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.
Another Note on Matchup Quality
(If you don't care about the theory and just want the matchups, feel free to skip to the end!)
I mentioned last week that while my recommendations were roughly in order from best to worst, the difference within tiers was quite small compared to the difference between tiers and dominated by ties. To demonstrate, I mentioned that since the beginning of 2019, my top weekly recommendation had averaged 8.0 points per game while all recommended streamers with a great matchup combined averaged 7.9 points per game.
It occurred to me after publishing that by comparing top kickers to the average of all kickers with a great matchup (a group which includes the top kickers) I will have understated the difference. The question really is how does the top weekly recommendation compare to all of the other kickers with a great matchup except the top weekly recommendation. Since I have itemized results back to the beginning of 2020, I was able to look that up.
It turns out that our top weekly recommendation averages 8.19 points per game, while all kickers who weren't top recommendations but still had a great matchup averaged 7.81 points per game. Which means getting the top pick has been worth nearly 0.4 points per game. That's a not-insigificant advantage. Except... maybe it's overstating things? After all, I've been able to recommend at least two kickers with a great matchup every week since the beginning of 2021, and while top kickers average 8.19 points per game, my 2nd pick has averaged 8.33 points per game. So my second pick is best, right?
Here's my first rule of data analysis:
Pro tip: any time you see any cool, compelling, interesting, powerful, intriguing, or absurd statistic, you should probably just assume it's selection bias until proven otherwise.— Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad) October 2, 2018
Over the last two seasons, we've been able to find as few as two available kickers with a great matchup and as many as five. If there's something different about weeks where we can find 2 great matchups and weeks where we can find 5 great matchups, then simple averages like this will be misleading.
Indeed, in weeks where we only have two "great" recommendations, the top pick averages a whopping 8.67 points per game. In weeks with three "great" recommendations, the top pick averages 8.11. In weeks with four "great" recommendations the top pick averages 8.00 and in weeks with five "great" recommendations, the top pick averages 7.71. The more great matchups there are, the worse the top kicker performs. The effect is small but significant enough to impact the results.
In weeks with exactly two great recommendations, the top kicker averages 8.67 points and all non-top kickers average 9.00. In weeks with exactly three recommendations, the top kicker averages 8.11 and all non-top kickers average 7.64. In weeks with exactly four recommendations, the top kicker averages 8.00 points and all non-top kickers average 8.05. In weeks with exactly five recommendations, the top kicker averages 7.71 points and all non-top kickers average 7.89. When you look at it this way, it looks like there's essentially no difference between the top weekly recommendation and any other recommended kicker in the "great" tier.
And of course, all of this is complicated by the small sample sizes. Even at the high end of the estimate (0.4 points per game), that's about two field goals over a 16-game season. One fluky good or bad week could easily explain that difference. Points for the top recommendation go down in weeks with five "great" recommendations, but that's just a 7-week sample. Is that a meaningful trend or just noise over such a tiny sample?
This is all a very long way of saying that data analysis is hard and there are countless unexpected ways someone could screw it up. Maybe the difference between the top recommendation is 0.4 points per game, maybe it's 0 points per game. In expectation, I think it's fair to say it's maybe a tenth of a point or two. Certainly small enough that it's reasonable to allow yourself to be influenced by other factors. Maybe the kicker for your favorite team is my #3 recommendation. Maybe somehow the Jets kicker finds himself in the "great matchups" group and you want to use him just to troll the rest of your league. Maybe you want to get the kicker on Monday Night Football just to maximize the drama. (I highly recommend this last option, by the way; fantasy is supposed to be fun.)
The gap between the great recommendations and the good ones, however, is much less uncertain. The average of all "good matchups" that make their way into the Top 5 unrostered kickers is 6.72 points per game. The average of the top "Good matchup" of the week is 6.29. Going from a great matchup to a good costs over 1ppg on average.
Sometimes that 1ppg drop in expectation can be worthwhile. If I had Justin Tucker or Harrison Butker, I would start them in good matchups rather than dropping them and losing them to waivers. Maybe you're rostering a kicker in Week 13 with an eye toward his playoff matchups. A 1 point difference isn't a huge deal because most fantasy matchups don't finish within a single point (and even if they do, it's a 50/50 shot whether you're the team that needed one more point).
