Why It's Almost Impossible to Kick a 90-Yard Field Goal (2023)

The field goal might only be worth three points,

but it's still one of the most essential ways

of scoring in American football.

In 2018, 73 NFL games were decided by three points or fewer,

more than any other season in league history.

So, the kicker's responsible for making field goals,

otherwise known as placekickers,

are under a lot of pressure to perform.

Yeah, there's a lot of stress that goes into it.

You're either the hero or you're the villain.

A well-placed kick can make or break a game,

or sometimes even a season.

And, the longer a kicker's range,

the greater the strategic threat they pose.

The NFL's most lethal placekickers

have sent balls flying through the uprights

from 40, 50, even 60 yards away.

In 2013, Matt Prater kicked the longest field goal

in NFL history, when he hit one from 64 yards.

Now look, a 64-yard field goal

is already a tremendous feat of athleticism.

But, coaches, players, and sports scientists all agree

that's it's only a matter of time

until someone kicks one even farther,

potentially a lot farther.

In practice, some players from made field goals

from more than 80 yards away,

but that's without any pads on,

without a crowd cheering or booing at you,

and without a defensive line

doing everything in its power to block your kick.

What we wanted to know is

what is the absolute physical limit

when it comes to the field goal?

So today, we'll gonna look at

why making a field goal from 90 yards away

is almost impossible.

To find out what it takes,

I talked with one of the best placekickers on Earth.

I'd equate it to golf or to baseball.

If things aren't lined up, it doesn't matter

how strong you are, it's not gonna be as good of a kick.

[Robbie] Took a crack at hitting a 25-yarder myself.

Ahh, come on.

And, discussed the elements

of a perfect place kick, with a biomechanist.

We need the ball to launch with a high velocity

at the right angle, and be accurate.

[Robbie] Harrison Butker has mastered

all of those elements.

Butker is the starting kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs,

and he's known for having one of the most powerful

and most consistent kicks in the NFL.

People don't realize how much work we actually put in.

Just because we can't come out

and do a lot of kicks in practice or even in the game,

doesn't mean there's a lot of stuff we can't do on the side,

as far as watching film,

taking care of our body, doing mental reps.

Kicking, a lot of it, is mental.

[Robbie] We meet up at Kohl's Kicking Camp

in Whitewater, Wisconsin, where he talked me through

the finer points of place kicking.

Back to forward, but also from this left to right motion,

from back there around.

[Robbie] Before we get started, here is a summary

of a what a typical field goal looks like.

There's the snap, the hold, and the kick,

all of which take place in about a second.

So, let's say the snap and hold are good,

now, let's look at how to approach the ball.

You've got me here at the 15-yard line.

So, 15, plus 10 for the end zone is 25 yards.

25-yard field goal, right down the middle.

I like your confidence in me.

Yeah, you got the soccer shoes on, man,

maybe you're fooling me.

(Video) Why It's Almost Impossible to Kick a 90-Yard Field Goal | WIRED

[Robbie] And yes, I was wearing soccer shoes.

A lot of professionals actually do that.

They wear a soccer cleat on their kicking foot,

because it gives them a better feel for the ball,

and a football cleat on their plant foot,

to help them get better traction.

But, the truth is, no shoe on Earth

was gonna make up for my terrible form.

[Robbie grunts]

[Robbie laughs]

All right, so what do you think of that? [laughs]

So, Butker gave me some tips,

starting with my foot placement.

Your plant foot, you want facing

straight down your target line,

and then you want your kicking foot

to be, bam, perpendicular.

[Robbie] I was also using the wrong part of my foot.

No, you're gonna want to have way up here.

That's what people don't realize is that,

we're making contact with the ball all the way up there,

that's the strongest part of your foot,

right there on that bone.

Oh, not bad.

[Robbie] Ah, come on.

Went straight, you had the height.

[Robbie laughs] That's looking better.

The height's for extra point, that's good.

In high school, that would have been good.


Too bad I'm 32. Okay.

[Robbie] Finally, Butker gave me some tips

on where to stand.

I had been backing up way behind the ball,

thinking a running start would help boost my power,

but Butker says that's not always the case.

The most important thing is your contact,

so even if your sprinting up to the ball,

if your contact isn't perfect,

then it doesn't matter how much momentum you had,

'cause the farther away I get,

the more opportunity I had to mess up.

You know, just being consistent.

Really, as long as that last step's good,

and you get good contact, that's the most important thing.

