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2016 Detroit Lions roster review: Matt Prater is the NFL’s most clutch kicker

If not for the late-game heroics of Matt Prater, the Lions wouldn’t have been playoff participants.

Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Our 2016 Detroit Lions roster review continues with kicker Matt Prater.

Matt Prater

Expectations before 2016

Prater’s second season in Detroit was coincidentally the second-best season of his career. In 2015, Prater was 22 of 24 on field goal attempts, missed only three of his 36 extra point attempts and was more than reliable.

Detroit’s pitfalls in 2015 certainly weren’t due to shortcomings in the kicking game, so when Bob Quinn—someone who clearly puts a premium on special teams play—took over as general manager, he had plenty of roster shuffling to undertake, but Prater’s three year, $9 million deal he signed before the 2015 season was one less decision Quinn had to make.

Actual role in 2016

2016 stats: 16 games | 31 field goals made, 86.1 field goal percentage, 7 for 7 on field goals of 50+ yards, 31 of 33 extra points made

It’s tough being the second-best Matt in anything, but in the case of Matt Prater, it’s a role he’s settled into comfortably.

Like, really comfortably.

Nothing seems to faze the place kicker; even in the game’s biggest moments, Prater rises to the occasion when his team calls his number, and 2016 was no different. Think of how the entire tone of the season is changed if Prater doesn’t hit that 43-yard field goal true against the Colts to put the Lions in the win column to start the season. What about if he doesn’t bang home that 58-yard field goal—his season long—on the road in Minnesota to send the game to overtime? We don’t get this:

“And what kind of season is that?” asks Golden.

Prater was a perfect seven for seven on field goals of 50+ yards, second only to Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, who put through a perfect ten field goals from 50+ yards, but we know who has the strongest leg in the league.

Prater made the second Pro Bowl of his career in 2016, and it was definitely deserved. Since his rookie season in 2007, Prater has a claim to being the league’s most clutch kicker. According to Football Outsiders, clutch field goal kicking is defined as “any field goal in the final two minutes or overtime that either ties the game or gives a team the lead.”

Through 2014, Prater was nearly perfect in this respect: 10 for 11 on clutch kicks with an average field goal distance of 41.1 yards. Add his 2015 and 2016 totals to that figure and Prater is now 17 for 18 on clutch kicks in his career—a 94.4 percent conversion rate—with the average distance of the field goal sitting at 40.6 yards per attempt. Justin Tucker is a perfect 11 for 11 on such field goals—the average kick 40.5 yards out—in clutch situations in his career.

In 2016 alone, Prater was a perfect six for six on clutch kicks whereas Tucker made his only clutch attempt against the Jaguars in Week 3.

Outlook for 2017

This upcoming season is the final year of Prater’s three-year contract he signed before the 2015 season. While a lot of eyes and attention are on the contract situation of the other Matt, and I guess he deserves some credit for getting Prater into those situations to extend or win the game, the potential for an extension getting done to keep Prater in Detroit is definitely important and something to keep an eye on.

Previously profiled Lions: Riley Reiff, Anquan Boldin, Dan Orlovsky, Devin Taylor, Rafael Bush, Don Muhlbach, Larry Warford, Andre Roberts, TJ Jones, Kerry Hyder, Jon Bostic, Marvin Jones, Alex Carter, Tim Wright, Armonty Bryant, Clay Harbor, Crezdon Butler, Matthew Mulligan, Asa Jackson, Tyrunn Walker, Josh Bynes, Stefan Charles, Cornelius Lucas, Steve Longa, Joique Bell, Taylor Decker, Garrett Reynolds, Jake Rudock, Tavon Wilson, Ameer Abdullah, Ezekiel Ansah, Haloti Ngata, Thurston Armbrister, Joe Dahl, Sam Martin