If all goes well, Younghoe Koo’s services won’t be quite as urgently needed as they were in in 2020. One of 2020’s few bright spots for the Falcons and a genuine breakout star at kicker, Koo was called upon to try 39 field goal attempts last year for a spluttering offense. That was tied with Matt Bryant’s 2017 for the second-highest number of attempts in a single season in franchise history, and if Arthur Smith can get this offense humming, that number of attempts will fall and potentially fall dramatically.
You don’t have to look any further than team scoring totals to see why that’s a logical thing to think. The Titans were 4th in the league in points scored in 2020 with 491, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski was responsible for 100 of those (54 via field goals, 46 via extra points). The Falcons, meanwhile, were 16th in points scored with 396, with Koo wrapping up 144 of those and Elliott Fry chipping in 4 more. Koo, in other words, had a hand in 37% of the team’s points last year, while Gostkowski was responsible for just 20% of Tennessee’s. If you remove extra points from the equation, it’s 28% for Koo and Fry and 11% for Gostkowski. Every time I look back at last year’s offense, I feel a fresh wave of nausea.
Because the offense’s fortunes are justifiably such a focal point with the offseason drama around whether the team would consider drafting a quarterback (they didn’t) and whether they’ll trade Julio Jones (I need a minute), we haven’t really talked about why having Koo on hand is likely so exciting for Smith and company. Let’s remedy that now by diving a little deeper in to the gap between the kicker this coaching staff is inheriting and the one Smith had a year ago.
Koo, of course, drilled a franchise-best 94.9% of his field goal attempts last year, missing just two. He did whiff on three extra point attempts, but all but a small handful of kickers missed multiple attempts last season, so that’s not keeping me up at night. He showed himself to be reliable from pretty much any distance a year after the Falcons deliberately kept him from attempting anything beyond 50 yards, so on the hopefully rare occasions where the Falcons offense does stall out, they can feel pretty confident in Koo’s ability to get them three points.
That was not so much the case for Gostkowski. He nailed 46 of 48 extra point attempts, but was one of the worst kickers in the league when it came to field goals. Out of all kickers with at least 20 attempts, Gostkowski was second-to-last in field goal percentage with 69%, which was not nice considering he made just 18 of his 26 tries. In 2019, Tennessee had an even worse situation, with Ryan Succop, Cairo Santos, and Cody Parkey combining to go 8 of 18 (44%) for easily the worst mark in the NFL. Tennessee’s offense could have been even better these past two seasons had they not dealt with a remarkably ineffective kicking situation both years. Even if Koo’s attempts fall sharply and he’s in the range of 20-25 attempts, the fact that his 2020 suggests he’s capable of nailing almost all of them will be a huge comfort to a coach who endured much worse recently.
There is some year-to-year variability for kicking performance, so expecting even Koo to drill close to 95% of his field goal attempts again in 2021 is probably asking a bit much. There’s no question that he’ll represent a massive upgrade over what Arthur Smith is used to, however, and it’ll be nice for this team to know they can count on Koo’s leg if the offense isn’t quite up to the level we all hope it is this coming season.