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Faceoff: Defense and Kicker Discussion

July 22nd

Clayton Gray: It seems that the generally accepted strategy is to wait at both of these positions. However, is there ever a time where it's better to land a "stud" at either spot? At defense, do you prefer a drafting a committee? What are your thoughts on grabbing waiver wire defenses before they play weak offenses? Or do you simply prefer to go after a top-tier team and essentially plug them in every week regardless of their opponent?

Jason Wood: I don't ascribe to the "by committee" approach...and that goes for QBBC and Defense by Committee. To bank on DFBC, you are also banking on the idea that last year's fantasy defensive rankings are predictive of this year's outcomes. Generally they're not. As a result, I see it time and again...teams think they're outsmarting their league mates by grabbing two complementary defenses based on their perusal of the upcoming NFL schedule. But the truth is the "strength of schedule" in the preseason has almost no predictive value, you need to see teams on the field, and about six weeks in you can start putting some value on SOS for the remainder of the current year.

As a result, I simply target defenses I believe have a real chance to producing this year, be it because they're proven units that return most of their personnel intact, or are middling units that added notable key pieces or brought in a new coach with a proven system. I don't worry about whether my defenses line up on paper in the preseason, I draft the two best available when I'm ready to take them, and worry about who I should start when the time comes.

At PK, I FIRMLY believe in waiting. In a 12-team redraft league, there's very little reason to grab someone early. Most teams won't carry more than one PK and that means that even if you're picking the last PK in the draft, you are targeting someone at or near the top third of your rankings.

Matt Waldman: I know I'm going to play the waiver wire half the time when it comes to a kicker. If I pick a defense early it is because I'm happy with the value I have elsewhere on my roster and I want a unit that I feel is likely to produce at a high level. However, that's maybe 3-4 units at best. I'm usually aggressive in free agency until I land a defense I feel good about. And I can't remember a re-draft league where I felt like I wasn't able to do so by week five at the latest.

Jeff Pasquino: I'd only take a defense early if I expected team defenses as a whole to be substantially overvalued due to a league's quirky scoring system. Even then I'd give pause as I can usually find a team outside of the Top 5 ADP defenses that has a favorable early schedule and then play the waiver wire from there. With thin benches where I need more roster spots, second defenses are not even a consideration. Honestly if I don't have at least 20 roster spots I would never carry more than one until the bye weeks started to come - and even then I'd probably try and do a wholesale switch. Flyers late in a draft are usually way more important and have far bigger upside than carrying a second defense.

That all said, I have carried two defenses in leagues where rosters lock for the final 3-4 weeks of the season. There I might try and grab two teams that will face easy competition for my league's playoff run. Since bye weeks should be over by then, roster spots are less of a premium.

As for kickers, pretty much the same deal as defenses, and I would only have two for a playoff push if rosters froze. Only the deepest of deep leagues (16 teams, 30+ roster spots or more) might force you to grab two, but odds are against it barring a roster freeze.

Jeff Haseley: I'll keep this fairly simple. I like to target one kicker, preferably one with a late bye week. That way I can keep him on my team and have at least nine weeks to decide if I want to trade him in for the waiver wire surprise or keep him. Plus I don't have to drop him until later in the year. I have gone by this philosophy for a while and it works for me. My criteria - find a fairly good offensive team with a week 9 bye week or later (byes are into week 11 this year). I am targeting Detroit, Minnesota New Orleans and Houston as potential kicker spots.

As for defenses - My philosophy is to target good defensive teams that also have good offenses. Teams tend to get more sacks and turnovers when their opponent is trailing in the game. A good offense will allow this to happen more often. Teams with better all-around secondaries (not just one shut down corner) tend to have higher sack numbers, which also leads to more turnovers. A good return game doesn't hurt either. Less popular, potential surprise defensive teams include Kansas City, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Denver have my interest for later round selections.

Mark Wimer: Place kickers' production varies widely from season to season. Teams that score a lot of touchdowns (have a strong offense in the red zone) don't kick a lot of field goals, but do chip in a lot of extra points. Teams that are less effective in the red zone but that have good results "between the 20's" tend to kick more field goals and less extra points. Teams that stink offensively (ie. the 2010 Carolina Panthers) don't kick a lot of field goals or extra points.

Generally speaking, it is very hard to predict which teams will fit the middle description that produces a top-scoring fantasy place kicker. The teams have to be good, but not great, at moving the ball and good, but not great, at scoring touchdowns. So my plan is always to avoid picking place kickers until the final few rounds of the draft, usually the final round. I take a guy who isn't on a lame-looking offense, and avoid place kickers on teams who will likely start rookie QBs (which usually results in a lame offense). I also tend to prefer home-dome or home-warm-climate kickers over the guys in extreme cold climates with open-air stadiums, because late in December when fantasy playoffs are being decided, there is more chance of an "ice-bowl" type game in Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Chicago than there is in Atlanta or Arizona.

When it comes to defenses, I am in the camp of taking a top-five defense or selecting a team that you think is on the rise to top-five status. Have one stud defense that you can plug in week in and week out - a fire-and-forget portion for your weekly lineup. Once in a while a top squad may throw up a stinker on you (the Jets and Patriots threw down 34 and 36 points on the Bears last year, but other than those games the Bears generally allowed 20 or fewer points for the majority of the year). Scoring system for each league is of course a major factor in ranking the top squads, but the top five defenses in the NFL will, generally speaking, be among the top-five team defenses in the vast majority of scoring paradigms. As Matt points out, if your top team D whiffs in September more than once, you may be able to churn them for a better unit in October. Generally, I try to be the third, fourth or fifth team to take a team defense in any given draft, and I don't jump out to be the first guy as the difference between the #1 and #5 finisher on the team defense board at the end of any given season is very hard to predict in August or early September. You rarely get "bang" for your pick by being the first guy to take a team D, but you will often get hurt by being the twelfth or fourteenth guy to pick a team D.

