the NFL who attempted five or more kicks from 50 yards or longer while hitting 100% of them.
Koo finished the year with 144 points scored, which was tied with Daniel Carlson and Jason Sanders for the most in the NFL.
Although Lutz struggled a little bit last year, he has a long track record of success in the NFL, which is why he made the top-10 even though he ranked just 21st in overall accuracy last season. When you look at his career, Lutz has been consistently good. In 2018 and 2019, Lutz 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, he hit 26 straight field goals, which set a Saints franchise record. Although Lutz had a down year in 2020, he did prove that he can still hit clutch kicks and one of his biggest came in Week 8 when he hit a game-winner against the Bears.
Lutz also hit 98.3% of his extras points in 2020 (57 of 58), which was the third-most accurate in the NFL.
7. Jason Sanders, Dolphins
After struggling during a 2019 season where he hit just 76.7% of his field goals, Sanders bounced back in 2020 and finished the year as one of the NFL’s best kickers. For one, he was one of only two kickers to hit 100% of his extra points last season (Matt Gay was the other one). The fourth-year kicker also finished the season with a 92.3% conversion rate on field goals, which is the best mark in Dolphins’ history. Sanders also hit eight field goals of 50 or more yards, which was tied for the most in the NFL.
The Dolphins like Sanders so much that they signed him to a five-year, $22 million extension this offseason, which made him the highest-paid kicker in the NFL.
Myers might not be ranked at the top of his list, but he was arguably the best kicker in the NFL last year. For one, he made EVERY SINGLE FIELD GOAL HE ATTEMPTED (24 of 24), which makes him one of only three kickers in NFL history to attempt 20 or more field goals in a season and make all of them (Mike Vanderjagt and Gary Anderson are the others).
Sanders was also the ONLY kicker in the NFL last season who hit a field goal of 60 yards or more.
If Sanders does have one weakness, it’s kicking extra points. His career conversion rate is under 90%, which is why he’s not higher on this list.
Like a delicious Wisconsin cheddar cheese, Mason Crosby has only gotten better with age (Cheese gets better with age right? Because if not, I might have to rethink that analogy). Some players get worse as they get older, but not Crosby, who had a career year in 2020. The 36-year-old kicker went a perfect 16 of 16 on field goals, making him one of just five kickers in NFL history to hit 100% of their field goals in a season where they attempted 15 or more kicks.
At one point during the season, Crosby hit a 57-yarder, which was the 10th longest field goal that any kicker made all year (The clip below says the kick was 58, but it was actually 57).
Thanks to his perfect performance in 2020, Crosby has now hit 90% or more of his field goals in two straight seasons (Before 2019, Crosby had never hit the 90% mark in his career). The amazing thing about Crosby is that he’s doing all this while playing in Green Bay, which isn’t an easy place to kick due to the weather and the natural grass field.
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 three years in Jacksonville, Lambo has hit 95% of his field goals, including a perfect 5-for-5 in 2020. The only reason Lambo isn’t higher on this list is because he’s coming off an injury-filled season where he was limited to just four games. Lambo was dealing with several lower-body injuries and it’s not always easy to recover from those.
If Lambo does come back healthy, there’s a good chance he’ll creep up this list in the future, especially because he almost never misses During his six seasons in the NFL, Lambo has hit 88.9% of his field goals, which makes him the third-most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Back in 2018, nearly everyone in Pittsburgh wanted to see the Steelers release Boswell after a disastrous season where he hit just 65% of his kicks.
In the end, the Steelers decided to keep their kicker and the gamble definitely paid off because Boswell has been one of the best kickers in the NFL over the past two years. In 2020, he hit 19 of 20 field goals, which is even more impressive when you consider that his only miss came from 59 yards out. Boswell’s 95% hit rate on field goals was the fourth-highest in the NFL. Although he struggled on extra points in 2020 — he hit just 89.5% — he’s only one year removed from a 2019 season where he made them all.
Boswell was one of the NFL’s best kickers during his first three years in the league (2015-17) and he’s returned to that form over the past two years. One other reason Boswell is ranked so high is because he holds the NFL postseason record for most field goals without a miss (16 for 16).
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 and if he keeps playing the way he’s playing, he might soon be at the top of his list. In four seasons with the Chiefs, Butker has hit 90.3 percent of his field goals (121 of 134), which makes him the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history and the only guy he’s behind is the guy who’s ranked ahead of him on this list.
Butker was a huge weapon for the Chiefs in 2020 and he showed just how clutch he can be early in the season when he hit a 58-yard game-winning field goal against the Chargers that still stands as the second-longest overtime field goal in NFL history.
