Why Is The Longest NFL Field Goal Shorter Than Typical Kickoff Distance?

Why Is The Longest NFL Field Goal Shorter Than Typical Kickoff Distance

Professional kickers in the National Football League have two primary jobs: kicking field goals and handling kickoff duties. A field goal is when a player kicks the ball through the two uprights, which results in three points. A kickoff is performed at the start of both halves and after every possession that results in a score.

The longest field goal in NFL history was set by Justin Tucker in 2021 with an incredible 66-yard kick. However, on kickoffs, NFL kickers can easily send the ball flying 70 yards or more. This is due to various reasons, which we’ll outline below.

Why Are Kickoffs Easier Than Field Goals?

Here is a list of factors that make kickoffs easier to perform than field goals:

  • Kickoffs use a tee to hold the ball in place.
  • No rushers are attempting to block the kickoff.
  • Kickoffs have a longer run-up distance.

Kicking from a Tee

During field goals, the ball is snapped by a long snapper, caught by a holder, and placed on the ground. The holder keeps the ball in place with their fingers, and only then can the kicker attempt the field goal. However, on a kickoff, the ball is simply placed on a plastic tee and kicked from there.

There are a couple of advantages to using the tee. For one, a kicker can get a better angle with the ball when they make contact, which allows the power from their legs to be more effectively transferred to the ball. Similarly, there’s less surface area in contact with the ball on a tee (no fingers or grass touching it) which allows for a few extra yards since there’s less initial friction on the ball. 

Rushing the Kicker

Unlike a kickoff, a field goal starts from the line of scrimmage. While the ball is snapped and the holder is putting it in place, the defense is actively trying to get past the offensive line in order to disrupt the kick. This adds quite a bit of pressure to both the holder and the kicker, since the offensive line can only hold off the rush for so long. The pair have essentially no margin for error when it comes to their timing; they must be perfect, or the attempt will be ruined. And since the height of the average defensive lineman is 6’3”, and because they raise their arms when the ball is kicked, the kicker must send the ball towards the uprights at a higher angle or risk it being blocked. This higher angle also sacrifices distance. 

Longer Run-up Distance

The final reason why kickoffs go much further than field goals is because of the run-up distance. During a field goal, a kicker is only able to take two steps. They’re allowed to take more, but two is the standard because any more would likely allow enough time for the defense to get too close. On a kickoff, however, kickers can take more steps, which means they can summon more power, allowing them to send the ball further downfield.