By Jennifer Eakins, 4for4
Special to Yahoo Sports
The war against kickers has reached a fever pitch in recent years and I am not here for it. 4for4 has always been a safe space for those who play in leagues with kicker spots, a haven if you will, for fantasy managers to appreciate how the position has the potential to be a difference-maker in their collective seasons.
At the core of the notion to get rid of kickers is the myth that their output is totally random and unpredictable. Sure, there are some who got blasted by a 23-point performance from Jason Sanders in Week 14 last year or rode Matt Prater’s 20-point leg to victory in Week 6. When those weeks happen, it’s easy to blame it all on the “randomness” of the kicker spot, but very few take the time to research and see that it may not be so capricious at all.
Trends to Look for in Seasonal Kickers
First and foremost, streaming is your best bet in redraft leagues, so the kicker that you click on or walk that sticker up to the board for, is of very little significance other than your possible Week 1 guy.
What Happens in Vegas
We don’t look to predict individual kicker components like field goals attempts, extra-point tries or kick distances, as that would be somewhat futile. Instead, we turn to Las Vegas for kicker love in the form of implied team totals. The more points a team puts on the board, the more their kicker scores.
As you can see from last season alone, the correlation between higher implied team totals and larger kicker output is solid. As I dug even deeper into this data, I found that the number of times a kicker scored 10-plus fantasy points when their team’s implied total was 27 or higher was more than double the amount of when their predicted score was 26 or less. To be more specific, 28 kickers put up double-digit fantasy points with a team implied total over 27 while only 12 dropped fewer than 10 that week.
For the Anti-Streaming Crowd
If you’re not into streaming your kicker and prefer just rolling with one throughout the season, here are a few pointers to up your odds of getting the most production out of them.
First and foremost, wait to draft your kicker until the final round of the draft. With every pick in a fantasy football draft, there is an opportunity cost associated with that pick. In fantasy terms, opportunity cost is simply the value of players that you don’t draft, but you had the chance to take. Selecting a kicker before the last round, whether you are in a 16- or 18-round draft, has a potentially large opportunity cost attached to it.
A look at players drafted in Rounds 12-16 in 12-team redraft leagues on MFL last season reveals a decent group of positional players who produced starting numbers and even a few potential league winners. Drafting a kicker before their time could mean missing out on those points throughout the season, so as hard as it may be—and whatever FOMO you may be experiencing—tap the brakes on that kicker before the final round.
As Always, Chase Volume
Looking for volume is nothing new when it comes to fantasy football, and applying it to kicker selection can also prove effective. High-volume passing offenses lead to scoring opportunities which is something we want from the leg of our placekickers. Teams that aren’t afraid to chuck the ball tend to produce higher-scoring kickers.
If we look at last year’s top 10 legs, half of them came from offenses among the top 10 in total passing yards, with a few landing just outside.
Look to the Third Down
Another stat that can lend us some credence in drafting a kicker to roll with is third-down percentage. The farther down the field a drive is extended means there’s more of a chance for scoring, right?
In 2019, two of the top three kickers were among the top three offenses in the NFL in third-down efficiency. The Chiefs led the league at 47.6% on third downs, which allowed Harrison Butker to kick his way to the most fantasy points, while Baltimore ended second with 47.1% efficiency on the third down, earning Justin Tucker the K3 spot overall. Sandwiched between them was Wil Lutz, whose offense was a respectable 10th in this category with a 42.2% third-down efficiency.
We do need to remember that the very best offenses should be converting third downs to find that end zone, so sometimes you’ll only get one point instead of three or more.
The Bottom Line
Kicker-hate is at an all-time high and before you let those carpet cleaners in your house and join the cult, you may want to consider how helpful they can be to your team’s overall output.
Sure, we’ve all be burned by the kicker position in the past and on the surface it all seems super random, but by putting in some time and effort, kicker’s production from week to week may not be as arbitrary as it appears.
Looking at Vegas odds, teams’ offensive efficiency and volume can also assist you in getting the most from your kicker regardless of fantasy format.
Let your league mates draft their kicker(s) way too early, while you sit back armed with some actionable data to steer you towards the right one.
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A proud alumna of the UGA Grady College of Journalism, Jennifer Eakins has been working in the sports industry for well over a decade. She has had stints with CNN Sports, the Atlanta Hawks and the Colorado Rockies. Her first fantasy football draft took place in 1996 where she selected Ricky Watters with the first overall pick, and she has been a fantasy degenerate ever since.