Do Kickers Matter?

If only it were as easy as saying “No,” this piece would be a breeze. Unfortunately most fantasy football leagues still opt to use Kickers. It’s such a fluky position and so frustrating during the season. There are leagues that place such emphasis on Kickers that you lose 15 points for a missed extra point! Yours truly is in one of those leagues and it’s the most maddening of scenarios! In an ideal world kickers would be banned from fantasy eligibility. But since most leagues still feature Kickers, this article will hopefully shed some light on how you should approach selecting guys with the tiny facemasks.


Draft Day

Training camp is here.. Players are starting to report. Early camps are open to the public. Training camp battles are fun to follow. Does anyone care about the training camp battle in Carolina between Graham Gano and Harrison Butker? Haha! No.

You put all your attention in July and August in to preparing for your draft. You’re looking at sleepers, busts, breakout candidates, rookies, etc. No one is digging deep into researching Kickers. Stephen Gostkowski was the consensus #1 Kicker last season in re-draft leagues. The Patriots offense moves the ball effectively and is a very productive unit. So it made sense to reach for him, right? Wrong. Gostkowski finished tied with 3 other players as the 8th-best kicker last year. He averaged 8.4 points per game, which is fine. But if you’re reaching for a Kicker, especially one that is presumably the crème de la crème at his position, you want him finishing at the top.

On Draft Day the Kicker should be taken with one of your last two picks. The general theory is to take a Kicker with your last pick. This is where most people will select Kickers and if you are picking toward the end of the last round you’ll be late on the run of kickers. So it’s actually okay to grab a higher-end kicker (if they’re still available) in the 2nd-to-last round.


High-Powered Offenses (A Tale of Two Kickers)

This isn’t anything new. Kickers should be streamed. If your kicker can average 6-8 points per week roughly, that’s perfectly fine. Gostkowski averaged 8.4 points per game last season. That’s pretty solid. But that’s not worth reaching. From Weeks 1-16, Gostkowski had 11 games where he had 2 field goal attempts or less. Kickers, in fantasy, make their money with field goals. And the value of the field goals vary depending on the distance (duh). In 10 of his 16 games last year, Gostkowski had at least 3 extra point attempts. The Patriots scored too many touchdowns for the likes of Gostkowski owners. XP’s don’t really help in fantasy unless your kicker’s offense is scoring at least 6 touchdowns per game, but they keep your kicker afloat although you want the FGA’s.

Now on the other end of the spectrum, Matt Bryant finished as the #1 overall kicker last season. He was plucked up off the waiver wire in some leagues, but in drafts he was roughly the 9th kicker off the board. Bryant had 10 games last year with double digit fantasy points, and he had 3 additional games with 9 points.

The separation of kickers is so minute, but check this out. The last 3 minutes of each half are pretty important for kickers. If the offense gets the ball back they try to drive down the field to at least come away with a field goal. Matt Bryant had 13 different situations where he came away with points in either the last 3 minutes of the 1st half, or the last 3 minutes of the 2nd half. Bryant scored 33 total points during this time. Gostkowski, in comparison scored only 20 points. Believe it or not, Tom Brady’s return after his 4-game suspension actually hurt Gostkowski’s production in crunch time. Gostkowski kicked 2 field goals at the end of the 1st half in both weeks 1 and 2. After that, when Brady returned, he kicked just two field goals at the ends of the 1st and 2nd halves the rest of the way. Projected out over a 16-game season, that's maybe 3 field goals total in crunch time. He did kick 5 extra points in that specific time stretch, but the FGA’s were lost due to the TD production. Bryant, in the last 3 minutes of all halves last year, kicked 7 field goals with 6 extra points.

Both offenses were among the Top 3 in total points scored yet 1 kicker finished as the top fantasy kicker while the other finished in a 4-way tie for 8th. So a highly productive offense isn’t always a guarantee for a produce fantasy season. Mason Crosby (GB), Sebastian Janikowski (OAK), and Chris Boswell (PIT) were all on Top 10 offenses in terms of points scored last year, but only one of those guys cracked the Top 12 for fantasy kickers (Janikowski finished tied for 12th).


What Makes a Good Fantasy Kicker?

So what should you look for in a kicker? Ideally it’s great to find a kicker attached to an offense that moves the ball effectively between the 20’s, but struggles with scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Likewise, you can also target defenses that are awful against kickers. Generally this could correlate to just being an awful defense, but there are some defenses that possess a “bend but don’t break” mentality. Give up yards just don’t give up points. Settle for giving up 3, avoid giving up 6. Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Chicago were the 3 worst defenses against Kickers last year. Easily enough they were also just crappy defenses.

Now back to red zone efficiency. The Texans, Redskins, Vikings, Broncos, Chiefs, and Eagles all ranked in the bottom 9 in team red zone scoring (TD’s only). There were 9 teams that failed to score touchdowns in less than 50% of their trips to the red zone last season and those 6 teams are amongst that group (along with the Rams, Seahawks, and Jets). The unique thing about these 6 teams is that they all had fantasy-relevant Kickers. Nick Novak (HOU), Dustin Hopkins (WSH), Matt Prater (DEN), Cairo Santos (KC), and Caleb Sturgis (PHI) were all Top 12 fantasy kickers last year. Kai Forbath of the Vikings played in only 7 games with the Minnesota last year (all in the 2nd half of the season) and he scored 62 total fantasy points. That’s roughly 9 points per week. Remember you only need 6-8 points per week. 9 per week is borderline Top 5 kicker status over a 16-game season.

Again, kickers can be streamed. If you can find a gem like Matt Bryant’s 2016 season you ride the wave all season long. And there’s always a fantasy pundit that says “You could’ve drafted a kicker in the 1st round last year and won your league.” You could select Tim Tebow in the 1st round this year and still win your league if you draft well enough and work the waiver wire. Kickers won’t make or break your season, but there are ways to find value in the position without having to reach for one before the 15th round.