- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
After watching games and breaking down film, Scouts Inc., in conjuntion with ESPN.com's Matt Williamson, has evaluated and graded more than 2,500 NFL players heading into the 2012 season. Here's how the top kickers stacked up.
Note: No rookies were included in this exercise. Age refers to player's age at start of the 2012 season on Sept. 5.
Especially with the recent change in kickoff location sending most balls into the end zone for a touchback, the most valuable kickers are the ones who put the ball between the uprights for points. Kickoff performance is clearly a secondary concern.
The best place-kickers convert their field goals year after year, despite the pressure of the situation or the weather conditions they face. Consistency and trust is the key here.
A head coach needs to know exactly what his kicker is capable of and from what distance.
There can be a lot of movement among kickers, as they tend to bounce around the league, and there always seems be a former NFL kicker available on speed dial if a replacement is suddenly needed.
Here is my ranking of Dawson, Janikowski and the top kickers in the NFL heading into the 2012 season.
Janikowski is one of the few kickers who has been drafted in the first round in recent history and has, at times, struggled to live up to expectations. He has a huge leg that can hit the occasional 60-plus-yard field goal and consistently kicks off into the end zone.
He is a left-footed kicker who hits on a high percentage of his field goals and has the poise and competitiveness to win games.
Kaeding has been one of the NFL's elite kickers since being drafted by the Chargers eight years ago, but he missed the 2011 season with an ACL injury. He is a good-sized kicker with a live and powerful leg.
He is a clutch kicker who does not appear to feel pressure and has won his share of games with late field goals over the years. He may lack elite leg power but is extremely consistent from 50 yards and in.
Bironas has enough of a leg to consistently get his kickoffs to or into the end zone and has a range of 50 to 55 yards for field goals. He is a right-footed kicker with a quick, compact motion and gets the ball up quickly.
He has shown the ability to be a clutch kicker throughout his career.