But also, in a game, you have 1.3 seconds

from standing still to making contact with the ball,

so if you're super far away, it's gonna get blocked.

So, you kinda have to be closer, as well.

Hey. Nice.

All right. Look at that.

That was our last ball.

Last ball, we're out.

That was great, so I literally just put together

all of the tips that you gave me in the last second there.

Next, it was Butker's turn.

Why don't you show me how this is done?

Now, it's the off season for Butker,

so he wasn't about to blow his leg out showing me up.

Still, he made it look effortless.

[Harrison] Not the greatest, but it went through.

[Robbie] And, once he had warmed up,

he made it look just as easy from 50 yards.

Which makes sense,

he's one of the best kickers on the planet.

But why is Butker so good?

To find out, I talked to biomechanist Chase Pfeiffer.

He stops there at the ball,

and rotates around so he's using his plant leg

to whip his kicking leg around.

[Robbie] In 2015, Pfeiffer developed

an advanced motion-tracking system

to help deconstruct the flight of a field goal.

This helped him determine optimum foot speeds,

impact locations, and launch angle.

Now, there are three things

that really set Pfeiffer's research apart.


Number one, most studies on kicking

have focused on soccer, not American football.

Number two, most of those studies were performed

using two-dimensional analysis.

Pfeiffer's analyses were done in three dimensions,

which gave him a lot more insight

into the dynamics of player's kicks.

And, number three, in addition to studying the form

of elite placekickers, he also built this.

It's a field goal bot.

And, unlike a human kicker, it can kick a football

the exact same way, every single time.

Humans are unpredictable and inconsistent,

and a mechanical robot, same thing every time.

By cross referencing his player data with his robot data,

Pfeiffer was able to analyze things like foot placement,

foot velocity, and overall coordination,

affect the quality of a given kick.

The most important variable of all, impact location.

Where a player's foot makes contact with the ball.

His research shows that the key

to a monstrous field goal boils down to two things.

How much force you can deliver to the ball,

and where you deliver that force.

Pfeiffer says that when an elite placekicker's foot

makes contact, it's usually traveling

between 42 and 49 mph, and that can deliver

more than 3,000 newtons of force to the ball.

The faster your foot moves,

the faster the ball leaves the ground.

And, the farther it travels.

Now, the ideal launch angle for distance for a projectile,

as any Freshman physics student will tell you,

is 45 degrees, but when you account for drag,

Pfeiffer says the ideal launch angle

for a football toppling end over end

is actually closer to 43 degrees.

And, to kick the ball at that precise angle,

you need to kick it right here,

about two and half inches off the ground,

or a quarter of the way up the ball.

Kicking the ball on this sweet spot

helps achieve the ideal launch angle

while minimizing the foot velocity

required to maximize distance.

In other words, hitting the ball right here

lets you kick it farther, easier.

If you say that's halfway,

then a quarter's about right there.

That's generally where you want to hit it.

If you hit it a little low,

it's gonna be a good ball, it's just gonna be spinning more.

But, if you hit it too high up,

that's when you're going to his a line-drive knuckle ball.

That precise combination of power and foot placement

is what enabled Matt Prater

to kick the longest field goal in NFL history in 2013.

When he sent the ball flying through the uprights

from 64 yards away.

Now, here's the thing.

Placekickers have actually been kicking about that far

for almost half a century.

In 1970 New Orleans Saints kicker Tom Dempsey

blasted a 63-yard game-winning field goal

against the Detroit Lions.

His record stood for over 40 years.

And, there are a few things

that made Dempsey's record remarkable.

For one, he was born without any toes on his kicking foot,

and was outfitted with this custom shoe.

While it's unclear if that gave him an unfair advantage,

the NFL eventually created a rule

that standardized kicking cleats.

The other thing that's incredible about Dempsey's record,

is that since he set it,

despite improvements and equipment and training,

almost nobody has been able to outdo him,

(Video) Justin Tucker 66 Yard Game-Winning Field Goal | Full Sequence & Every Angle

at least, not during a game.

And, of the players who have come close,

most of them were kicking

at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado,

where balls fly farther through the thin air.

Dempsey, on the other hand, set his record at Tulane Stadium

in New Orleans, just a few feet above sea level.

Since then, nobody but Prater has managed

to kick the ball farther during a game,

but one thing kickers have improved

over the years, their accuracy.