Butker actually hit two different 58-yard field goals in that game, making him one of only two kickers in NFL history to hit multiple kicks from 58 yards or longer in a game. The Chiefs kicker showed off his booming leg in February when he became the first kicker in NFL history to hit multiple field goals of 49 yards or more in a Super Bowl. If there was one knock on Butker last year, it was that he struggled with his extra points, hitting just 88.9% of his kicks. However, it won’t be surprising if that ends up being just a one-year thing because before last year, he had hit 95.2% of his PATs through the first three years of his career.
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 nine NFL seasons. Although the Pro Football Hall of Fame has only inducted two true kickers — Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen — in its 58-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.
Being a great kicker in the NFL comes down to one main thing and that’s the ability to make field goals and no one does that better than Tucker. Over the course of his career, he’s made 90.7% of his kicks, which makes him the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Tucker’s accuracy numbers would be even higher if the Ravens didn’t regularly trot him out for crazy kicks. Over the course of his career, the Ravens have asked him to attempt five field goals of 61 yards or more (he’s 1 of 5 on those kicks).
No one’s more clutch than Tucker and he proved that last season when he hit a 55-yarder as time expired to beat the Browns in a wild Monday night game played in Week 14.
Tucker also has the highest accuracy rate on extra points among active kickers (98.9%).
Top 10 punters
Koch has been in Baltimore since 2006 and a big reason he’s lasted so long is because he’s one of the most consistent punters in the league. Having a former special teams coordinator as your head coach might add pressure for some people, but not for Koch, who seems to share a brain with John Harbaugh. The Ravens coach hates giving up touchbacks and there was no one better at avoiding touchbacks last year than Koch. Of his 51 punts, only one went for a touchback, which was the lowest number of any full-time punter. Also, no one was better at pinning in punt returners than Koch. Of his 51 punts, 20 of them were fair-caught and 22 landed inside the 20 and because of that, returners only averaged 4.8 yards per return against Baltimore, which was the second-lowest number surrendered in the NFL.
Not to be forgotten, Koch also might be the most efficient passer in NFL history.
The Ravens might want to let him play quarterback once in awhile.
Wishnowsky is the first of two Australians that landed on the top-10 list this year. In just his second year with the 49ers, Wishnowsky showed why he was worth a fourth-round pick back in 2019. During the 2020 season, the 49ers punter put 32 punts inside the 20, which was more than any other punter in the NFL. Thanks to his booming leg, his punts also led to 28 fair-catches, which was the second most that any punter in the NFL forced last season.
Oh and because he grew up playing Australian rules football, he also likes to tackle.
That looks like it hurt.
At this time last year, it was looking like Jack Fox might not even make it in the NFL, but then he won the punting job in Detroit and if he keeps kicking the way he’s been kicking, he’s likely going to have the job for a long time.
Fox went undrafted in 2019 and although he would eventually sign with the Chiefs, he got cut before the 2019 season started, which means he was basically sitting at home when the Lions finally decided to take a gamble on him heading into the 2020 season. That gamble paid off big time and that’s because Fox ended up setting the franchise record for both yards per punt (49.1) and net yards per punt (44.8) during a fantastic 2020 season (Both of those numbers ranked in the top-three in the NFL last year).
The only reason Fox isn’t higher on this list is because he struggled with touchbacks. The Lions punter hit seven touchbacks last season, which was tied for the most in the NFL. As a first-year punter, Fox has plenty of room to get better, which should scare other teams, because he’s already one of the best. Not only was he the NFC’s Pro Bowl punter last year, but he was also named second-team All-Pro.
It’s not often you see one of the best punters in the NFL switch teams, but that’s exactly what’s happening with Bojorquez this offseason. The Bills decided to let Bojorquez walk in free agency despite a 2020 season where he led the NFL in yards per punt with a number (50.8) that ranked as the fourth-highest of all-time. Bojorquez also had a net punting average of 44.0 yards, which ranked fifth in the NFL. During his time with the Bills last season, Bojorquez had a 72-yard punt, which was tied for the longest in the NFL.
Despite his impressive year, the Bills decided to let the left-footed punter leave to sign with the Rams (Buffalo replaced Bojorquez with Matt Haack). With Bojorquez now in Los Angeles, that’s going to set up one of the greatest punting competitions in training camp history this year and that battle will be with the fifth-ranked guy on this list.
There’s a reason Kern has been to three Pro Bowls in his career and that’s because he’s consistently been one of the best punters in the NFL over the course of his 13-year career. Although Kern missed three games due to injury last year, he was still quite the weapon when he was on the field. The Titans punter put 59.5% of his punts (22 of 37) inside the opponents 20, which is an insane number when you consider that only two other full-time punters even hit the 50% mark. Being able to pin your opponent deep means a punter has a lot of control over his ball. Kern also showed off that control by only allowing 13 of his punts to be returned for yardage, which was the second-lowest number in the NFL behind only Jake Bailey.
