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Kickers? Come on? Seriously? Your league still makes you draft a kicker? A K-I-C-K-E-R?
For those of you still living in the dark ages where your league's commissioner reminisces about the good old days before cell phones, when playing Commodore 64 was cutting edge and wearing corduroy OshKosh B'gosh shorts was in fashion, this article is for you.
Your commissioner probably played with He-Men, heck, he probably owned a toy Castle Grayskull … and still uses the word “heck.” Your commissioner tells his kids stories of how he had to blow into his Nintendo game system in order to get the games to work and thought Punky Brewster was hot, but hey, at least they’re right that The Breakfast Club was one of the best movies ever made.
If this is your league, if this is your commissioner, then you might as well have a strategy in place when drafting a kicker. Like with other positions, when I draft, I always have a tier sheet handy. Organizing players by tiers is far more beneficial than merely ranking them.
The kicker position is actually a bit more predictable than other positions on a week-to-week basis, and thus more exploitable, but only if you are streaming. Usually, home teams, with Las Vegas projected high point totals and playing preferably indoors, are your best bets. Scott Barrett at PFF pointed out the following:
Kickers averaged 8.3 fantasy points per game.
Kickers at home averaged 8.5 fantasy points per game (+0.5 more than road kickers).
Kickers playing in a dome averaged 8.7 fantasy points per game.
Kickers in games with wind speeds of 20 miles per hour or more averaged only 7.7 fantasy points per game.
The difference between the number 1 kicker last year and the number 12 kicker last year in fantasy points per game was just 37 total fantasy points.
If trying to stick to one kicker for an extended period of time or the season, you want a kicker on a team that puts up a ton of points. Although, when a team has a lousy defense and a bad offense, they usually abandon the kick and have to go for touchdowns. Nothing is worse for a kicker then their team getting down big early. An excellent example of this is Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez who only attempted 20 field goals all last year.
Additionally, a team with a great defense, but a suspect offense, can also hurt you. The 2017 Bengals are a perfect example of this. Their defense was good, preventing a lot of points scored against them, but their offense was often stuck in first gear. As a result, Randy Bullock also only attempted 20 field goals last season.
Another thing to look for is a team that has a pretty good offense, but one that can often stall out due to a lack of great red-zone players. A great example of this was the 2017 49ers. While Jimmy Garoppolo was a revelation for the team at quarterback, they just didn’t have any big-time red-zone receivers capable of scoring touchdowns, which is why their kicker, Robbie Gould, attempted 41 field goals. That’s more than Bullock and Gonzalez combined!
Kickers are also a replaceable position since most fantasy teams only draft one, which means there are tons of options to stream every week, which really is the best strategy to take advantage of some of the factors mentioned above. So if your kicker is not getting it done, do not stay committed to him and don’t be afraid to switch your guy out.
For some reason, there is a psychological obsession many fantasy team owners have with dropping the player’s they draft. I just don't get it. This isn’t some girlfriend you are scared to break up with; be ice cold, break your kicker's heart and dump him. Show no remorse. Pound your chest like Matthew McConaughey in the Wolf of Wall Street and tell yourself you are the man. Bye, Felecia. I don’t love you long time.
The last word before we actually get to the tiers - don’t be the guy that reaches to draft a kicker before the final two rounds of your draft. We all know that guy, the guy who drafts Justin Tucker in the 10th round, grinning ear-to-ear as he calls his name.
You’re the fool though, and you just played yourself. Every single person in your fantasy league now knows you have no clue what you’re doing, so now they’re smiling, laughing at you, or maybe they are laughing at your commissioner for making you draft one.
Greg Zuerlein (Rams) – Zuerlein has always had a big leg but has never been a reliable kicker, that is, until last season when he finished the season as the number one fantasy kicker. Zuerlein even missed the final few weeks of the season due to a herniated disk in his back and still finished first. Now that’s production. Zuerlein missed just two field goals all year, and one was from 63 yards out. Look for him to get another 40 plus chances this season on a team with a great offense and even better defense. That’s a recipe for points.
