With Notre Dame on a bye this week, we wanted to write a couple pieces on topics that we think are interesting and we hope you find worthwhile as well. Jack is working on an article analyzing Brian Kelly’s 4th Down decisions this year, which in the aftermath of Justin Fuente’s disastrous decision-making last week seems very pertinent. And I wanted to do some work looking into the question at the forefront of every Irish fan’s mind: Is Jonathan Doerer actually a better kicker from long range than short distance?
We have access to data going back to 2014, so let’s take a look at the three kickers from that time period: Kyle Brindza, Justin Yoon, and Doerer. It’s clear Notre Dame has reached another level of performance since Brindza left the program, with Yoon and Doerer producing a higher Field Goal % than would be expected based on their skill level. It appears Yoon has slightly outperformed Doerer but it seems like he kicked from much easier distances. His Expected Field Goal % (xFG%), which is the average make probability of all of a kicker’s kicks, is 4.9% higher than Doerer’s. And it seems like Doerer might have some of the hardest kicks of any kicker based on the big discrepancy in his FG% Over Expected and his FG% over that of the average FBS Kicker from 2014-2021. So let’s take a look at the three Irish kickers but broken down by distance.
Doerer has in fact had a higher proportion of his kicks come at long distance, naturally resulting in a lower Expected and Actual FG%. 44% of his attempts have come at a distance of 40 Yards or greater, while in Yoon’s case only 33% of his kicks were from the same range. When we also look at the xFG% of all FBS teams from 2019-21 (Doerer’s career as a starter) he’s also had some of the most difficult attempts in the country.
And he’s been unbelievable on those attempts. Let’s start by pointing out he isn’t actually better from an accuracy standpoint, as his FG% on kicks from 30-39 Yards is in fact higher than his attempts from 40-49 (78.9% vs. 68.8%). But he does convert at a higher rate than expected when kicking from long range rather than short distance. He has made an insane 11.9% field goals above expectation and 7.9% above average so far in his career, whereas Yoon was at 7.7% and 5.8%, respectively. Still good, but not like Doerer.
So despite all of that, why does it feel like Doerer can’t make the easy ones but is automatic from distance? Well, take a look at his and Yoon’s performances from 30-39 Yards and it will start to make more sense. Yoon was lights out from that range, outpacing expectations and the average by 7.5% and 7.4% and adding 2.6 field goals over expectation. Since he left the program, Doerer has been only slightly above average, with his accuracy beating expectation and average by only 2.1% and 1.5%. So no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. When we compare his performance relative to what should be expected, Doerer is a much better kicker from longer distances. But also we were spoiled by Yoon for 4 years with his short-range performance, which has jaded our perception of Doerer’s abilities at the same range. It’s something most fans don’t think twice about until a kicker misses one, I know that much is true for me. So the next time he lines up for a field goal remember, no he’s not more likely to make a longer kick, but yes he is better at longer kicks relative to expectation and the average college kicker.