No position is more unpredictable in fantasy football than kickers. Year after year after year, no position has a lower correlation between where they're drafted before the season and where they finish after the season. No position has a lower correlation between how they score in one week and how they score in the next. No position has a lower correlation between projected points and actual points.
In addition, placekicker is the position that has the smallest spread between the best players and the middle-of-the-pack players for fantasy. Finally, most fantasy GMs will only carry one kicker at a time, which means there are a dozen or more starting kickers sitting around on waivers at any given time. Given all of this, it rarely makes sense to devote resources to the position. Instead, GMs are best served by rotating through whichever available kicker has the best weekly matchup.
Every week, I'll rank the situations each kicker finds himself in (ignoring the talent of the kicker himself) to help you find perfectly startable production off the waiver wire.
Week 16 Results
Our Championship Week column was largely defined not just by the starts it recommended, but by the one it did not. I devoted five paragraphs to the idea that Younghoe Koo, the best kicker in fantasy football, should be benched for virtually anyone else with a pulse. The "bench Koo" call wound up being exactly right, and more importantly, it was right for exactly the reasons I listed. I mention that the model is trying harder to avoid downside risk than to seek out upside, and Koo had plenty of downside against a Kansas City Chiefs squad that was allowing the 5th-fewest field goals. Atlanta scored two touchdowns, Koo kicked two extra points, and 26 kickers finished the week with a higher score.
As for the players it recommended instead...
Ryan Succop (1 FG attempt, 0 FGs, 5 XPs, 5 points)
Ryan Succop perfectly demonstrates why kickers are so maddening in fantasy football. Everything about this prediction went right. We identified the Buccaneers against the Lions as a stellar matchup, and it lived up to the hype. Tampa scored 47 points and Succop attempted seven extra points and a relatively easy 42-yard field goal— in a dome, no less!— giving him a good shot at 10 points for the week. But Succop missed the field goal and two of the extra points, finishing tied for 18th on the week.
Since 1960, there has only been one game where a team scored 45 or more points and its kicker(s) scored fewer than 5 of them; in 2000, the Rams' kicker was injured 40 seconds into the game and the team went for a 2-point conversion after every subsequent touchdown. That's it. (There have been three other games where the team's kicker scored exactly 5 points thanks to two missed extra points, but none of those games also featured a missed field goal.)
Ka'imi Fairbairn (1 FG attempt, 1 FG, 4 XPs, 7 points)
The best pick in our worst week of the season, Fairbairn didn't miss any kicks and his seven points ranked 13th among kickers, which unfortunately was the high-water mark for us in Week 16.
Cody Parkey (1 FG attempt, 1 FG, 1 XP, 4 points)
The weekly tradition of picking on the New York Jets has ground to a halt as the moribund franchises has shown surprising signs of life, knocking off the 9-4 Rams and 10-4 Browns in back-to-back weeks. (Our tradition of picking on the Jacksonville Jaguars continues to pay dividends, however.) Parkey missed an extra point, which didn't help matters, either. His 4 points tied for 23rd among kickers.
Mike Nugent (2 FG attempts, 2 FGs, 0 XPs, 6 points)
Nugent was subject to a bit of bad luck against the 49ers. He lost out on an extra point opportunity most kickers would get late in the game because the Cardinals played analytically-sound football (when trailing 20-6, they attempted a 2-point conversion after their next touchdown when most coaches would kick the extra point). Nugent also missed a second scoring opportunity when his team threw an interception in the red zone. His six points tied for 16th on the week.
Jake Elliott (1 FG attempt, 1 FG, 2 XPs, 5 points)
The Philadelphia Eagles' offense has shown surprising signs of life since Jalen Hurts took over, while Dallas' defense has been a nightmare all season long, but both trends came to a crashing halt on Sunday. The Eagles scored 14 points in the first ten minutes but managed just three points the rest of the way, and Elliott's 5 total points ranked 18th at the position.
This year, Rent-a-Kicker made 80 weekly recommendations. Those 80 kickers averaged 7.39 points, compared to last year's 7.65 weekly average. That average would currently rank 11th at the position. Our top weekly recommendation averages 7.75 points and the average of all highlighted kickers with great matchups is 7.59, which would rank 6th and 9th, respectively.
The top 12 kickers by preseason ADP were Justin Tucker (129 points), Harrison Butker (127 points), Wil Lutz (124 points), Greg Zuerlein (129 points), Robbie Gould (100 points), Matt Gay (cut before the season), Zane Gonzalez (93 points), Younghoe Koo (142 points), Matt Prater (103 points), Dan Bailey (82 points), Jake Elliott (71 points), and Ka'imi Fairbairn (111 points) (giving an extra seven points to every kicker to account for his bye-week replacement). Despite the extra draft capital expenditure, only four of these kickers have outperformed our top streaming option. Justin Tucker and Greg Zuerlein added five points, Harrison Butker provided a three-point advantage... and Younghoe Koo outscored our top streamer by 18 points.
But Koo, the only kicker of the twelve to provide a meaningful advantage, was on waivers in more than 50% of leagues for three weeks early in the season, meaning he was freely available to streamers to roster and ride. And additionally, he was a liability in the championship game, making our "Avoid at All Costs" list and scoring just two points. Meanwhile, four of the top five kickers (Daniel Carlson, Jason Sanders, Tyler Bass, and Rodrigo Blankenship) were undrafted.
Even excluding Gay, the remaining kickers average 110.1 points, which is well behind the average of "Great Plays" that were available for free on waivers (121.4 points). Demonstrating yet again that there's really no reason to ever spend anything of value at the position when you're better off playing matchups for free instead.
Week 17 Situations
**Since streaming kickers is so popular and rostered players can vary across leagues, here is a list of how favorable every kicker's situation is based on Vegas projected totals and stadium. Quality plays who are on waivers in over 50% of leagues based on NFL.com roster percentages are italicized and will be highlighted in next week's column. Also, note that these rankings are kicker-agnostic; teams will occasionally change kickers mid-week, but any endorsements apply equally to whatever kicker winds up eventually getting the start.**
Avoid at All Costs