For as long as the NFL

has been keeping records on field goals,

placekickers have been hitting their marks

more and more consistently, from every distance.

Today's NFL kickers are as successful from 50 yards

as 1970's kickers were from 30.

And, a lot of their accuracy has to do with how they kick.

Prior to the 1970s, most placekickers

would run at the ball head on

and kick it with the tips of their shoes.

It's called a toe kick, and while it can be powerful,

it is also notoriously inaccurate.

But, starting in the late 60s,

players began making contact with the ball,

high up on the instep of their kicking foot,

the way a soccer player would.

You have a lower launch speed,

but you have a much more consistent impact

with that larger area,

so the end result there being increased accuracy.

By the mid-1970s, most placekickers had begun

to favor the soccer kick over the toe kick.

And today, nobody kicks with their toe,

at least, not in the NFL.

And that's because,

when it comes to placekicking at the professional level,

accuracy matters more than power.

Guys in the NFL don't necessarily have the strongest legs.

There's a lot of guys in college

that have these massive legs

that might not make it in the NFL

because they don't have the accuracy.

So, if you want to have a long career,

you've gotta be able to be consistent

over a long period of time.

Once you're able to kick with power,

place kicking is essentially a geometry problem.

The angle of your kick needs to be steep enough

to clear the line of defenders trying to block your kick,

and it needs to be straight enough

to avoid flying too far left or right of the goal posts.

And, the farther from the field goal you get,

the smaller your margin of error becomes.

A 20-yard field goal has to stay

within a 17 and a half degree window to count,

but from 60 yards, that window shrinks

to just under six degrees.

Say you're hitting a 60-yard field goal,

if that thing's slowly tailing to the right,

you might miss that,

but if it was an extra point, that would be good.

If that was a 40-yarder, that would have been good.

So, you just have to be a lot more accurate.

[Robbie] You might be wondering

how these guys handle that kind of pressure.

The answer, actually, pretty well.

Which might be what sets pros apart

from the non-professionals.

As soon as I start jogging on that field,

I completely forget about everything.

Ideally, I don't even hear the crowd noise,

and I'm just focusing on what I can control.

[Robbie] And, there's research showing

that the key to success at that level

is to replicate game-time pressure during practice,

even if it's just in your head.

(Video) World's Longest Field Goal- Robot vs NFL Kicker

What I like to do in practice, is I say,

Okay, I have three or four balls

I'm gonna hit from these spots.

I run on, I almost mentally try to envision

that there's a crowd there.

I try to put some pressure on it,

and then, also, quality over quantity.

[Robbie] So, let's say a placekicker comes along

with unprecedented power and accuracy,

how far could they realistically kick?

And how precise would they need to be

for their kick to count?

It turns out the answer to both of those questions

is pretty straight forward.

According to Pfeiffer's calculations,

a record-breaking 70-yard field goal,

kicked at sea level, without wind,

would require a foot speed of around 49 mph,

delivered directly to the ball's sweet spot.

And, an 80-yarder would take a foot speed of around 56 mph,

and both of those speeds

are well within the realm of current human ability.

In fact, the foot velocities of elite soccer players

have been clocked at more than 60 mph, which in theory,

is good enough for a 90-yard field goal.

Now, it's true, soccer players

have a few distinct advantages over placekickers

when it comes to kicking a ball far.

Number one, they're not outfitted in full pads,

which can really slow down your foot velocity.

Number two, they're not trying to clear

a wall of gigantic humans

who can use their hands to block your kick.

And, number three, unless they're kicking

say, a penalty kick, they're typically not performing

in the same sorts of high-stakes, all-or-nothing scenarios

that placekickers are.

And yet, placekickers are definitely capable

of record-shattering distances today.

Check out this footage of Butker blasting

a 90-yard, 4.4 second hang time kickoff.

But of course, kickoffs don't need to be as accurate.

So then, the challenge becomes placing that kind of kick

between the uprights while under the pressure

and constraints typical of a field goal.

Remember how the margin for error

shrinks the further away you get?

Well, from 90 yards, the window

of your lateral angle shrinks to just 3.9 degrees.

Is it improbable? Yes.

Impractical? Absolutely.

In fact, it's hard to even conceive of a game time scenario

in which any coach would even think

to attempt a field goal from more than 70 yards away

instead of going for, say, a Hail Mary.

Not that it hasn't happened.

