The legend of Evan McPherson
Thomas Zwiller | Monday, February 7, 2022
Swagger. Moxie. Confidence.
When you read those words, and you think of football, you likely think of the quarterback, the position that has legends such as Joe Montana, Tom Brady and more recently Patrick Mahomes. The quarterback position tends to make icons. When the casual viewer watches the game, they tend to focus on the quarterback, for better or worse.
However, the person I want to talk about is not on that list. They play for the Bengals and are just beginning their legend. And no, I’m not talking about Joe Burrow, but he certainly belongs on that list. I am also not talking about Jamar Chase, though he certainly fits that description too.
Instead, I want to talk about the Bengals kicker Evan McPherson.
I was introduced to McPherson like most of us when the Bengals took him in the 5th round of the NFL draft, 149th overall. However, it was not an introduction that stuck. The most I remember was the mention of it on Twitter. Eddie Radosevich, a writer for Sooner Scoop, tweeted out, “So the Bengals opted to not protect their franchise QB in the first round and took a kicker in the 5th. That’s an interesting game plan.” That tweet has since been retweeted by Freezing Cold Takes.
The reintroduction to Evan McPherson came later against the Titans in the Divisional Round when he kicked a game-winning field goal. After the game, Joe Burrow revealed that as McPherson went out onto the field, he said, “Looks like we’re going to the AFC Championship” before kicking a 52-yard field goal.
Talk about swagger. Pure ice in his veins.
And that was capping off a performance in which he was already 3/3 on field-goal tries and 1/1 in extra-point tries. McPherson had an interestingly similar stat-line in his game against the Chiefs. He went 4/4 and 1/1, with his farthest being from 52 yards. So when the Bengals had a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, and they got the ball back, I think everyone knew who would be sending Cincinnati to the Super Bowl. At 31 yards, it felt like a lock.
His outstanding kicking performance against the Chiefs and the Titans may have felt like a surprise, but it likely should not have. According to ESPN, McPherson went 28 of 33 on attempts in the regular season, including 9/11 from 50+ yards. He went 46/48 on extra-point attempts.
His play has only improved in the postseason, where he has gone 12/12, including a perfect 3-3 from 50+ through three games. But again, that performance should not surprise us either. McPherson missed just one extra point attempt in his 150 tries at the University of Florida. That is good enough for 99.3%. His collegiate field goal percentage is a little less stellar. As a freshman, he went 17/19 (89.5%), 17/19 again as a sophomore and then 17/22 (77.3%) as a junior to close at a career percentage of precisely 85%.
The career percentage was historically outstanding, which sort of surprised me. With that career percentage, McPherson ranked #1 in the SEC since 1956. And it was also good enough to rank him 13th in the NCAA since 1956. On top of that, in both 2018 and 2019, his season percentage was good enough to rank him first in the SEC. It got him 5th and 10th in the NCAA, respectively. (CTSY of College Football Reference)
So maybe it should not be a surprise the Bengals took McPherson in the 5th round. The move looks better and better the deeper you look into it. The Bengals special teams unit ranks 8th by Football Outsiders DVOA metric. More specifically, the Bengals FG/XP unit ranks fourth, and their kickoff unit ranks second. Packers fans look on in envy.
So, looking at how good McPherson is, and how good the Bengals special teams are, begs the question: Does it make sense to draft kickers more often?
I got some historical data from DraftHistory.com, and there are approximately 4.3 kickers taken in every NFL draft. On average, they were drafted in the 8th round and taken 215th overall. Those numbers feel a little bit high, and with good reason. The NFL draft has gone through many changes since its inception in 1936 when it was nine rounds. The NFL draft was 30 rounds long in 1950 and is now the seven-round format adopted in 1994.
The data changes once you throw out the data from older draft formats. From 1994 to 2021, NFL teams took 54 kickers. That winds up being an average of 2.25 kickers per draft. Their average round is the 5th, and their position is 169th. I’m not saying that NFL teams should start drafting kickers with a first-round pick. But McPherson and his successful rookie year might be enough to persuade NFL teams to draft kickers in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds. The odds that you find hit on someone that deep in the draft are low, so why not try to secure someone at an undervalued position.
But all of this brings me to my main point. When I did my NFL Awards column, I may honestly have overlooked McPherson. Not for MVP, but he should get a Rookie of the Year award.
Since there is only Rookie of the Year (ROY), Offensive ROY and Defensive ROY, I think there is only one solution. Make Ja’Marr Chase the OROY, Micah Parsons DROY and Evan McPherson the ROY.
Call it a prisoner of the moment take, and for me, it might just be, but for ZLO, that is another matter entirely. The model rewards kickers for a combination of things: accuracy first and foremost, but also the length of the kick, extra points, kickoff yards and touchbacks.
Since the end of the regular season, it has had McPherson as its number one kicker in the NFL (the model does not update with playoff stats). Coincidentally Matt Gay, the kicker for the Super Bowl-bound Los Angeles Rams, is neck and neck with McPherson, but that’s a column for another day.
So, in conclusion, while I doubt it is unlikely that McPherson will win the Rookie of the year award, I think he should, or at the very least, there is a case to be made.