At the 2021 Week 8 game between the Steelers and Browns, the Steelers kicker was injured during a fake field goal attempt in the second quarter and couldn't return. The Steelers did not attempt any field goals or extra points later in the game - I guess due to nobody on the roster was able to kick even an XP. Earlier in the season the Colts had similar problem against the Ravens - their kicker got injured during pregame warmups and for an 45+ yard attempt the punter was sent in to kick it (the kick went wide, but due to a defensive offside the ball was moved 5 yards closer and the injured kicker was able to score from there). Later two more FGs and an XP was missed by the injured kicker.

Even though kickers appears only in a handful of plays, they tend to score the most points on a team (as of Week 9 2021, 18 of the top 20 players by scoring are kickers), so they are a pretty important player to a team - which begs the question: why don't have the teams a "good enough" backup kicker on the roster? I understand that the roster size is limited, so teams rather keep a 6th receiver or an 8th defensive lineman than a second kicker, but why don't they keep a punter who can also kick an XP and a 35 yards long FG at least as good as a "full time" kicker? I read that the kicking and punting movement is different, but there are players who do both (for example the above mentioned Colts punter was kicking field goals at collage).

3 Answers 3


The problem you have is that you're talking about professional teams, the best of the best, where each player is among the 32 or so best at their position (for positions with one player, anyway) in the world. The level of ability at their very precise skill is extremely high - and because of the amount of work needed, everything else is, for the most part, left aside.

College is entirely different - most college teams have a field goal kicker, but most of them are not nearly on the same level as a pro; not only are there only 32 professional kickers (give or take), of which maybe 25 are year-to-year-consistent, but field goal kicker is one of the most long lived players in the NFL - they can kick into their 40s, a career of nearly 20 years, if they're good! So maybe two kickers a year, at most, come out of college. Everyone else in the college ranks is not good enough - and for most college teams it's a huge difference. Few have a kicker who is reliable even from 35 yards. See this article which shows "power 5" (the very top schools) kickers are only 71% from 35-39 yards, for example, and would make only 83% of extra points (30-34 yards) in the NFL. Not horrible, but again these are people practicing kicks, and they're the top of that group - and they're only taking kicks their coaches think they can make, so the teams that have worse kickers don't try them from that distance as often.

It's not that different from pitchers and batting in the MLB. Sure, a few pitchers have some skill at hitting - Otani, for example - but, for the most part, pitchers are terrible hitters. That's because the skill is so different that what makes them, physically, incredible pitchers doesn't really correspond to making them good hitters, even if they practiced a lot - which they don't, because that would take away time from pitching practice. It's so incredibly rare to find someone who has both kinds of physical gifts, winning the lottery twice, basically.

The same goes for punters and kickers - while there are some corresponding elements, kicking field goals is really hard. Even the best kickers have bad days! It takes an incredible amount of practice to be able to hit a 35 yard field goal - it's not just leg, it's having a super consistent action and a huge amount of built-up muscle memory. Leg helps, of course, but it's not nearly the same as a punter - who needs some accuracy also, of course, but a very different kind of muscle memory goes into punts.

So, why don't they have a punter who can also kick field goals at a professional level? Because those people don't exist, and it's not worth it to find those people who are slightly worse punters and somewhat capable field goal kickers - as they wouldn't have a job more than once every few seasons.

And one other thing to address - "they are 18/20 of the top scoring players" - that's pretty meaningless in the NFL. No quarterbacks are on that list, but that's because they don't get credit for "scoring" points for their touchdown passes, or their handoffs, or whatnot - only if they actually score. It's like saying 1B gets the most putouts, by far, in baseball... it's true, but it's nearly irrelevant; they're doing a small amount of work, while the 2b/ss/3b is doing the majority of the (difficult) work. I'd still rather have a good fielding 1b for sure, but it's not really accurate to describe them as the most important fielder!

Kickers score the most because there is only one of them, while there are multiple of every other position that actually scores. Many of those points are extra points, which can be totally disregarded - the average team would, actually, be better off going for two anyway! So you do miss some field goals, but even then many of those aren't really adding much in the way of marginal points; some in fact are kicked when the expected points from that down and distance are more than three! Teams can, and do, win without a kicker that can kick at all, and while it's better to have a good kicker of course, it's by no means the end of the world if your kicker gets hurt in-game.