Stephen Gostkowski (Patriots) – The man with the name nobody can spell correctly is the steadiest kicker in fantasy year-after-year. He finished number two last year and has finished as a top three kicker in six out of the previous seven seasons. While he did have a few misses, making 37 of 40 field goals on the year, he is an extra point machine, finishing with 47; second best in the league.
Justin Tucker (Ravens) – Tucker is the perfect example of why to not draft a kicker early. His 2016 numbers were boosted by Tucker nailing 10 field goals from over 50 yards, while that number dropped in half in 2017. Nonetheless, he still finished as the leagues 10th best kicker and didn’t miss a kick after week 8. The best part about Tucker for fantasy is that he is accurate, has a big leg and the Ravens are usually in close games due to their offense, but also not a lights-out offense, leaving plenty of opportunities for points.
Robbie Gould (49ers) – Gould converted more field goals than any other kicker last season, with 39. From Weeks 6 through 12, Gould attempted just 9 field goals. But after Jimmy Garoppolo took over in Week 13, Gould knocked down 18 field goals, so there is room for improvement this year. The 49ers offense moved the ball well but often stalled out, which was money for fantasy kicker points. The 49ers still don’t have a proven red zone receiver, and without Carlos Hyde, they don’t have a proven red zone running back either. Gould should be great again.
Wil Lutz (Saints) – Lutz comes with some risk. He attempted a solid 36 field goals last season, but missed on 5 of them, tied for 4th most. His bread and butter were his extra points, where he led the league with 50, although he even missed three of those. It won’t always be pretty, but for fantasy purposes, he should be fine. Just keep in mind; if your league deducts points for missed field goals, you may want to look elsewhere. Oh, by the way, he spells his first name with just one "L." I bet your leagues commissioner doesn’t know that.
Harrison Butker (Chiefs) – Butker was great last season, attempting a league-high 42 field goals, and connecting on 38 of them. The downside with him was that he attempted only 28 extra points, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing since it means his offense stalled out instead of scoring, which is precisely what you are looking for. With a suspect defense, the Chiefs should be involved in more shootouts this year, and they have the offensive weapons to do battle. Patrick Mahomes may also be a bit erratic, so the field goals will likely be there again for Butker.
Matt Bryant (Falcons) – Bryant had a bit of a down year last season due to a decrease in extra points and due to his inaccuracy, missing 5 of his 39 attempts. It’s certainly a cause for concern since he is 43 years old, was kicking indoors, and since the offense shouldn’t stall out as much this year as they did last season. That said, at least his leg is still strong; and he knocked down eight field goals beyond 50 yards, which was best in the league. All that said, Bryant is a near lock to finish as a top-10 kicker as usual.
Chris Boswell (Steelers)– Boswell had a great 2017 and should be rock solid again in 2018. He finished tied for 4th in fantasy points, missed just 3 field goals, knocked down 35, and added another 37 extra points. He also has a solid leg and made all four of his attempts over 50 yards. While Steelers road splits are a problem for this whole offense, Boswell is usually able to come through.
Matt Prater (Lions) – The Lion's consistency is the key to Prater’s success since the talent is there. Hopefully, with an infusion of running back talent, the Lions will finally have a more productive offense. As for Prater himself, he attempted 35 field goals, which was only 12th-most in the league. However, as you can tell from this article, the league leader only attempted seven more, which is why kickers in fantasy are just silly. That said, he missed five of them. But four of those misses were from beyond 50 yards, and he knocked down a whopping seven of those, so his leg is fine. Prater is also money on extra points, hitting all but one of his 41 attempts. He’s a rock-solid option, on a solid offense and kicking indoors that you don't have to reach for in your draft.
Daniel Carlson (Vikings) – Kai Forbath left a ton of points on the field last year. The Vikings handed him 38 field goal attempts, and he missed six of them, along with five extra points. In comes rookie Carlson, who is the SEC’s top scorer in conference history. He has a monster leg and deadly accuracy, converting every one of his 198 extra point attempts. It’s tough relying on rookies, but the situation looks great.
