You may not be aware of it, because who pays attention to the NFL points leader each year. But New England's Stephen Gostkowski is going for 4 year in a row as a +500 favorite at Ladbrokes.
Gostkowski One To Beat Again
If I ever have children, I'm not sure I would be comfortable letting them play football because of the rash of concussion-related problems we have seen in recent years. Just last week we found out that former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer apparently attempted suicide perhaps as a result of repeated hits to the head while he was playing in the league. What I would allow my son to do is be a kicker because they almost never get it. And as Gostkowski has proven, you can get rich simply for kicking a football.
Earlier this summer, the Patriots signed Gostkowski to a four-year, $17.2 million extension. The team had designated him as its franchise player. I'm not sure I've ever heard of a team wasting that designation on a kicker, but it didn't matter in the end. Gostkowski has led the NFL in points four times in his career including each of the past three seasons. He had 156 in 2014 and his career best was 158 in 2013. You need a strong-legged kicker if you play in an outdoor stadium in a cold-weather city and that's certainly the case with the Patriots. Gostkowski was 35-for-37 on field goals in 2014, hitting all 51 extra points that he attempted. He became New England's all-time leading scorer in 2014, passing Adam Vinatieri. Gostkowski was picked in the fourth round of the 2006 draft to replace Vinatieri when he left for Indianapolis. Gostkowski's strong leg led to 53 touchbacks during the 2014 regular season, which tied for fifth most in the league. He has made 243 field goals since entering the NFL, the most in the league over that stretch. His 93.6 accuracy percentage is also the best over the past two seasons among kickers with at least 20 attempts. No. 2 is Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham at 92.2, but he already has been lost for the season due to injury.
The NFL record for points is 186 by former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006. He won the NFL MVP Award that season. The most by a kicker in League history was 166 by former San Francisco 49er David Akers in 2011. Gostkowski is the first player since the merger to lead the league in points three straight seasons. He has made 17 field goals of at least 50 yards in his career, with a long of 54. Obviously the Tom Brady potential four-game suspension could hurt Gostkowski as I doubt the Patriots score as much under backup Jimmy Garropolo, although he did look fantastic in this weekend's exhibition game against New Orleans. Gostkowski kicked a 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to cap a three-touchdown comeback vs. the Saints.
Rest Of Favorites
The second favorite at Ladbrokes at +800 actually is a draw. That hasn't happened since Rafael Septien and Eddie Murray tied in 1981. Also at +800 is Eagles kicker Cody Parkey. As a rookie in 2014, Parkey was 32-for-36 on field goals, including 4-for-4 from at least 50 yards. He didn't miss an extra point in 54 tries; Parkey's 150 points were an NFL record for a rookie. Parkey also broke the Philadelphia single-season scoring record of 144 points set by Akers in 2008. Remember that extra points will be from about 33 yards this season. I don't expect to see a surge in 2-point attempts with the NFL moving that back, however.
The Colts' Vinatieri is +900. He led the league in points in 2004 with 141 for the Patriots and had 140 last year with Indianapolis. Vinatieri, who is the NFL's oldest player, hit 30-for-31 on field goals in 2014, the best percentage (96.7) in the NFL and fifth-best in league history.
The Broncos' Connor Barth is +1000. He has the advantage of kicking in the thin air of Denver for eight games a season. He was only signed by the team in late November last year after Denver waived Brandon McManus. Barth hadn't kicked in a regular-season game since 2012 with Tampa Bay. He did not play in 2013 after suffering a torn right Achilles tendon in a charity basketball game. Barth was 15-for-16 on field goals with Denver and 15-for-15 on extra points to finish with 60 points in five games.
NFL Free Pick: Needless to say you need to pick a kicker on a good offensive team. All things equal, I also would prefer a guy who kicks indoors at home. Thus I'm going with Vinatieri as the Colts should be a tremendous offensive team and he will be kicking in 10 games indoors (also at Houston and Atlanta).