The Deep Dive: The young guns who are the league's best kicks

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Every Wednesday of the 2022 season, ESPN will combine with Champion Data to provide an in-depth analysis on a particular hot topic in the AFL.


Have you ever watched a game of footy, noticed a player hitting targets by foot left, right and centre, and then asked yourself: 'I wonder who the best kick in the AFL actually is?'

Of course you have, we all have.

Well, with the help of Champion Data, we've crunched the numbers to work it out.

To make the determination, we've predominately used Champion Data's 'kick rating', which measures how often a player hits the intended target compared to the competition average for that very kick, and the pressure applied on the disposal, the kick location and target location is all taken into account.

The rating tells us the difference between a player's expected hit rate and actual hit rate - so a negative rating indicates a player is not executing the kicks as well as the competition average, while a positive rating indicates a player is hitting the intended target more often than the competition average.

We've used that measurement for categories such as the best kicks exiting and entering the 50, best kicks under pressure, best on their opposite foot and best over short and long distances.

But we also wanted to unearth whose kicks lead to a team score more often, or kicks inside 50 that lead specifically to marks, which are calculated via a different measurement to 'kick rating'.

Carlton's fleet-footed Zac Fisher just comes out on top when it comes to the best overall kick in the game right now, totalling 89 attempted kicks at a kick rating of +12.3%. It's only 0.1% better than Brisbane skipper Dayne Zorko (+12.2% from 157 kicks), who also happens to be the most effective player in the competition when exiting his team's defensive 50.

Collingwood duo Scott Pendlebury (+11.9%) and Pat Lipinski (+10.6%) round out the top four overall kicks in 2022.

But how do you define best? If you want ultimate bang for buck, there may not be a player in the league more effective with ball in hand than Richmond young gun Shai Bolton.

Bolton is one of the most exciting players in the competition, with his lightning pace, innate goal sense and eye-catching athleticism among his best traits.

But while we enjoy his flashy best, it's important to appreciate his now-undisputed effectiveness. Bolton also has the highest kick rating (+20.9%) when disposing under closing or physical pressure (ahead of Daniel Rich, Lipinski and Darcy Byrne-Jones), and is the fourth best general field kick (sitting slightly behind Mitch Duncan, Zorko and Pendlebury) with a rating of +11.4%.

The skillful Tiger's most dignified number, though, is this: 53.9%. It's how often one of his kicks lead to a team score, and he's the only player in the competition who more often than not is involved in a scoring chain.

How about going inside 50? New Cat Tyson Stengle leads the way with a rating of +18.0%, but it's Melbourne small forward Charlie Spargo who has found a marking target more often than any other player.

Bulldogs star Jack Macrae can claim the dual-sided trophy, rating at +18.8% on his opposite boot which is a huge jump from the next best.

Here are the categories we've looked at, and the qualifiers we've used for each:


Rebound 50

(minimum 15 kicks)

1. Dayne Zorko (BRIS)

Total kicks: 25
Kick rating: +15.8%

2. Jai Newcombe (HAW)

Total kicks: 15
Kick rating: +14.4%

3. Patrick Naish (WCE)

Total kicks: 25
Kick rating: +14.0%

4. Caleb Daniel (WB)

Total kicks: 29
Kick rating: +13.2%


Kicks inside 50

(minimum 20 kicks)

1. Tyson Stengle (GEE)

Total kicks: 25
Kick rating: +18.0%

2. Jack Lukosious (GCS)

Total kicks: 21
Kick rating: +17.6%

3. Josh Kelly (GWS)

Total kicks: 40
Kick rating: +17.5%

4. Hugh McCluggage (BRIS)

Total kicks: 34
Kick rating: +15.5%


Kicks inside 50 - highest mark %

(minimum 25 kicks)

1. Charlie Spargo (MEL)

Total kicks: 31
Mark %: 39%

2. Hugh McCluggage (Bris)

Total kicks: 34
Mark %: 38%

3. Tyson Stengle (Gee)

Total kicks: 26
Mark %: 35%

4. Ben Ainsworth (GCS)

Total kicks: 27
Mark %: 30%


Kicks under closing/physical pressure

(minimum 19 kicks)

1. Shai Bolton (RICH)

Total kicks: 22
Kick rating: +20.9%

2. Daniel Rich (BRIS)

Total kicks: 20
Kick rating: +18.1%

3. Patrick Lipinski (Coll)

Total kicks: 26
Kick rating: +15.5%

4. Darcy Byrne-Jones (Port)

Total kicks: 21
Kick rating: +15.1%


Best field kicks

(minimum 50 kicks)

1. Scott Pendlebury (COL)

Total kicks: 96
Kick rating: +13.3%

2. Dayne Zorko (BRIS)

Total kicks: 142
Kick rating: +12.3%

3. Mitch Duncan (GEE)

Total kicks: 104
Kick rating: +11.8%

4. Shai Bolton (RICH)

Total kicks: 60
Kick rating: +11.4%


Kicks under 40 metres

(minimum 30 kicks)

1. Mitch Duncan (GEE)

Total kicks: 68
Kick rating: +17.2%

2. Gryan Miers (GEE)

Total kicks: 31
Kick rating: +13.5%

3. Scott Pendlebury (COL)

Total kicks: 58
Kick rating: +13.1%

4. Lewis Young (CARL)

Total kicks: 34
Kick rating: +13.1%


Kicks over 40 metres

(minimum 30 kicks)

1. Patrick Lipinski (COL)

Total kicks: 31
Kick rating: +19.8%

2. Zac Fisher (CARL)

Total kicks: 30
Kick rating: +19.0%

3. Dayne Zorko (BRIS)

Total kicks: 53
Kick rating: +17.7%

4. Connor Rozee (PORT)

Total kicks: 34
Kick rating: +17.6%


Best kicks for goal

(minimum 15 kicks)

1. Ben Brown (MEL)

Total kicks: 21
Kick rating: +26.0%

2. Todd Marshall (PORT)

Total kicks: 22
Kick rating: +23.9%

3. Matt Taberner (FRE)

Total kicks: 15
Kick rating: +23.4%

4. Zac Bailey (BRIS)

Total kicks: 30
Kick rating: +23.0%


Best kicks on opposite foot

(minimum 10 kicks)

1. Jack Macrae (WB)

Total kicks: 12
Kick rating: +18.8%

2. Ryan Burton (PORT)

Total kicks: 10
Kick rating: +13.3%

3. Caleb Daniel (WB)

Total kicks: 14
Kick rating: +12.7%

4. Liam Baker (RICH)

Total kicks: 12
Kick rating: +11.3%


Kicks that lead to a score

(minimum 100 kicks)

1. Shai Bolton (RICH)

Total kicks: 102
Score: 53.9%

2. Dylan Moore (HAW)

Total kicks:103
Score: 46.6%

3. Christian Petracca (MEL)

Total kicks:150
Score: 42.0%

4. Errol Gulden (SYD)

Total kicks: 126
Score: 41.4%


Best overall kicks

(minimum 75 kicks)

1. Zac Fisher (CARL)

Total kicks: 89
Kick rating: +12.3%

2. Dayne Zorko (BRIS)

Total kicks: 157
Kick rating: +12.2%

3. Scott Pendlebury (COL)

Total kicks: 104
Kick rating: +11.9%

4. Patrick Lipinski (COL)

Total kicks: 87
Kick rating: +10.6%