Jake Elliott (Eagles) – While Elliott is an excellent kicker, he can be inconsistent for fantasy mainly due to Eagles head coach Doug Pederson going for it on fourth down more than any coach in the league. The weather can also be dicey at times in Philly. In 2017, Elliot had five games with less than seven fantasy points, and then five games with double-digit points. Elliot also knocked down a monster 61-yard field goal and went five for six on kicks over 50 yards.
Graham Gano (Panthers) – Gano is a great kicker who was stymied by a bad Panthers offense last season. With a slew of new weapons, look for him to have a bounce-back year. Last season he connected on all but one of his 30 field goal attempts, so the talent is there. Hopefully, the additions of D.J. Moore and C.J. Anderson help get this team into better scoring position.
Dan Bailey (Cowboys) – The Cowboys sucked last year, and Bailey was no better. He played just 12 weeks and missed 25% of his field goals, knocking down only 15 of 20. He’s a great kicker, playing indoors on a team with a good defense, and with an offense that could stall out a lot. Think the 2017 49ers. Bailey should bounce back.
Josh Lambo (Jaguars) – The Chargers stupidly cut Lambo last season, opting to go with rookie Younghoe Koo instead, who literally cost them a playoff birth. Lambo reemerged with the Jaguars in October going 17 for 18 in field goals, and connecting on 22 of his 24 extra points. In total, the Jaguars attempted 41 extra points and 35 field goals, which is pretty solid. Look for Lambo to be a steady option on a team that should be in close games a lot again this year.
Caleb Sturgis (Chargers) – Sturgis lands in a good fantasy situation after injuring himself last season and being replaced by Elliot. The Chargers have always been a fantasy friendly kicking offense, but bad kickers have tormented them for years. They went through four different kickers last season and endured 10 misses. The Chargers have always been more extra point friendly though, with a solid 42 extra point attempts last season and 46 the year before, while hovering around 32 field goal attempts every season. Like a few other guys on this tier, you are getting a steady extra point machine, but not necessarily a field goal making one.
Adam Vinatieri (Colts) – With Andrew Luck back, Vinatieri is an excellent sleeper pick and bounce back candidate. Beyond Luck’s injury, 2017 was an odd year for him, as Vinatieri inexplicably missed three field goals in the 30 to 39-yard range, but knocked down five out of six from over 50 yards. In 2018 they key will be volume. With the league’s worst defense, the Colts are going to have to put up a ton of points, that could either mean a lot of field goals, or the Colts going for it a ton on 4th down.
Ryan Succop (Titans) – Succop is a bit of a risk. He attempted 42 field goals last year, but missed seven of them, with just three of those coming from beyond 50 yards. He could easily see another 42 this year, but if he doesn’t improve his accuracy, he could easily be gone as well.
Dustin Hopkins (Redskins) – Hopkins played in only eight games last year, but he should be back as the team’s starter this season. Like Succop, Hopkins is a good bet for opportunity, he just needs to come through. In 2016 he attempted 42 field goals, which would have been tied for the lead last year; however, he missed eight of those, which would have been the worst last year. In 2016 he also attempted 39 extra points, which would have been sixth-most last season. With Alex Smith at the helm, the Redskins should provide Hopkins with ample opportunity, after all, Smith provided Butker with 42 attempts last season in Kansas City.
Kaimi Fairbairn (Texas) – Like the other guys in this tier, it all comes down to the offense. When Deshaun Watson was healthy, Fairbairn was money, knocking down seven field goals and 9 of 10 extra points in Weeks 3 and 4. He’s worth monitoring and potentially worth drafting if Watson is healthy. Kicking indoors is always a plus.
Mason Crosby (Packers) – It’s best just to ignore Crosby’s 2017 season since Aaron Rodgers was hurt for most of the year. Regardless though, people have a distorted view of Crosby that he is a fantastic fantasy kicker when in reality, he isn’t. Much like the Eagles, the Packers are an aggressive offense, and a very good one, which leaves little for the kicker in terms of field goals. In 2016 Crosby attempted just 30 field goals, which was up from 28 the year before. He’s also not very accurate either, missing four each season. His bread and butter are extra points, connecting on 44 in 2016. Unfortunately, you are not going to win your fantasy league with extra points. Let someone else fall for the fake.
