Sebastian Janikowski Probably Wasn’t Worth a First Round Pick (and the Value of Other Kickers)

Kickers have been at the forefront of NFL conversation over the past few days. Some of this stems from an article at Pewter Report which discusses Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht’s process during the 2016 NFL Draft — the one where they traded up in the second round to select Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo. Other parts of this stem from it being the end of May and anything NFL related will be over dissected because there’s little noteworthy news at this time of year.

The article itself has more than a few fascinating revelations, the biggest of which is the first-ground grade Licht claims the Buccaneers had on their new kicker. Tampa Bay didn’t take Aguayo in the first round, but the second-round selection made the Florida State product the highest drafted kicker since the Oakland Raiders picked Sebastian Janikowski 17th overall in 2000.

On the same day the Pewtor Report article was posted, Frank Schwab of Yahoo’s Shutdown Corner blog posted an article asking if Janikowski was worth the first-round pick. His conclusion: it’s hard to know. Even as someone who appreciates the ambiguous post ending more than most, I found this was something I wanted to get an answer for — so here we are, three paragraphs into a post trying figuring out just that.

What we can start to do is take a look at what Janikowski was expected to produce from his draft slot by Approximate Value. Thanks to Chase Stuart’s draft pick calculator, we can find the 17th overall pick in a given draft has an average of 16.6 AV over the first five years of a career. Janikowski’s production just clears that bar at 17 AV.

So there, Janikowski was worth more than the Raiders should have expected with the 17th overall selection. Totally worth it, right? Well, let’s not end this argument too quickly.

Every draft pick comes with an opportunity cost. In its simplest terms, by selecting someone with a given pick, a team can’t select someone else. That’s amplified early in the draft with top talent still on the board. It’s then amplified even more when selecting a kicker with that spot. It’s a two-part cost, really. The selecting them is missing out on taking another first-round talent in the middle of the round, and they also won’t be taking a flyer on a kicker later in the draft, where value is typically found at that position.

There were two other kickers drafted in 2000 after Janikowski, both in the sixth round. Neil Rackers was selected 169th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals and Paul Edinger was selected 174th by the Chicago Bears. Despite the five round difference in pedigree, both Rackers and Edinger rate favorably to Janikowski in different ways.

Below is a table showing the three kickers, draft spot, expected AV through the first five years, actual first five years AV and the AV of the best five-year stretch of each kicker’s career:

KickerJanikowskiRackersEdinger
Pick17169174
Exp. AV16.61.91.7
First 5 AV17716
Peak 5 AV21 (08-12)20 (05-09)16

While Janikowski outperformed the AV expectation of the 17th pick, Edinger was just one AV behind Janikowski in those first five years while having an expectation of just 1.7 as the 174th overall pick — a 941.2 percent return on investment. Meanwhile Rackers had a rough start to his career — he was worth 0 AV in his first two seasons and only lasted three in Cincinnati — but his five year peak was also just one below Janikowski. Those seasons came from 2005-2009 and also included a Pro Bowl and All-Pro appearance. In his 16 year career, Janikowski has made one Pro Bowl and no All-Pro teams. Sure those aren’t the best indicators of success, but it is a disturbing lack of accolades for a kicker who has been in the league this long.

It appears Janikowski’s one real skill is longevity. But even that hasn’t really helped his overall value. Including Janikowski there are still three active players from the 2000 draft. The other two are former Raiders punter Shane Lechler and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Despite being one of the last three standing, Janikowski ranks just 46th in the class for Career AV. Lechler, who was drafted in the fifth-round ranks 37th.

With all of this in mind, it’s hard to find where the Raiders received enough value to justify the selection of a kicker in the first round. Janikowski would have needed to be one of the best kickers of all-time to justify the selection with all other things considered. Instead he’s been a decent kicker for a really long time. Decent kickers can be found pretty easily and the longevity isn’t enough of a factor to make up the difference in performance.

Now 16 years later, Roberto Aguayo is going to have to be close to one of the best kickers in recent history to justify this spot. That’s not his fault — he had no say in whatever the Buccaneers talked themselves into — but it is how he going to be judged. If the Buccaneers hope he’s Janikowski, they’ll need to set their bar a little higher.

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