Everyone loves to draft their fantasy team. We want to look like we can be a general manager of a franchise, picking talent and putting together a winning lineup. From Round 1 decisions of Ray Rice vs. Arian Foster to QB decisions of Matthew Stafford vs. Tom Brady, we all think we know a little more than the next guy. From RB to WR to QB to TE decisions, we think we all know how to build that dominant franchise.
And then - there are kicker picks.
Ugh. Do we have to? Why? Yes, yes - it is "foot"ball, so sure these guys matter. They put up big points, but do we care that much about a kicker? Doesn't everyone know to just blow this off until the last round or two of your draft and pick a guy you kind of like?
Well, I agree with most of that, but you still have to put a kicker in your lineup in most leagues. Fantasy teams usually require a kicker. Before you just say "whatever" and pick a name out of a hat, let's think about it just a little to see if we can get a few extra points a week that might make the difference over the long run.
EVERY POINT MATTERS
It's true – every point does matter, and it matters even more if you are in a low scoring league. So if you have been playing for a few years then I am sure that you have seen that nail biting fantasy football game that came down to Monday Night Football. Games are often decided by a slim margin, so getting any advantage that you can is important. That means even paying attention to those afterthought guys - the kickers.
So what can we use to figure out whom to select? I've narrowed it down to these criteria:
- Home field - if they kick in warm weather or in a dome it is usually an advantage, especially in the second half of the season. Playoff games are especially important in fantasy football, and no one wants to be playing in Green Bay in December.
- Bad running teams - This is important mostly in the Red Zone (inside the 20 yard line). Think about the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 – David Akers lit up the scoreboard that year. Why? Even though Frank Gore had respectable numbers he managed just eight rushing touchdowns despite over 1,200 yards on the ground. The passing game was even worse as Alex Smith stalled out several drives a week and the offense could not push the ball across the goal line. Akers had 52 attempts for field goals, leading to 166 points on the scoreboard.
- Good offensive teams - Seems obvious here, but a few fantasy experts might tell you to go with bad teams as they have to kick more. I say that's a little bit right, but it is more about the good scoring teams that struggle punching in the touchdowns. It is also very important to not be playing from behind all the time, especially late. Nothing is worse for a kicker than his team trailing by 8 or more points late in the game. "Going for two" means a giant ZERO for your kicker.
- Good defensive teams - This works hand-in-hand with the good offensive teams, ideally. These teams won't be down by a lot of points late in games, so their team kicker will always be in play. Every so often the teams will rely almost solely for their kicker to score for them, as they can win with just a handful of field goals. Baltimore's Matt Stover won two games himself for the Ravens when they failed to score a TD on offense for five consecutive weeks in their Super Bowl season back 2000. Adam Vinatieri beat the Ravens by scoring all the points for the Colts back in the 2006 playoffs. Yes, these points really do matter.
- A long leg and a confident coach - Some leagues reward longer field goals with more points, so you want your kicker to have the shot to make it from downtown. Find a kicker who has at least made a 50+ yarder last year and tried more than a few. That's where the coach comes in - you don't want a coach who would rather try for a punt inside the 5-yard line than kick a 50+ yard attempt. This is where a guy like Sebastian Janikowski out in Oakland or a Greg Zuerlien in St. Louis matters most.
- Accuracy and a track record - Look for kickers that have at least a 75% success rate, and hopefully over 80%. The numbers should be about 5% higher from 40 yards or less. This goes for the majority of the kicker's career, as one bad year is forgivable. A track record of 80%+ for 4 out of 5 years is impressive and should push that kicker towards the top of your list.
- Avoid rookies - They are tough to predict and have no track record. They also don't know the stadiums and how the wind affects things. These subtleties do matter.
- Avoid the Top 3 from last year – most of the time – From 2001-2007, the Top 3 kickers from the prior year never reappeared in the Top 3 the next season. That all changed in the last 5-7 years with David Akers (now retired) and Stephen Gostkowski. Both of these kickers have been in the Top 3 at least four of the six years from 2007-2012, with Gostkowski finishing first again last year.
- Health - Kickers are pretty interchangeable, but try and pick one that doesn't have a history of foot or leg issues.
- Bye week - This is the least important, but it does matter. If you have a short bench, you'll need to replace the kicker once (if at all), so try and have his bye week not match your tight end or Team Defense. That allows you to have one revolving door roster spot to cover byes. Also, if you are in a Survivor league, you may want to gamble with one kicker, so take one with an earlier bye week so that there's less chance that the zero-point week will hurt you.
So who do I like this year? Normally I would be targeting the top dome kickers like Matt Bryant or Adam Vinatieri, but there are several reasons that I might avoid them if I am looking at the full season. Atlanta in on the round a lot at the end of the season, so that dome assistance will not be there. Granted the three road games are in what should be warm climates (Tampa Bay, Carolina and Jacksonville) but road kickers get a slight downgrade. Vinatieri is slightly worse with three outdoor games in December (at Pittsburgh, at Jacksonville and at Miami). I considered Dan Bailey of Dallas, but his winter schedule is the worst of all - at Buffalo and at Green Bay in December. Yikes. Philadelphia does score a lot of points but the thought of Tim Tebow going for two scares me off of Cody Parkey. So what does that leave? Well, Bryant, Vinatieri and Bailey are all in play for me, but I am going to then change my kicker in the middle of the year knowing their December schedules. All of the top offensive teams and their kickers aside from those I already mentioned will be in play for me, but my December kicker is very likely to be one of two options - either San Diego's Nick Novak or Baltimore's Justin Tucker. Baltimore is going to be in some close games all year long, but I do like how the Ravens should compete for the AFC North and how the offense should move the ball with both Justin Forsett and Joe Flacco's arm. Tucker has been perfect in three years at extra points (110 for 110) and right at 90% at field goals (97 of 108) in his young career. The weather really does not phase him and he knows how to get the job done. With three home games in Weeks 14-16 against tougher opponents (Seattle, Kansas City, Pittsburgh), Tucker should get plenty of chances at field goals in fantasy playoff season. Not all of the guys I like may fit every item on this list (none of these guys except Bryant and Vinatieri kick in a dome, for example) but they do meet a lot of the criteria I listed above. That's all the advice I want to give you as far as names, as the point of this is to make you think about a few things and consider a little harder who you will pick for this fantasy season. All fantasy football points count equally - even from kickers. Good luck this year.
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