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Detroit Lions 2021 free agent profile: Despite down year, Matt Prater should be re-signed

Don’t overthink this. Bring him back.

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions - NFL Football Game Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We continue our 2021 Detroit Lions free agent profile series with one of the most popular players on the roster today. Matt Prater came to Detroit in 2014, amidst a kicking crisis for the Lions. They had made the tough decision to move on from legendary kicker Jason Hanson a couple years prior, but their rookie kicker hadn’t worked out, nor had his replacement.

Prater was a midseason addition, and immediately provided stability again to Detroit’s field goal unit. Since then, he’s been one of the most reliable players on the team and one of the most reliable kickers in the league.

That is, until the 2020 season...

Previous free agent profiles: Danny Amendola

Matt Prater

Expectations heading into 2020

Entering 2020, there were essentially zero concerns about Prater’s play. Though 2019 wasn’t his best year—converting on 26 of 31 field goals—it fell right around the average accuracy in his career. There were no signs of fatigue nor any indication he’d lost any power in his leg.

In fact, some wondered if he’d get an extension in the offseason. Entering the season at 36 years old, it wasn’t a priority, but there was always a possibility.

Actual role in 2020

2020 stats: 21-of-28 field goals (75%), 38-of-41 extra points (92.7%)
PFF grade: 64.2 (16th of 27 qualifying kickers)

Based solely on accuracy percentage, this was Prater’s worst season since 2008. In fact, as a team, the Lions finished 26th in terms of field goal percentage in 2020. That’s the worst position they’ve finished since the great kicker struggle of 2014.

But it wasn’t all bad from Prater. The Lions were one of 13 teams to have not missed a single field goal from 39 yards or less in 2021. He remains extremely steady in short yardage situation.

He also still has the leg for long-distance kicks, too. His 59-yard game winner against the Washington Football Team was tied for the second-longest kick made in the NFL this season.

For whatever reason, however, Prater really struggled with kicks 40 yards and longer. He was just 10-of-17 (58.8%) from that distance. For reference, here are Prater’s accuracy numbers from that distance in the past five years:

2020: 10-of-17 (58.8%)
2019: 13-of-17 (76.5%)
2018: 8-of-12 (66.6%)
2017: 14-of-19 (73.7%)
2016: 17-of-21 (81.0%)
2015: 11-of-12 (91.7%)

There certainly is a downward trend here, but his solid 2019 performance makes his 2020 year look more like an outlier than anything.

Outlook for 2021

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Matt Prater was not good in 2020, but I think the Lions would be foolish to let him walk now. He’s still got the strength, he’s still extremely reliable for short kicks, and he still wants play—and play in Detroit.

“Yeah, I would love to continue playing and hopefully it would be here,” Prater said before the 2020 season finale.

At this point, there’s really no reason to believe 2020 was anything other than an outlier in Prater’s fantastic career. He should come relatively cheap given his age and his down year, and the Lions don’t need to add another position to fill on a roster already in crisis. Just re-sign Prater and worry about everything else.