This is the final preliminary phase of our examination of the best player in NFL history, and we have a select group of finalists already, derived from analysis the two Fridays prior: defensive guys and offensive skill-position guys. Today, we’re looking at the possibility of offensive linemen and kickers advancing to the final discussion next week.
We have a group of eight offensive linemen already in the Hall of Fame (plus one who should be), and we have a smaller collection of six kickers we will look at today as well. Heck, a kicker once won the NFL MVP Award, so why not? We’re not saying we agreed with that 1982 vote, but it was a weird strike-shortened season?
We will tackle that one later. On to the analysis …
In order, the top-nine OLs in terms of Approximate Value (AV) are in our discussion, and as noted, eight of them are in the Hall of Fame already. That’s a pretty good group to analyze, so here they are in order of total AV.
- Bruce Matthews: 210 AV in 296 games (.709 per game)
- Anthony Muñoz: 174 AV in 185 games (.941)
- Randall McDaniel: 164 AV in 222 games (.739)
- Mike Webster: 163 AV in 245 games (.665)
- Will Shields: 157 AV in 224 games (.701)
- Jim Otto: 154 AV in 210 games (.733)
- Jeff Saturday: 154 AV in 211 games (.730)
- Kevin Mawae: 152 AV in 241 games (.631)
- Gene Upshaw: 151 AV in 217 games (.696)
First, tell us why Saturday is not in the Hall of Fame, and we will honor you with a Twitter shout out. Second, one player stands out here for his per-game AV, and that is left tackle Muñoz, who compiled the second-most AV for an offensive lineman in history despite playing just 13 seasons.
After Muñoz, the next best per-game AV players are McDaniel, Otto, and Saturday. Matthews played three-plus seasons more than anyone else, and that returns us to the quantity-versus-quality quandary. It could be said he has both, since his per-game AV is still over that .700 threshold that creates two tiers here.
Then again, Muñoz is in his own level here. However, he and left guard McDaniel also each had the athleticism to line up as eligible receivers in their careers, and each scored touchdowns on pass receptions: Muñoz actually caught four TD passes, while McDaniel had one while also rushing twice in his career.
These two players weren’t just linemen: They could have been tight ends, maybe, as well, or even H-backs, depending on the creativity of their coaches in the NFL. But there’s really no comparison even between Muñoz and McDaniel, to be fair.
Otto and Saturday were excellent centers, of course, but they weren’t in the same category as Muñoz—clearly in a class by himself, getting the solo nod from the positional breakdown.
Generally, they don’t play enough during a 60-minute game to compile realistic AV numbers for comparison, so it’s tougher to look at kickers in this GOAT conversation. However, in a points-per-game analysis, this is what our list looks like.
- Adam Vinatieri: 2,673 points in 365 games (7.3 ppg)
- Morten Andersen: 2,544 points in 382 games (6.7 ppg)
- Gary Anderson: 2,434 points in 353 games (6.9 ppg)
- Jason Elam: 1,983 points in 263 games (7.5 ppg)
- Sebastian Janikowski: 1,913 points in 284 games (6.7 ppg)
- Stephen Gostkowski: 1,775 points in 204 games (8.7 ppg)
There’s also kickoff-touchback percentage to consider here, but the statistics aren’t complete for all the full careers of some kickers here, and they changed the rules, too, making touchbacks different to achieve in different eras. We can’t go there.
On the surface, Gostkowski, Elam, and Vinatieri have the scoring edges, although it’s clear this is tied to team quality and longevity. The more games Gostkowski plays in, his scoring average will drop.
Can we narrow this trio down using field-goal and extra-point percentages? That’s tough, too, on the first, because if they had a stronger leg—like Elam—coaches were more likely to let them attempt more low-percentage kicks. Still, this is what we have, in terms of missed kicks.
- Vinatieri: 140 missed kicks (116 FGs, 24 XPs), 5.8 misses per season
- Elam: 108 missed kicks (104 FGs, 4 XPs), 6.4 misses
- Gostkowski: 63 missed kicks (54 FGs, 9 XPs), 4.5 misses
Of course, in the last handful of seasons, they’ve also moved the XPA yard line back, making it more likely misses would occur. Either way, it seems that Gostkowski is well on his way to becoming the greatest kicker in NFL history, in terms of scoring and accuracy. Can we overlook his team’s established record of cheating, which certainly has enhanced his scoring totals?
Even if Gostkowski wasn’t directly involved in the cheating scandals himself, he has been a major beneficiary in terms of scoring opportunities. It’s hard to look at his totals without taking that into consideration—even if he has been very accurate in his kicks overall.
All things considered, we’d pick Elam as the best kicker in NFL history since he was so good from downtown and missed so few extra points in his career. But in the end, we don’t think kickers have enough impact on the game throughout the full 60 minutes to warrant inclusion here.
A great kicker can make the difference in a few spots throughout the game, and close games really do decide the fates of teams on a season-to-season basis, but it’s just not enough for the GOAT discussion, really.
So this becomes our final “list” for next Friday’s ultimate GOAT analysis: Muñoz. He joins our three defensive finalists and our four offensive finalists in an eight-man contextual comparison next week.
Who knows? Maybe we will end up revising our GOAT pick in the end. Stay tuned!