But that's the reason why I score myself using an average of my recommendations with a great matchup, because while gaps within a tier don't matter much, the gaps between tiers absolutely do.
Week 5 Results
Greg Joseph (5 FG attempts, 4 FGs, 1 XP, 13 points)
We got lucky on our top call of the week as Minnesota didn't have the offensive explosion we expected against a bad Detroit Lions defense, but our kicker was bailed out because the team settled for field goals so often. Of five scoring drives on the day, four were field goals, including a pair of 50-yarders (one of them the game-winner from 54 yards as time expired). Still, sometimes we get lucky and sometimes we get unlucky, but all the points count either way. Joseph finished tied for the 2nd-highest weekly score. As an additional note: per NFL.com statistics, Greg Joseph was rostered in more leagues in Week 4 than he was in Week 5, meaning more teams cut him than added him in advance of perhaps his best matchup of the year. Just a reminder of how few of your leaguemates are playing matchups properly at the kicker position, and what an advantage it is when you do.
Nick Folk (4 FG attempts, 4 FGs, 1 XP, 13 points)
Another "lucky" day, Folk matched Joseph with four field goals and two from 50+. Folk missed an extra point, but even that wound up working in his favor because that led to him kicking a game-winning field goal with 15 seconds left instead of New England kneeling out a 1-point win. Like Joseph, Folk finished tied for 2nd on the week. (Also like Joseph, Folk was cut in more leagues than he was added.)
Imagine choosing your kicker based on how many points he scored last week and not by how many points he'll score this week.— Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad) September 28, 2021
Couldn't be me.
Matt Prater (2 FG attempts, 1 FG, 2 XPs, 5 points)
The Cardinals offense had been flying high until they got grounded against the San Francisco 49ers, but Prater continued to show what makes him potentially so special as the Cardinals let him attempt yet another 60-yarder at the end of the first half. Since 1994 (as far back as I have play-by-play data), the record for 60+ yard attempts in a season was 2. Prater had two such attempts in his entire career to this point. Now he's had three in his first five games. He may have missed, but even if he's only going to hit 33% from this distance, those extra attempts represent opportunities that other kickers are not afforded. If he finishes the year with six attempts and hits two of them, that's an extra 0.4 points per game compared to his peers that never got the opportunities, and that's ignoring all of the 55+ yarders he might get as well (and convert at an even higher rate). Prater finished the week tied for 21st, but better days likely lie ahead.
Matt Gay (2 FG attempts, 2 FGs, 2 XPs, 8 points)
A missed extra point was a bit of a downer, but any time a streaming kicker gets you at least 8 points has to count as a win. Gay tied for 12th in scoring.
Randy Bullock (1 FG attempt, 1 FG, 4 XPs, 7 points)
Tennessee had six scoring drives but five of them were touchdowns (and Bullock missed one of the extra points), resulting in an uninspiring 7 points, tied for 17th on the week.
Results To Date
To date, Rent-a-Kicker has made 25 weekly recommendations. Those 25 kickers have averaged 8.40 points, compared to 7.39 in 2020 and 7.65 in 2019. That average would currently rank 6th at the position. Our top weekly recommendation averages 9.60 points, while every highlighted kicker with a great matchup averages 8.95, which would rank 2nd and 4th, respectively.
The top 12 kickers by preseason ADP were Harrison Butker (34 points), Justin Tucker (42 points), Younghoe Koo (31 points), Greg Zuerlein (44 points), Tyler Bass (52 points), Ryan Succop (41 points), Jacob Sanders (23 points), Rodrigo Blankenship (40 points), Jason Myers (24 points), Matt Gay (45 points), Brandon McManus (42 points), and Matt Prater (43 points). Despite the extra draft capital expenditure, only two of these kickers are outperforming the average of our highlighted "Great Plays", and one of them (Matt Gay) is currently on waivers in two-thirds of NFL.com leagues. The twelve kickers have scored an average of 38.4 points compared to 44.7 from the average of our available "great plays".
Week 6 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