Phil Dawson (Cardinals) – Fantasy Phil is one of the oldest players in the league at 43 years old, and his leg started to waiver on him, missing eight field goals last season, four of which came from less than 40 yards out. Ouch. That said, he was money from long range, connecting on four of five from over 50 yards. With David Johnson back, the team should move the ball but stall a good amount as well. He did finish with a rock solid 40 attempts, like most of the other guys in this tier; he should get volume and just needs to convert.
Eddy Pineiro (Raiders) – It’s not clear how productive the Raiders offense will be this year under new head coach Jon Gruden, but it seems like this could be one that is able to move the ball but perhaps stall quite a bit. During his final year of college, Pineiro had the best field goal percentage in the nation, 94.4% (17-for-18). He finished his career with an 88.4% (38-for-43) field goal conversion rate, which ranks first in University of Florida history. It's a leap of faith to trust a rookie, but he is someone to monitor closely and went three for three in the first pre-season game.
Sebastian Janikowski (Seahawks) – Blair Walsh was his inaccurate self last year and was subsequently let go in the offseason. With a suspect defense playing in a great division, the Seahawks should have to put up a lot of points this season. You never know with Janikowski, so he’s worth keeping tabs on.
Cody Parkey (Bears) – Parkey is an intriguing option this season. He’s a reasonably accurate kicker but was stuck on the Browns and Dolphins the past two years. Thee years ago he got hurt, but the year before that on the Eagles, he knocked down all 54 of his extra point attempts. Like a few other kickers on this list, he’s excellent from 50+ yards but has struggled at times between the 40 and 49-yard range, going 7 for 12 in that area in 2016. That said, the Bears offense should be up-tempo this year and be able to move the ball reasonably well. Additionally, they have a good defense, meaning the team won’t have to play catch-up and can settle for field goals, especially with a second-year quarterback at the helm. He’s another player to keep a close eye on.
Brandon McManus (Broncos) – Playing at Mile High Stadium in Denver, the air is thin, and the ball travels far. Unfortunately, McManus missed eight field goals last season, which was the worst in the league. With a better offense and thin air, the opportunities should be there, but there is a chance McManus gets replaced if he falters once again.
Cairo Santos (Jets) – Santos is an accurate and reliable kicker, going 113 for 118 on extra points when he played for the Chiefs. Like Hauschka, the problem here is the team may not put up a lot of points every week, and there are weather issues playing in New York. It should be noted that he has also been dealing with a leg strain in camp and hasn't been practicing much. If Santos is cut, the job will go to Taylor Bertolet who has been cut two years in a row now. If that happens, move him down a tier.
Chandler Catanzaro (Buccaneers) –The Tampa kickers have been cursed for years. Perhaps it’s the muggy weather, or maybe it’s just bad luck. With a great offense in place, Catanzaro could surprise.
Steve Hauschka (Bills) – Hauschka is an excellent kicker stuck in a terrible situation. Not only will the Bills offense struggle to move the ball this year, but the weather in Buffalo is pretty horrible for at least half of the regular season. Look elsewhere.
Aldrick Rosas (Giants) – While the offense should be better, Rosas missed 7 kicks on just 25 attempts. While the Giants offense should be better, he’s a candidate to be replaced or cut. Not to mention there are weather issues in New York.
Randy Bullock (Bengals) – Bullock is a journeyman and in a competition with kicker Jonathan Brown. The Bengals will hopefully bounce back on offense this season, but there is not a lot to get excited about here even if they do.
Zane Gonzalez (Browns) – Gonzalez was a great college kicker, but disappointed in his rookies year, missing 5 of his 20 attempts. It's too soon to write him off, but between the misses, playing on the Browns and weather issues, he’s not worth drafting.
Jason Sanders (Dolphins) – Seventh-round draft pick Sanders was excellent in the extra point department, going 111 for 112 in college, but not so great in the field goal department, hitting just 25 of 35. He’s locked in a battle with fellow rookie Greg Joseph for starting duties. Parkey only attempted 23 field goals and 29 extra points last year, so the winner of this competition still may not hold much fantasy value.
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