Did the Redskins replace Graham Gano with an older version of himself? Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMI
I went into writing this post thinking the Skins might have screwed up when they abruptly changed kickers -- going from a Graham Gano vs. Neil Rackers competition (which Gano apparently won) to cutting Gano and replacing him with Billy Cundiff, who'd been cut by the Ravens.
When I dug a bit deeper, the evidence suggests to me that there really wasn't much point in making the move, except for one thing (which I'll get to in a moment).
Since 2000, 30 NFL kickers have at least 50 field goal attempts in their first three seasons. Gano ranks 26th in accuracy -- in a virtual tie with guess who...Billy Cundiff. In his first 3 seasons, Cundiff converted on 55-74 FGA -- 74.3%. Gano was 59-80, 73.8%. In effect, the Redskins swapped Gano for an older version of himself.
And, just worth mentioning, Cundiff really hasn't gotten more accurate: his career average after 8 seasons is 76.7%.
Weirdly, the guy who ranks 30th among those 30 kickers? Neil Rackers, who's been more accurate throughout his career than either Gano or Cundiff.
There's just no "big difference" between Gano and Cundiff, however. One small difference is that Cundiff has generated more touchbacks on kickoffs than Gano -- although it's difficult to say whether that's because of a stronger leg or because of strategic decisions (directional kickoffs, intentionally short kickoffs to force a return).
Back in 2011, Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats analyzed the value of Cundiff's kickoffs and found that his 40 touchbacks were worth 20 quarterback sacks in terms of the field position advantage they gave his team. Burke hasn't updated his analysis, so there's no information on whether that same relationship held true when kickoffs were moved from the 30 to the 35 yard line last season.
For the sake of discussion, I'm going to assume that 2 touchbacks equals 1 sack -- the ratio Burke found in 2011. Last season, Cundiff posted 43 touchbacks -- equivalent to 21.5 QB sacks. Gano had 32 touchbacks -- equivalent to 16.0 sacks.
Given the leg strength Gano exhibited in Washington, it's hard to believe the touchback difference is a result of Cundiff having a significantly more powerful foot.
In effect, Washington has replaced the 25-year old Gano with a 32-year old version of...Gano. Albeit one who has a stronger history of generating touchbacks.
Honestly, it's hard to see the point of making the move. My feeling was that the Skins had gone through growing pains with Gano and that given his age and power, it made sense to keep him until they could find someone demonstrably better.