Sigmund Bloom: Unless your league gives .1 per FG made yard and negative points for misses, you can wait until the last round to take your kicker. Defenses become more important and possibly worth taking as early as the 10th round if your league gives/takes away points for points and yards allowed or gives more than a point for sacks or two points for turnovers. Otherwise, it is best to just cycle through defenses that are hot or have good weekly matchups. This especially works as the season goes on because you can often pick up defenses facing a backup or even third-string QB. Often opponent is a better predictor of fantasy D/ST performance than the quality of defense itself. In the meantime, draft a good sleeper defense like Detroit or a defense that faces a soft early schedule like Arizona (CAR, @WAS, @ SEA - could be facing Newton, Beck, Whitehurst to begin the season) and be ready to pull the ripcord when a better option appears on the waiver wire.

Herman During the season, there are potential benefits to be gained from working the weekly waiver wire for Defense and/or Kicker. For that to happen, you need to answer yes to the following three questions:

  1. Does my league size and roster size mean that there will always be a moderate to sizable number of defenses and/or kickers sitting on the waiver wire?
  2. Do my league rules allow me to readily grab a defense and/or kicker off the wire each week?
  3. Am I either interested in taking the time each week to analyze the match-ups, or to rely on someone else's analysis, to determine what defenses and/or kickers have a higher probability of having an above average or excellent week?

Clayton Gray: To close out this topic, we asked our resident PK expert for a little more insight on drafting a kicker. While he isn't clear on the definition of "a little", he does offer some excellent thoughts.

Mike Herman: There are various approaches to drafting a kicker. There are no right or wrong answers, although some have greater potential rewards and risks than others. In the end, selecting which approach to use is just as much about comfort level as it is about drafting a high scoring kicker.

The question of when to draft a kicker (like many fantasy football questions), hinges on knowing your league's rules. First answer the following questions:

  • How many teams are in the league?
  • How many players are on each team's roster?
  • Are there a minimum or set number of kickers required to be carried on a roster?
  • How many kickers must be started each week?
  • Can a kicker(s) be picked up on the weekly waiver wire?
  • Can a kicker(s) be picked up on the waiver wire before the first game?
  • Must a kicker(s) be drafted, or can one be added later?

Mike Herman: EARLY STUD

Each year there are usually one to three highly ranked kickers heading into drafts. To get one of those, you'll need to draft him early. The ADP for those kickers the last two years in a typical 12 team league is the tenth and eleventh rounds. The top kicker can go as early as the sixth or seventh round in a few leagues. One potential concern is that these kickers are highly ranked most likely because of a big year they had the year before. You'll be spending an early round pick on them assuming they have a very good chance of duplicating those results. Unfortunately, that usually doesn't happen. Since 1991, teams kicking over 140 points in a given year average only 109 points the following year (high of 126, low of 91). The decrease in points averages 41 the following year (minimum 17, maximum 74).


Once the flavor-of-the-year kickers are gone, there will be a handful of kickers that get drafted scattered over the next few rounds. These are typically the kickers that have been in or near the top ten in scoring the last few years, but didn't have an exceptionally big year the year before.


One of the most common drafting "rules" is to just wait until the last round to draft a kicker. Before getting to that point, you need to answer the league rule questions listed above, to get an idea of just how many kickers are probably going to be drafted in your league. There are only 32 starting kickers in the NFL. In fantasy leagues with many teams and larger rosters, there will be fewer available kickers at the end. Drafting one a round or two before the final round will eliminate having to pick from the scraps.


Again, depending on your league size and rules, there could be many good kicker bargain kickers available in the final round. If you did your homework on who to draft, some of the less obvious choices will probably still be available towards the end.


If your league allows for weekly waiver pickups throughout the regular season, you can elect to work the waiver wire to find a kicker that has a good matchup every week. This approach assumes that your league structure provides enough available kickers to select from each week. It also assumes that you're willing to believe that weekly kicker scoring can be predicted to some degree. If that's not the case, skip over this paragraph. For drafting purposes, target kickers that have a favorable matchup(s) or SOS (Strength of Schedule) in the first week or two of the regular season. After that, you'll just work the waiver wire to cycle through kickers.


This is the same as the previous Early SOS approach, except as follows. It assumes that you are not required to draft a kicker, and that you can pickup up a waiver wire kicker prior to week one. If those are true, then you can elect to not draft a kicker at all, and add one later.


If you're in a league that requires two or more kickers, then you'll need to adjust the above approaches accordingly. There will be less available kickers to select from towards the end of the draft.


  • As with every position, remember to pay attention to bye weeks. In some leagues you may need to draft a second kicker to cover your starter's bye week. In some leagues you can opt to not bother with a replacement kicker on the bye week, assuming you're willing to take the zero kicking points that week. In most leagues you can handle the bye week via the waiver wire. If you don't want to ever tie up more than one roster spot with a kicker, then considering drafting one with late bye week. By the time his bye arrives, you can swap him for one of the kickers who already had his bye week.
  • Some fantasy owners who prefer to counter-balance their weekly scoring options may elect to draft a kicker from the same team as their quarterback or goal line running back. The thinking is that once the team gets into scoring range, one or the other is likely to score.
  • Some fantasy owners like to draft players whom they think will perform particularly well during the fantasy playoffs, typically weeks 14 through 16. This again assumes that you're willing to believe that weekly kicker scoring can be predicted, and that it can be done months in advance.