Some random NFL kicker items from the 2006 season:
First, did the NFL juice up the ball last year for kickers? I looked at the touchback stats for all kickers who kicked off at least 50 times in both 2005 and 2006. Here are the results:
2005: 179 touchbacks out of 1,847 kickoffs (9.7%)
2006: 250 touchbacks out of 1,824 kickoffs (13.7%)
Of the 25 kickers qualifying under my criteria, 13 of them showed significant improvement in the touchback rate, 10 were roughly the same, and 2 declined (Rackers and Janikowski). This also does not take into account other veteran kickers who kicked off last year after not kicking off the year before, who also showed a significant increase in touchbacks over their most recent kickoff performances of prior seasons.
In line with that, kickers are aging like fine wine. If they were baseball players, they would probably be getting accused of performance enhancement. I don't know what all the reasons are for kickers in the NFL, and I am sure there are multiple factors. Here are the numbers for the 11 kickers who were age 33 or older at the start of last season (Andersen, Carney, Stover, Elam, Kasay, Vanderjagt, Wilkins, Nedney, Mare, and Vinatieri).
40-49 yard field goals
2006: 76 of 96 (79.2%)
rest of career: 874 of 1270 (68.8%)
50+ yard field goals
2006: 16 of 30 (53.3%)
rest of career: 226 of 430 (52.6%)
Kickoffs (excluding Elam and Andersen)
2006: 82 of 601 (13.6%)
rest of career: 919 of 6689 (13.7%)