Rent-a-Kicker: Week 1 - Footballguys

A look at the best waiver wire defenses to target in Week 1.

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 any given season, only a small handful of kickers will prove to be every-week starters, and we generally have no idea who they will be ahead of time. (Who saw Robbie Gould leading the league in field goals last year?)

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 owners 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, owners are best served by rotating through whichever available kicker has the best weekly matchup. And who knows, maybe you'll wind up lucking into one of those few weekly starters by chance along the way.

Every week, I'll list the perfectly startable fantasy kickers who are sitting on your league's waiver wire just waiting for you to rent them.

What We're Looking For

There are some really good kickers in the NFL. If we're going to manage the position with a shoestring budget, though, we likely aren't going to see any of them. Good kickers are expensive. So instead of focusing on kickers, we're going to focus on good situations.

What makes a good situation? We want to target players on offenses who are projected to score a lot of points-- for this, we'll use implied point totals derived from Las Vegas spreads. We'd rather have players who are favored because teams that fall way behind have a habit of going for it on 4th down late in the game. Moreover, some stadiums are friendly to kickers, (Denver, domes), while others are unfriendly, (Green Bay, Pittsburgh).

Adding together all of those factors, we can create a very simple scoring system for how good of a play a kicker might be.

  • Favored by 6 or more: +1 point
  • Underdog of 6 or more: -1 point
  • Playing in a favorable stadium: +1 point
  • Playing in an unfavorable stadium: -1 point

Additionally, for every two points above (or below) 22 a team is projected to score, that team's kicker will get +1 (or -1) additional points. Then we total all of a player's bonuses and demerits to get an idea of how good of a play he might be this weekend.

("What about home field advantage?" you might ask. Home field advantage is already reflected in the Las Vegas projected score, so counting it again would be counting it twice.)

Remember what we're not considering: how good the kicker himself is. Players like Justin Tucker, Stephen Gostkowski, or Greg Zuerlein are among the best and most accurate kickers in NFL history, and they'll certainly be better weekly bets than this simple scoring system would suggest.

But great kickers usually aren't available on waivers. Our mantra here, remember, is bad kickers in good situations.

With that in mind, here's how this week's kickers fare.

Great Plays:
Wil Lutz, NO (5 points)
Stephen Gostkowski, NE (4)
Daniel Carlson, Min (4)
Matt Prater, Det (3)
Adam Vinatieri, Ind (2)
Mason Crosby, GB (2)
Greg Zuerlein, LAR (2)

Wil Lutz is in a perfect situation according to this methodology. He's the kicker on the biggest favorite with the highest implied point total, and he's kicking in a dome. He's also almost certainly rostered, as are Gostkowski, Zuerlein, and Prater. There's a slim chance that Carlson, Vinatieri, or Crosby fell through the cracks in your league, but in all likelihood, you'll have to look towards the next group for salvation.

Good Plays:
Caleb Sturgis, LAC (1)
Justin Tucker, Bal (1)
Chris Boswell, Pit (1)
Brandon McManus, Den (1)
Randy Bullock, Cin (1)

Tucker and Boswell were both drafted to be starters this offseason, but Sturgis, McManus, and Bullock were not among the top 20 kickers selected according to preseason ADP, and one of them is likely available. Sturgis plays on a potentially potent offense and went undrafted because many expected him to lose the preseason competition for the job; he could even be a multi-week option for you. McManus and Bullock play on average offenses but are kicking in favorable conditions this week.

Neutral Plays:
Phil Dawson, Ari (0)
Dustin Hopkins, Was (0)
Jake Elliott, Phi (0)
Josh Lambo, Jax (0)
Ryan Succop, Ten (0)
Graham Gano, Car (0)
Mike Nugent, Oak (0)
Harrison Butker, KC (0)

If none of the above players were available, certainly someone in this tier will be. Dawson, Hopkins, Succop, and Nugent were all drafted outside of the top 250 selections according to Footballguys average draft position data. They're not great plays, but they're not bad plays, either, and they'll serve you just fine against your leaguemates this week.

Poor Plays:
Ka'imi Fairbairn, Hou (-1)
Jason Sanders, Mia (-1)
Sebastian Janikowski, Sea (-1)
Matt Bryant, Atl (-1)
Zane Gonzalez, Cle (-1)
Aldrick Rosas, NYG (-1)

Avoid at All Costs:
Chandler Catanzaro, TB (-2)
Brett Maher, Dal (-2)
Robbie Gould, SF (-2)
Jason Myers, NYJ (-2)
Cody Parkey, Chi (-3)
Steven Hauschka, Buf (-4)

All the players above play on teams that are projected to score few points, are kicking in notoriously tough stadiums, have a good chance of falling way behind or, in the case of Hauschka, all of the above. They are strictly desperation plays.

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