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Science Lab: Aubrey should be NFL ROTY candidate


FRISCO, TX — Come on in and have a seat, put your bags of large, predatory bird feathers in the back room for the moment — you can grab them on your way out — and get comfortable for the conversation we're about to have regarding how Brandon Aubrey has earned the right to be in the NFL Rookie of the Year conversation.

Yes, you heard me correctly, friend. I said an NFL placekicker (in 2023, no less) deserves to be a frontrunner to land Rookie of the Year honors, and I didn't stutter one bit.

He'd have to beat the same odds as Simba trying to claim the throne, but let's discuss this.

You can rightfully make an argument for others not named Aubrey this season, and especially in a league driven by flashy playmaking ability on offense and defense, but can the kickers get some??

When you factor in his story of going from a lifetime soccer player to being a software engineer in 2020 to earning a spot in the USFL to then getting a shot with the Cowboys this past July, only to set precedents (plural) in a league that is more than 100 years old, he absolutely can.

And he should.

Winner of NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for a second time this season (Week 1, Week 14) and NFC Special Teams Player of the Month (October), it's far past time to put some respect on Aubrey's name.

"What an incredible story." - Mike McCarthy

'Hakuna Matata'

Flash back to training camp in Oxnard, when Aubrey was going up against Tristan Vizcaino and both had what can only be described as an abysmal showing in the annual Blue-White Practice — on display for all to see. Immediately thereafter, the decision was made by McCarthy and the Cowboys' front office to send Vizcaino packing and to see what Aubrey could do with 100 percent of the kicking reps.

Something was there peeking from behind his chilled and unbothered countenance, and John Fassel felt it in his … bones … needing only to pull it out into the light. It turns out they were right and everyone, including yours truly, was wrong.

My confidence meter was at just one percent in training camp, in the kicking situation as a whole in Dallas, and it moved to 90 percent in late September (click here) — despite those who scoffed and labeled that much too high — and I was dug in on the possibility that Aubrey might end up becoming even better than Dan Bailey was in his superb rookie season.

Just over two months later, and on the heels of seeing what he did in Week 14, single handedly outscoring the Philadelphia Eagles with four field goals (60, 59, 50, and 49 yards) that extended his NFL record of consecutive field goals made to start a career to an insane tally of 30 in all.

"He's butter. Smooth. Always has been since the day that he showed up." - Dak Prescott

What's even more jaw-dropping is the fashion in which he did it, setting additional records.

  • Successful from 60, 59 and 50 yards on Dec. 10, Aubrey is the first player in NFL history to make two field goals of 59 yards or longer in the same game.
  • Aubrey has eight field goals of 50-yards or more in 2023, the most by a Cowboys' rookie in a single NFL season.
  • The 60-yarder versus the Eagles was the first 60+ yard field goal made in the first quarter in NFL history, breaking Evan McPherson's record of 59 yards in the first quarter on Sept. 11, 2022. It was also the second-longest by a Cowboys rookie behind Brett Maher's 62-yard field goal in 2018.
  • Aubrey is just the second player in franchise history with three field goals of 50+ yards in a single game, joining Brett Maher, who did it against the Vikings (11/20/2022)

I wonder if everyone can actually grasp what they're witnessing here, because it's literal history happening in real-time, not unlike what DaRon Bland is doing at the cornerback position, but at least Bland plays in a spot that gets a lot of leverage in voting for annual NFL honors.

Aubrey doesn't, because kickers are routinely overlooked until they miss. But the fact Aubrey hasn't, through 13 games and 30 attempts, has to demolish the position profiling mechanism that is clearly inherent in the NFL voting process.

Think I'm kidding? Well, allow me to prove my point.

'The Past Hurts'

I started wondering exactly how many times an NFL placekicker has been awarded a ROTY honor, and I admittedly expected it to be sparse, but it's far worse than I thought — it's akin to looking for a penny on the surface of Mars with only a magnifying glass … while standing on Earth.

Before I reveal this to you, I need you to understand that there have been several voting bodies since the inception of the NFL and who you choose to recognize is up to the generation of football they were present and/or created during, with not every ROTY award still being active in 2023 (some are defunct).

And here we go:

  • Sporting News NFL ROTY - 1955-1959, 1980-present: None
  • Sporting News AFC ROTY - 1970-1979 - None
  • Sporting News NFC ROTY - 1970-1979: Chester Marcol, Packers (1972)
  • United Press International ROTY - 1955-1996: None
  • News Enterprise Association NFL ROTY Award - 1964-1996: None
  • Associated Press (AP) Offensive ROTY - 1967-present: None
  • PFWA Offensive ROTY - 1969-present: Jason Hanson, Lions (1992)
  • PFWA NFL ROTY - 2013-present: None
  • Pepsi NFL ROTY - 2002-present: None

That's a total of only two placekickers awarded a professional ROTY honor in some form — Chester Marcol (1972 Sporting News NFC ROTY) and Jason Hanson (1992 PFWA Offensive ROTY) — in 68 years through six different voting platforms and a combined 408 opportunities annually, which amounts to less than half of one percent (0.49%) of the time.

So that penny I found on Mars with my magnifying glass?

Cut it in half.

'Everybody is Somebody, Even a Nobody'

That tells you just how insanely difficult it is for a placekicker to be great enough to be in the ROTY conversation, but when looking at what Aubrey is doing and the path taken to do it, let's just say he's literally a one-of-one, in both accuracy and power.