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.
That being said, even Hekker would probably admit that 2020 wasn’t his best year, which is why he’s so low on the list. Hekker averaged just 39.2 net yards per punt, which ranked an ugly 24th in the NFL. Opponents also averaged 12.9 yards per return on his punt, which makes both the punt team and the punter look bad. Of course, he also shined some areas and one of those areas was pinning the opponent inside their 20. Hekker did that a total of 28 times, which was the third most in the NFL.
Over the course of his career, the four-time Pro Bowler has averaged 47.0 yards per punt, which is the second-highest number in NFL history. Although Hekker wasn’t the best punter in 2020, he arguably had the best single-game of any punter last year. During a Week 7 win over the Bears, Hekker put five punts inside of Chicago’s 10-yard line.
Despite that success, the Rams are bringing in some competition for Hekker this year and although he’s been one of the league’s top punters for nearly a decade, there’s no guarantee he’s going to make it to his 10th year with the Rams.
If you watched any Jaguars games in 2020, then you probably saw a lot of Cooke and that’s because he was one of Jacksonville’s busiest players. 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. The Jags punter ranked sixth in the league in both yards per punt (47.7) and net yards per punt (43.2).
You could argue that the Jaguars best player over the past two years has been their punter, which is likely one reason why Jacksonville signed Cooke to a four-year, $12 million extension this offseason.
The Patriots raised some eyebrows in 2019 when they decided to use the 163rd overall pick on a punter, but after two years, Bailey is now making them look like geniuses. After a solid rookie year in 2019, Bailey followed that up with arguably the best overall season by a punter last year.
Not only did he lead the NFL in the all-important net-punting average (45.6), but he also ranked fourth overall in yards per punt (48.7). Bailey also managed to put a total of 31 punts inside his opponents’ 20-yard, which was the second-highest number in the NFL. The Patriots punter regularly got off booming punts, which includes the 60-yarder you see below.
At one point during the season, Bailey had a 71-yard punt, which was the third longest that anyone kicked in the NFL all season. Bailey was also probably pretty loved by the Patriots punt coverage team and that’s because only 12 of his 51 punts got returned, which was the fewest returns given up by a punter last year.
It’s not easy punting in New England and it’s not easy punting for a perfectionist like Bill Belichick, but Bailey made both of those things look easy during a 2020 season where he was voted to the Pro Bowl and named the first-team All-Pro punter.
If you watched Washington play last season, you may have noticed that they had one of the worst offenses in the NFL and because of that, Tress Way ended up punting the ball 73 times in 2020, which was the most of any punter in the league. When you’re punting that often, there’s always a chance that you can mess up or your leg can fall off, but neither of those things happened to Way.
One reason Washington was able to win the division last year with a lackluster offense was because Way was regularly able to flip the field. During the 2020 season, Way averaged a booming 48.0 yards per punt, which ranked fifth in the NFL and this came just one year after a 2019 season where he finished with the 10th-highest single-season average in NFL history (49.6). Way also averaged 44.3 net yards per punt, which ranked fourth 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 three 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. In 2020, he only kicked three touchbacks making him one of just three punters who had three or less touchbacks on 60 or more punts.
Way also made things easy on his punt coverage team as 25 of his punts went for a fair-catch, which was the third highest total in the NFL.
After booming his way to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2018, Dickson has somehow only gotten better. Dickson seems to have perfected the art of pinning a punt inside the 20-yard line because he did it 32 times last season, which was the most in the NFL.
Over the past three years, no punter has placed more balls inside the 10-yard line than Dickson, who has done it 41 times since 2018. He’s also pinned the opponent inside their own five-yard line more times (15) than any other punter over that span.
When a punter is pinning teams deep, he’ll sometimes have to give up some of his strength for finesse, but not Dickson, who was regularly booming punts in Seattle. Over the course of the season, he averaged 49.6 yards per punt, which ranked second in the NFL and 10th all-time in NFL history. He also averaged 44.4 net yards per punt, which ranked third in the league.
The Australian is also a great actor, which comes in handy on fake punts.
Look at him SELL THAT FAKE PUNT. That’s an Oscar-worthy performance.
The Seahawks clearly know they have something special in Dickson, which is probably why they gave him a four-year, $16 million extension this offseason.
Note: Free agent punters weren’t considered for this list since there’s no guarantee they’ll be playing in the NFL this year.