Broncos kicker Matt Prater set a new NFL record with a 64-yard field goal this season, and so it wasn’t surprising that Prater was one of the two kickers chosen to this season’s Pro Bowl, along with Baltimore’s Justin Tucker. But while it wasn’t surprising, it also wasn’t deserving.
Prater benefited from the effects of Denver’s altitude, where the air is less dense and kicked footballs travel farther. And a closer look at Prater’s numbers this season makes clear that he was far from the best kicker in the league when he wasn’t benefiting from that elevation.
Prater’s 64-yard field goal was impressive, but lots of NFL kickers could make a field goal that long in Denver if given the opportunity. Away from Denver, Prater didn’t show off a particularly strong leg: His longest field goal on the road this season was good from just 50 yards, at Dallas.
Overall, Prater had a good season on field goals, but not as good as Denver’s altitude made him look. Field goals, however, are only part of a kicker’s job.
On kickoffs, Prater was even more dependent on Denver’s altitude: Prater had 54 touchbacks in Denver this season and only 22 touchbacks on the road. In fact, Prater’s touchback rate on the road this season was 45.8 percent. Far from being Pro Bowl-worthy, that’s below the league average.
Tucker did deserve to be one of the kickers in the 2014 Pro Bowl, but there were better options than Prater for the other Pro Bowl kicker spot. Graham Gano of the Panthers led the NFL in touchback rate on kickoffs at 77.6 percent despite not benefiting from elevation, and Gano was also better than Prater on long field goals, going 6-for-6 from 50 yards and beyond, compared to 5-for-6 for Prater. Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots also would have been a better choice than Prater: Gostkowski kicked off for touchbacks at a 64.1 percent clip and was 5-for-6 from 50 yards and beyond.
Prater had a solid year overall, but the two Pro Bowl spots should have gone to the two best kickers. And Prater only looked like he was one of the NFL’s two best kickers because he was kicking at elevation.