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Kickers -- The Vestigial Appendage
Dennis Leonard
July 14, 2005

For most, kickers are a draft day afterthought, and for good reason. However, there is some meat on them scrawny kicker bones for those obsessive-compulsive fantasy addicts willing to gnaw on them. Why is it worth your time? Simple: points.

Every year, in every league, a few games will be decided by a handful of points. For example, last year I won a playoff game 119 to 115: a mere 5 points. With the rest of my starting line up set, I agonized over whether to stick with my regular kicker, or pick up a free agent I though might be a better play. I went with the free agent, who scored me 11 points; my regular guy would have only contributed 6. Thus, my kicker decision literally made the difference between competing in the Super Bowl and merely being a spectator.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, lets review some basics:

  • Never EVER reach for a kicker: In every draft, without fail, some guy drafts a kicker in the late-middle rounds. Don’t be that guy;
  • Get a kicker on a high-scoring team: This should be as obvious as a rattlesnake in your underpants;
  • Domes are your friend: All things being equal, you generally want a kicker whose home stadium has a dome because it ameliorates the negative effects of nasty weather;
  • The top kickers are fairly inconsistent from year to year: There isn’t much consistency between who the top 6 or so kickers are from year to year. So don’t worry if you can’t land Vinatieri, Akers, or Vanderjagt. Because dark horses (like Nate Kaeding, Shayne Graham, and Jeff Reed last season) will invariably sneak into the top twelve. So if you don’t draft a stud kicker, the waiver wire can be your friend;
  • A great kicker won’t give you much more than a good kicker: In my local league, Vinatieri was the best kicker scoring an abnormally large 168 points over 17 games. The second best kicker – David Akers – scored 149 points. While that is pretty a steep drop off, the disparity between all remaining kickers flattens out like a middle aged white man’s gluteus maximus. For instance, the seventh best kicker – Ryan Longwell – scored 130 points. Thus, the difference between the second and seventh best kicker was only an average of 1.12 points per game. Even the thirtieth best kicker – Doug Brien – scored 116 points, meaning the difference between the second and thirtieth best kicker was an average of less than 2 points per game. So while the right kicker can make a difference, let’s not get carried away.

Where does that leave us? While kickers should never be emphasized in your draft, it is still worth your while to do at least some research in advance.

The more substantive analysis is performed in connection with free agents, either as permanent replacements, or because you are juggling kickers from week to week (a valid though time consuming strategy). Numerous websites have stats where you can get all of the following data for evaluating kickers and their opposing defenses.

Here are the key factors to consider when evaluating a kicker during the season:

  • Field goals attempted: The higher the better, because this stat represents the raw opportunity a kicker has to make his most significant contribution to your team’s bottom line;
  • Field goals made: No need to mess around with accuracy percentages because this stat is all you need. However, if two or more kickers have substantially similar stats in this category, I recommend using ‘field goals attempted’ as the tie breaker; and
  • PATs: Be happy if a kicker gives you a stable source of extra points each week. Let’s assume two kickers have produced the same number of fantasy points over the same number of games. Kicker A scored 90% of his points from field goals; Kicker B scored his points from an equal combination of field goals and extra points. In this situation, I’d generally rather have Kicker B because he is contributing the same number of points, but is much less likely to cough up a goose egg on any given Sunday. However, if I’m looking to swing for the fences in one week specifically, I’ll roll the dice on Kicker A because he has the better chance to score multiple field goals in that one game. Yeah, at this point we’re dicing minutia. But if you’re the kind of person who bothered to read an article about kickers in the first place, you likely came Henkel in one hand, chopping block in the other.

There are also factors to consider when evaluating opposing defenses, which is especially useful when deciding between two or more seemingly equal kickers.

  • Field goal attempts allowed: this is extremely helpful information. This tells you which defenses are the most likely to give your perspective kicker(s) the most field goal-kicking opportunities. When two kickers look about the same on paper, I almost always play the guy whose opposing defense has allowed the most field goal attempts thus far in the season; and
  • Field goals blocked: this isn’t particularly relevant, as it doesn’t happen often. Still, if you are willing to go through the effort of evaluating multiple kickers *and* their opposing defenses, you might as well glance at this while you are at it.

The only other advice is to try and spot trends. If your league’s software/website allows you to specifically sort stats for the last 3-5 games (effectively factoring out earlier games) that kind of research can help you spot kickers who are trending up or down in productivity and/or opportunity.

If you employ these methods it will make a difference but other positions are responsible for the vast majority of any fantasy team’s production. However, points are points and you shouldn’t care where they come from. Besides, if it does make a difference – like it did for me in last year’s playoffs – not only will you walk away with the win, you’ll get to throw it in your opponent’s face that he basically lost to your kicker. And that’s like ten times worse than loosing a war to the French. Game on!