In 2008, while playing for the Oakland Raiders,

kicker Sebastian Janikowski was called on

to attempt a field goal from 76 yards,

the farthest attempt in NFL history.

We couldn't actually afford to pay the NFL

for the footage of that kick,

but just take our word for it, it came up short.

The point is, all of the factors are there

for somebody to come along

and kick a precedent-shattering field goal.

I would not be surprised if, at some point in my day,

I saw somebody kick a upper-80s, maybe even a 90.

I think they could do 85.

I mean, guys are going up to 90-yard kickoffs,

so why couldn't you do an 85-yard field goal, you know?

I definitely think 85, you could do it.

If you had a really stiff back wind,

it was a sunny, warm day,

you had a nice ball, you had tall grass.

I mean, everything was perfect, I think 85 you could do.

[Robbie] But, until all those things line up,

(Video) Is a 100 Yard Field Goal Possible in Madden 23?

remember that what players like Harrison Butker

are doing today is already almost impossible.


How far can a human kick a field goal? ›

While some weaker placekickers may have trouble kicking field goals longer than 30 yards (making field goals from beyond the 13 difficult), others may consistently make 50-yarders, making it practical to kick from beyond the 33. For most NFL kickers, the 35-yard line is typically the limit of their field goal range.

Is it possible to kick a 70 yard field goal? ›

Only 21 kickers in NFL history have ever hit a field goal of 60 or more in a game, which is a list that York would probably like to join at some point. York has also shown that he has the leg to hit a 70-yarder. There have only been six field goal attempts of 70 or longer in NFL history and they've all missed.

How far should a 12 year old be able to kick a field goal? ›

Youth Camps (Ages 9-12)

The minimum requirement is that you have the strength to at least kick the ball 15 yards in the air (which is like making a field goal from the 5-yard line).

Who kicked a 72 yard field goal? ›

Butker's 72-yard bomb would have obliterated the 66-yard NFL record set by Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker last season. Butker also made a kick from around 65 yards, which matched the distance of the kick made by Chiefs safety and likely emergency kicker Justin Reid during training camp.

Who is the most accurate NFL kicker of all time? ›

Greatest kicker in history? Justin Tucker is the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history, and he has the longest field goal ever made. Data provided by ESPN Stats & Information.

What is the longest field goal in NFL history? ›

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker's game-winning, 66-yard field goal is the longest field goal in NFL history.

Who can kick the farthest football? ›

Guinness World Records: Ederson Drop Kick
  • 11,765.
  • 728.
  • 1,222.

What is the shortest field goal in NFL history? ›

Don Cockroft has the shortest known NFL field goal of 6 yards. Under todays current rules and strategies, the shortest possible NFL field goal would be slightly under 17 yards.

What is the longest kick ever? ›

44 years ago today on October 16, 1976 it was homecoming weekend at Abilene Christian University and Ove Johansson made history. With a 17 MPH wind, Johansson kicked the longest field goal ever 69-yards against East Texas State! Here's the historic kick!

Who holds the record for 63-yard field goal? ›

In 1970, when Saints kicker Tom Dempsey kicked a then NFL record 63-yard field goal to beat the Detroit Lions!

Can a 4 year old kick a ball? ›

Your child may attempt to kick objects soon after he learns to walk. Between the ages of 3-5, you will notice that your child can kick a ball with a lot more force, direction, and coordination between the arms and the legs (as the right foot kicks, the left arm swings forward and vice versa).

How far do d1 kickers kick? ›

Division 1:

Solid fundamentals. Good ball rotation and height on kicks. Many division one scholarship athletes can kick 60+ yard field goals off the ground. If your range is closer to 55, you are more likely to be a walk-on candidate.

How far should a 13 year old be able to run? ›

Therefore, middle school kids should only be running up to 12.8 miles per week, if they are planning to run in a 10K race. Kids up to age 14 should only run three times per week.
Running Recommendations.
Under 91.5 mile
9-113.2 miles
12-146.4 miles
15-16Half Marathon: 13.1 miles
2 more rows

How far can a human kick a football? ›

The world record for a N.F.L. game field goal is 64 yards. But place kickers have sent the ball far further in practice.

Is a 80 yard field goal possible? ›

No. In American football, the maximum possible kick return is 109 yards.

What is the longest unofficial field goal? ›

Nick Rose, a senior kick for the University of Texas just obliterated all of those with an 80-yard field goal in practice (via Yahoo! Sports). The media could not be played.


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