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New rules for drafting your kicker

I'm flying solo with my youngest son right now while my husband and oldest kiddo are at a conference-beach trip together. Nerdy academics stuff for my husband, beach camp and hot tubs for my son. I wandered my son's empty bedroom last night, rearranging the bonus stuffed animals/toys on his bed, and feeling a pit in my stomach. I mean, he is living the good life at the beach but I miss him immensely. Turns out these little people have really burrowed their way into my life and I'm getting a sense of what it's going to be like one day when my kids go off to overnight camp, college (uh move away?!) and it's going to ugly on my end. 

Anyway, in their absence, my youngest and I have been bonding over potty training (ha! if you've had kids, you know this is such a fun, fun phase) and I've been watching a healthy dose of the Olympics. Meanwhile my mastermind buddy Bob has been whipping up more excellence for the 2016 season. You'll remember Bob's amazing team defense articles last season and he'll be back with more of that goodness this year. First up though, his look at kickers and his new rules on how to draft 'em this year.

Hey out there Fantasy Football fans, it’s another glorious season with trends, trades, twists, technology, and tirades. That’s a lot T’s to be sure, but Sara and I are out to guide you through some of the turmoil, conflicting data, and advice overload.

I like to concentrate on the often overlooked positions of Fantasy Football, and that’s the Placekickers and Defenses. Rookie owners are more likely to violate some of the normal strategies revolving around these positions for a couple of reasons. First, Rookies don’t see the value of Ks and Defs because you don’t usually get mind-popping points from them. Second, there is a perception that there is little difference between the 1st best player and the 12th, and there’s some advice out there that supports that position. But it’s no mistake that Intermediate and Advanced owners spend a lot of research on these two positions, when owners are so well matched that 1 or 2 points can make the difference in an important matchup. And that’s why I will give you my 2 cents on these positions.

For my inaugural article of the new football year, I would like to cover the Placekicker position first. Many have started drafting already, so I thought I would get this one out sooner the better.

Let’s go over some of the ‘prevailing wisdom’ regarding Placekickers.
1.    “Thou shalt not draft a placekicker until the last pick.” This is a common one, and points to the average points difference between the 1st and 12th best placekickers as proof positive. And there is some wisdom to this. Let’s use a common scoring scheme for arguments sake, of 3 pts for field goal make up to 39 yards, 4 pts for a field goal 40 – 49 yds, 5 pts for fg 50+yds, and 1 pt per extra point. Last year, Gostkowski averaged 10.6 pts/game, and the 12th highest, Cairo Santos averaged 8.6 pts/game. That’s only 2 points per game. How many games did you lose by 2 points or less? I’ll bet most of you had that occur at least once.
2.    “Draft kickers that play on a home field indoors.” Others have researched this and I’ve read many of the articles and they conflict between big advantage to no advantage at all. Conclusion: yes there is a slight edge for playing on a weather-friendly field more often, but the slight edge is easily overcome by other factors.
3.    “Draft kickers that have a better success percentage for long field goals.” Here’s where I get on my soapbox about the skill level of kickers. I personally believe that there is a smaller difference between kickers’ skill lever than there is with the average points per game of kickers 1 -12. Yes, they may kick the long ball, but kicking is not just on the kicker. There’s the line, the hiker, and the holder that play into the success of the long ball. One tip here to gauge the quality of the supporting cast is to look at how many extra points were missed. Missed extra points are more a function of the supporting cast than the kicker. Plus, you need the opportunity to try them in the first place. Teams that are attempting long field goals are usually those desperate for points, because they can’t get it in the end zone, therefore there will be less opportunities for a kicker on a team with an offense that can’t move the ball. There are just too many other factors that may cancel out any long ball skill advantage.
4.    “Draft a kicker on a team with a poor offense.” This one assumes that because they can’t get the ball in the endzone, then the kicker will have more opportunities. However, the data doesn’t bear it out. The top 12 kickers last year were on good to great offenses. It turns out that kickers on good teams get more opportunities because the offense can move the ball into field goal territory more often.

So what are the best factors in choosing a PK and when should I draft them? From the above discussion let’s set some ‘new rules’.

1.    Look for kickers on good offensive teams. This will get your kicker the higher amount of looks at a field goal per game. If the choice is close for what is available, then you can use the indoor kicking advantage, or the ‘long ball’ stat to break the tie.
2.    Look for consistent track records of kickers. In other words, how many times has this kicker placed in the top twelve over the last 4 or 5 years. Here’s a great article from FFToday that addresses this factor. Using the data provided from FFToday, you would be wise to target Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker, Dan Bailey, and Steve Hauschka, with a nod to Mason Crosby as well. Notice, all four teams are known good offenses.
3.    Dare to draft a kicker before the last round, but don’t be too daring. In a 15 player roster with 9 starters, I want 4RBS, 4WR, 2QBs, and 2 TEs before contemplating drafting a kicker. So that makes round 13 the earliest I would draft a kicker. In bigger rosters, you can adjust a little later, but not earlier.
4.    Stephen Gostkowski is the Gronk of kicking. He has been the highest points kicker for 4 years in a row. Much of his success is due to playing for a great team. But he is also very good on a very good team. Gostkowski would be the only kicker I would draft in round 13.
5.    And here’s a new one, pick a kicker that is on a team with a late bye date. This assumes that you will not be picking a backup kicker, and you really shouldn’t, unless you are in a very deep league. You will have to waiver in a kicker for the bye week and if you swap out your present kicker for the waiver, you may lose your top choice to and opponent that wins him in the following week’s waivers. Drafting the kicker with a late bye date minimizes the loss of points between your top choice and your replacement. Alternatively, you could swap out your worst or never used bench player for the bye week kicker instead of your stud kicker. Tough to do in shallow leagues, easier in deep leagues. I would not waiver away the top 4 kickers listed above, but would have no problem with the rest.

So with that here’s my list of kickers I’m targeting and in what round:
Round 13: Stephen Gostkowski

Round 14: Justin Tucker, Steve Hauschka, Dan Bailey

Last round: Mason Crosby, Graham Gano, Chandler Cantanzaro, Robbie Gould, Josh Brown, Chris Boswell, Matt Bryant, and Mike Nugent

Honorable mention: Brandon McManus, Cairo Santos (for those of you that have someone in your league that picks a backup kicker…)


Anonymous said…
Mcmanus just a reserve K ? Hmmm
Nice article, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
kate reymann said…
Potty training is almost as bad a sleep training. :-)

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