  • Thanks, I was not aware that the level of kicking at the college level is that different - I'm spoiled by watching the NFL kickers. I mean it's week 11 and there are at least 3 kickers who haven't missed at all from inside the 50 and an at least an other 5 who only missed once... They even seem to score on more 50+ yard kicks than miss (of course, head coaches might not send those kickers out in the first place if the kick wouldn't be in their range). Nov 18, 2021 at 13:20
  • You're exactly right on that parenthetical - look at kickers like Cairos Santos, who is one of those 3 kickers you reference. His only miss is from 65 yards (on target, but nearly 10 yards short) - but it's also his only attempt from 50+. He did miss an extra point, though. Some of this is that there's more understanding now of the expected value of field goal attempts versus going for it on fourth down - that 54 yard FG attempt that's maybe 30% at best, on 4th and 2, is a very poor deal indeed.
    – Joe
    Nov 18, 2021 at 16:56

Generally punters can kick field goals in a pinch. Since Kickers and Punters are specialists, they don't generally practice the "other" kicking discipline; however, many kickers and punters pulled double duty in high school, so they have done it before.

The challenge in the Steelers situation specifically, is that the Punter is also generally the holder on field goals, so they need someone else who is knows how to position the ball correctly and on-time for the kick to be successful. In the Steelers case for some reason, their back-up holder was their starting QB (Ben Roethlisberger). The team did not want to risk the starting QB getting kicked in his throwing hand by an inexperienced place kicker due to a mistake from the punter who was kicking field goals or from Roethlisberger (who is not used to regularly holding kicks). See this article.

If the Steelers would have had a backup QB or other position player be the backup holder, the punter would have most likely attempted a field goal.

  • Are you able to provide a source for any of the statements made here?
    – Philip Kendall
    Nov 5, 2021 at 13:06
  • @PhilipKendall I did link the article explaining the whole Steelers backup holder situation in my answer. Here it is again. steelersnow.com/…
    – kuhl
    Nov 5, 2021 at 13:47
  • 2
    @kuhl I think that the [1] got lost there - I put a short sentence making it a bit more obvious.
    – Joe
    Nov 5, 2021 at 15:25
  • I think this is really useful for adding the context on PIT/CLE (+1). I don't think it quite answers the question overall though - the question wasn't "why did PIT not attempt a field goal", but "why did PIT not have a punter who was also a competent kicker", which they did not (as the article explains). I don't think most punters can reliably make 35 yard field goals (and in nearly every case I've seen where kickers got injured mid-game, at best the punter tried the extra points or similar distance back when they were on the 2 - they weren't trying 35+ distance).
    – Joe
    Nov 5, 2021 at 15:27
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    @Joe the reason wasn't that the punter couldn't kick a field goal, but that he's not experienced with it and so they didn't want to risk the QBs hand. If the holder was say a backup QB or a WR or something, they most likely would have given him a shot at an XP at least. By the way, I also agree with your answer (and your answer should be the accepted one because it is more general) that these are specialties and they just don't waste time practicing the other kicking discipline.
    – kuhl
    Nov 5, 2021 at 15:51

The answer is that punters can, and do, serve as backup place kickers in most NFL teams because most of them kicked field goals in college and "know what to do". (Likewise, the place kicker will usually punt if the punter is invalided out of the game and a punt is essential). The reasons you see it so seldom are as follows:-

  1. The place kicker seldom gets hurt during a game. If he gets hurt in training the team will quickly sign a specialist replacement until he recovers.
  2. When he DOES get hurt, the coach then has to offset in his mind the likely return from a different option (going for two, "going for it" on 4th down) against the likely return from a place kick by a backup kicker.
  3. Very, very occasionally there is someone on the team with more place kicking experience than the punter.
  4. You've got a problem if the punter is the regular holder (seems usual today, but historically it was usually the backup quarterback, a more sensible choice IMO). You could be confronted with a situation where a backup holder is holding for a backup place kicker, without benefit of any practice or rehearsal. And, because these are professional footballers and athletes, they may very well get the job done even so, but it all reduces the odds when the coach is making the game call referred to in 2. above.

All that said, it can and does happen - just very infrequently.

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