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Fantasy Preview: Kickers

Posted Aug 23, 2013


Talk to any fantasy football vet, and it's a guarantee they'll have a “bad beat” story involving the opposing team's kicker hitting four 50-yarders or their own kicker getting shut out.

Yes, kickers matter in any given week, but in all honesty, they don't really matter on draft day. It's an unpredictable position where the difference between last year's No. 3 player, Matt Bryant, and No. 18 player, Mason Crosby, was just 34 fantasy points, or two points per week. Could two fantasy points make the difference between winning or losing a week? Absolutely. Is it worth trying to predict which kicker will get those two extra points and overdrafting them? Absolutely not.

Every league will have at least one owner who reaches by a couple rounds because they want to lock down the “best” kicker, but that didn't work out for owners who reached for David Akers last year after his record-setting 2011. Akers finished tied for ninth among fantasy kickers and nearly got replaced by the 49ers late in the season.

It's acceptable to draft your kicker in the second-to-last round, but remember: regardless of where you take him, there's a good chance you'll eventually drop him. Let's figure out the best bets at fantasy's most irrelevant position.

THE BEST BETS

Fantasy owners often talk about finding kickers who play for good-but-not-great offenses. The theory is that these teams will be able to drive into opponents' territory but have to settle for field goals more often than not. Really, you just want an accurate kicker whose teams score a lot in general. Last season, seven of the top 12 fantasy kickers came from teams that ranked in the top 11 in points per game, including all but one of the top seven kickers. Top-ranked Blair Walsh was the lone exception.

This year, Walsh, who went 10-for-10 on 50-plus-yard field-goal attempts and has the added bonus of playing his home games in a dome in Minnesota, and Stephen Gostowski, who ranked second last year and plays on a New England team that led the league in points, are once again the top two options.

Atlanta's Matt Bryant, who tied for third in field-goal attempts last year (38) and has hit 90 percent of his attempts over the past three seasons, is another safe choice. Denver's Matt Prater gets to take advantage of the thin Denver air eight times a season, making him a great bonus-point candidate in addition to kicking for one of the league's best offenses.

San Francisco's Phil Dawson might offer the most value of the potential “elite” kickers. The 49ers have led the league in field-goal attempts in each of the past two seasons, averaging 47 in that span. Dawson, who's toiled in relative obscurity in Cleveland, has converted 88.3 percent of his kicks the past two years, including 14 from 50-plus yards.

Draft tip: Try to avoid having a D/ST and a K with the same bye weeks. These are the two positions where you're least likely to have a backup, so don't cause yourself any unnecessary roster crunches.

THE COULD-BE ELITES

There are plenty of candidates to fill out the remaining starting spots in your league, and you're really just looking for some combination of good team offense, accuracy, ability to hit from 50-plus yards and favorable home climates.

The Rams' Greg Zuerlein checks off most of the boxes on that list. He looked well on his way to being an elite kicker last year, but he tailed off down the stretch and only received 31 total FG attempts. With the Rams' offense expected to be better this year, “Legatron” could have a breakout season. Fellow second-year man Justin Tucker, who hit 90.9 percent of his attemps last season and finished as the No. 6 kicker, is also a safe choice. The Ravens should give him plenty of scoring chances again.

New Orleans' Garrett Hartley received just 22 field-goal attempts last year despite the Saints finishing third in scoring. Expect that to improve this season and for Hartley to finish as a top-12 fantasy kicker. The same goes for Dallas' Dan Bailey, who saw his scoring decrease last year despite connecting on 93.5 percent of his attempts. A few more scoring chances will move him safely into “starter” territory.

The Giants' Josh Brown and Texans' Randy Bullock didn't kick for their current teams last year, but both of their respective squads finished in the top eight in scoring and featured top-five kickers last season. Green Bay's Mason Crosby also plays for a great offense, though he struggled mightily with his accuracy last season. However, he seemed to get things straightened out down the stretch and is a high-upside pick this year.

Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski will always be among the league leaders in 50-plus-yard field goals, and despite a mediocre amount of PAT attempts, he's managed to increase his accuracy enough over the past couple seasons to consistently be a top-12 kicker. David Akers, for all his problems last year, should still have some life in his leg, and moving indoors in Detroit should help.

Two players who could see big jumps in production based on raised expectations for their respective offenses are Seattle's Steven Hauschka (89 percent on field-goal attempts last year) and Philadelphia's Alex Henery (87.9 percent in his two-year career). Neither has shown a big leg in the NFL (just five makes from 50-plus yards between them), but both figure to be steady sources of points.

Draft tip: If you're looking to make your league a little more interesting, you can deduct points for missed field goals. The only drawback is big-legged guys like Zuerlein and Janikowski getting docked when their teams have them try 65-yard field goals at the end of the first half, but it's still a rule change that would force owners to put more thought into their last-round choices.

THE BYE-WEEK FILL-INS

Any kicker not mentioned above is a potential bye-week fill-in. It's all about finding good matchups and guys who have been getting a fair amount of attempts.

Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri (four 50-plus yarders last year, plays in dome, decent offense), Miami rookie Caleb Sturgis (showed a big leg in college, improving offense) and Washington's Kai Forbath (17-of-18 last year, including 12-12 from 40-plus yards) are the most likely to make a play for the top 12, but you don't need to worry about this group on draft day.

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