Has he proven himself to be a Pro Bowl caliber kicker? Of course. He's also shown himself worthy of a nod as a First-Team All-Pro, while we're at it.

But why stop there? His performance refuses to allow you to.

The only thing standing in his way is the competition for the honor of ROTY, or at least Offensive ROTY, is a potent mix of talent draft talent, and that unfortunately means the undrafted Aubrey, for as special of a unicorn as he has become, is playing in an overlooked position and in a year when headline-fueling draft picks are taking the NFL by storm.

Here are five of the top frontrunners to win the award, per Fox Sports, as of Dec. 12:

Top Four Contenders:

  • C.J. Stroud, QB (Texans): -2000
  • Puka Nacua, WR (Rams): +2500
  • Jahmyr Gibbs, RB (Lions): +4000
  • Bijan Robinson, RB (Falcons): +5000

Honorable Mentions:

  • Jordan Addison, WR (Vikings): +10000
  • Zay Flowers, WR (Ravens): +10000
  • De'Von Achane, RB (Dolphins): +10000

That's five, I said five first-round picks, a third- and a fifth-rounder. There's simply no way for Aubrey, who was a USFL player until July when he was signed by the Cowboys, to compete in the same media space as the machines that preceded the picks above and that has reached fever pitch after seeing them deliver on their draft value.

Aubrey doesn't have any draft value, but wait, doesn't that make him even more valuable — by cosmically outperforming the expectations (or lack thereof) placed upon him when he entered the league?

He was seen as a camp body, and little more. There were calls to sign a veteran like Mason Crosby (I'm included in this). There were some who saw the release of Vizcaino as a death sentence for Aubrey (I am not included in this one because Vizcaino earned his unemployment).

But here we are,in December, and Aubrey has shut everyone up, save for McCarthy, Fassel and the Cowboys' front office and scouting department.


"Butter, huh? Is that because he's on a roll?" - John "Bones" Fassel

Will Aubrey get a fair shake at landing a ROTY or OROTY award? If you hold your breath for that one, you'll die of asphyxiation, is my bet.

There's just too much working against him, but that doesn't mean he isn't deserving of being in the conversation and, if he continues on his heater and doesn't miss a single kick this season … seriously … that feat would have to be worth considerable consideration in this conversation.

For perspective, Aubrey has scored 138 points this season, while Stroud is sitting at 138.

Advanced analytics that also look at total impact to games, Aubrey's PPS (point per snap) advantage is 1.79, while Stroud's is 0.16 — via KD Drummond of The Cowboys Wire — and the fact he's ranked fourth in total hangtime and first in touchbacks (94.4%!!), having pinned opposing offenses deep nearly 100% of the time makes him, analytically, more impactful than Jalen Carter … a dominant defensive lineman.

Think of all of this in the context of baseball WAR (Wins Above Replacement), and it'll really begin to sink in just how unfathomably dangerous Aubrey has been.

"This was my wildest dream. It's come true. I'm just trying to keep going." - Brandon Aubrey

'Long Live the King'

Want to compare him again to the legendary Dan Bailey to see where he stands, now? I sure do, because it's a party, and I like my kickers to party.

P.S. If you caught that Talladega Nights reference, we might be best friends.

Dan Bailey (complete 2011 rookie season):

  • Field goals: 37 attempted, 32 made (86.5%)
  • 0-19 yards: 1 attempt, 1 made (100%)
  • 20-29 yards: 9 attempts, 8 made (88.9%)
  • 30-39 yards: 11 attempts, 11 made (100%)
  • 40-49 yards: 12 attempts, 10 made (83.33%)
  • 50+ yards: 4 attempts, 2 made (50%)
  • Point after TD (PAT): 39 attempts, 39 made (100%)*
  • Touchbacks: 24 of 67 (35.8%)

Brandon Aubrey (through 13 NFL games):

  • Field goals: 30 attempts, 30 made (100%)
  • 20-29 yards: 9 attempts, 9 made (100%)
  • 30-39 yards: 11 attempts, 11 made (100%)
  • 40-49 yards: 2 attempts, 2 made (100%)
  • 50+ yards: 8 attempts (!!), 8 made (!!!) (100%)
  • Point After TD (PAT): 39 attempts, 42 made (92.9%)*
  • Touchbacks: 84 of 89 kickoffs (94.4%)

*PATs are not directly comparable due to distance change by NFL, so this metric is weighted far more heavily toward Aubrey in 2023

I could really go on and on, like mentioning how Aubrey's tally of 129 points is the second-most in NFL history through the first 13 games of a career (Harrison Butker leads with 142), or how his 84 touchbacks is a Cowboys' franchise record and in how he's only five touchbacks away from setting a new league record in that category (taking it from Bradley Pinion (2021)).

Instead, I'll just go ahead and let the voters try to present an argument toward not casting a ballot for Aubrey when the time comes, and with a straight face, at that. Oh, and my confidence meter is officially at 99.99 percent, if you were wondering, and I know you are.

Why not 100 percent?

Hey, I'm not that easy. Do it in the playoffs and the whole, entire buck is yours, and blame Brett Maher for this trauma response. But what Aubrey has done already is enough for me to say Bailey's heir has finally arrived, after years of the Cowboys searching desperately.

By the way, Simba isn't messing around, Scar. And, so far, he's better than Mufasa could've dreamed of being, and everything the light touches is his kingdom.

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