Good Morning, Broncos fans! We've been highly critical of John Elway & Co. for having made the strong-legged but inaccurate Matt Prater one of the league's highest paid kickers this season.
After using their franchise tag to retain the restricted free agent last off-season, Denver gave the sixth-year kicker $4.25M in guarantees as part of a four-year, $13M deal. Those guarantees amount to his 2012 compensation, and he's due salaries of $2.5M, $3M, and $3.25M over the next three seasons.
Has Prater lived up to the tag, or the contract? So far, he absolutely has not.
At 23/29 (79.3%) on the season, the UCF alum ranks 26th out of 31 kickers who have attempted at least 15 field goals.
Unfortunately, that he's been so inaccurate is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, his success rate is a tick higher than his pre-2012 figure, which was 78.4%.
What about the strength of Prater's leg and the resultant touchbacks? Two factors go a long way in negating that advantage: Denver's altitude, and the NFL's having moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line.
Taking a quick look at kickoffs at SAF@MH this season, Prater's strong leg has resulted in 34 touchbacks on 35 kicks, with opponents' average starting field position being the 20.03-yard line.
Impressive, for sure.
Opponents have only achieved touchbacks on 16 of 24 kickoffs, which would appear to speak in defense of Prater. But much of this is attributable to the overzealous rookie Omar Bolden, who's taken out deep kickoffs three times, with poor results (an average start of the 11-yard line).
As a result, Denver's average starting field position on kickoffs at SAF@MH has been their 19.25-yard line, which is 0.78 yards worse than they've allowed their opponents. (We'll examine road kickoffs at a later juncture.)
Back to field goals, Prater got off to a hot start by making his first 11 attempts, and he looked the part of a confident kicker who might even justify his bloated contract (the thinking here is that no kicker deserves such a salary). But since the second quarter of the Week 10 win at Carolina, it's all fallen apart for the 28-year-old, who has missed at least one FG attempt in five of Denver's last six games, going a putrid 12/18 (67%) over that stretch.
Kicks between 40 and 49 yards continue to be a particular problem spot - four of his six misses have come from that range - and his career success rate there is just 55.8%. Sure, he's done better in his career from 50 and beyond (15/20, 75%), but in all, that means Prater is just a 61.9% kicker (39/63) for his career on kicks of 40 yards and longer.
In each of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he's now been 3/7 from 40-49 yards, and 3/4 from 50+, for a total of 12/22 (54.5%) over two seasons from 40 and out.
A deeper statistical look, via Chase Stuart, suggests that Prater has been the 31st best kicker out of 37 this season, whether measured by success rate, or by distance.
These numbers are not of a quality that should result in a kicker landing one of the league's biggest contracts at his position.
Rather, they're the sort that usually result in him getting cut.
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