Kicker Corner: The Bull Case for Bullock

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NFL head coaches playing hardheaded old-school ball is usually good for kickers’ fantasy usefulness. It means coaches are forgoing touchdowns for field goals -- like the Raiders’ interim head coach -- and clapping joylessly after a three point chipshot.

Thankfully for us, wild-eyed analytics radical and so-called computer cowboy Ben Baldwin keeps close track of which teams are going for it on fourth down when they should be going for it on fourth down. When should teams try to convert on fourth down? As Baldwin defines it: When doing so increases a team’s win probability by at least one percentage point.

A quick peek at which teams are most aggressive on fourth downs might be helpful in determining which kickers might see easy field goals taken away from them, and which might get some extra chances.

Ben Baldwin on Twitter
Ben Baldwin on Twitter

https://twitter.com/benbbaldwin/status/1460637921791385601?s=20

-Chase McLaughlin’s opportunities have been dashed at least partly by Kevin Stefanski’s analytics-driven brain. Only ten teams have fewer field goal tries than the Browns this season. McLaughlin has five games of one or zero field goal attempts. Cleveland’s decision making makes him more of a desperation option than a reliable streamer, even when he fits the process.

-Mike McCarthy’s fourth down aggression might be good for Dak Prescott and his running backs and pass catchers. It might be less good for Greg Zuerlein. Thankfully, Dallas is a yardage machine that has kept Zuerlein’s opportunity afloat (18 field goal tries through nine games).

-Dan Campbell’s feisty Lions are doing the right thing on fourth downs and hardly ever generating neutral game script. They’re a streaming kicker no-go for the rest of the year. Don’t make me bite your kneecap.

-Sean Payton likes touchdowns and it shows. Only Seattle has fewer field goal attempts than the Saints (12) through Week 10. BrIan Johnson has little chance of cracking the streamer section in this fine column.

-This, along with New England's season-long struggles in the red zone, explains why Nick Folk is fantasy's top scoring kicker. Thanks Bill.

Week 10 Results

Chris Boswell (PIT) vs. DET
3/3 field goals
12 fantasy points
Rank: t-2nd

Michael Badgley (IND) vs. JAC
3/3 field goals
11 fantasy points
Rank: 6th

Ryan Succop (TB) at WFT
2/2 field goals
7 fantasy points
Rank: t-12th

Lirim Hajrullahu (DAL) vs. ATL
0/0
5 fantasy points
Rank: t-16th

And now for some all-important kicker notes…

-Greg Zuerlein is expected back from the COVID-19 list this week. Lirim Hajrullahu’s five successful extra point attempts last week against Atlanta will live on forever. In my head, anyway.

-Zane Gonzalez has new fantasy football life with the return of Cam Newton as the Panthers’ recycled franchise player. The journeyman rode the coattails of insanely positive game script and made all four of his field goal tries in Carolina’s dismantling of the Cardinals last week. Gonzalez finished as the week’s top scoring kicker with a cool 17 fantasy points. If Newton gets the start in Week 11 against the Football Team, Gonzalez is as good as any widely available process play but Randy Bullock (see below). Carolina being 6.25 field goal attempts over expectation and Cam’s red zone domination should (eventually) catch up to Gonzalez, however.

-Dustin Hopkins, mentioned in these notes last week, is technically a process option against the Steelers. As of this writing -- before we know whether Ben Roethlisberger can suit up for Pittsburgh -- the Bolts are six-point home favorites. A glut of viable Week 11 streaming options is going to keep Hopkins off the official streaming list. But you could do worse. The Chargers are 5.39 field goal tries under expectation.

-I can’t in good or bad or in-between conscience recommend Mason Crosby as a fantasy option. Even with the Packers listed as 2.5-point favorites this week against the Vikings, I refuse to tout a guy who’s made 14 of his 21 field goal tries (66.5 percent) this season. He’s had one truly solid season since his 2013 career year. I promise you can do better than The Croz in Week 11 (we’re calling him The Croz).

Plug-and-Play Kicker Options

Tyler Bass (BUF) vs. IND: The Bills are at home and favored by 7.5 points over a Colts team that barely squeaked by the bottom-feeding Jaguars last week. You may be shocked to hear this but you’re starting fantasy’s second highest scoring kicker in Week 11. Buffalo is 1.15 field goal tries over expectation.

Matt Prater (ARI) at SEA: Prater should be fine even if Kyler Murray doesn’t suit up. I probably wouldn’t call the cops on anyone who would rather use a streamer over Prater if Kyler remains sidelined though. Arizona is 2.61 field goal attempts under expectation this season.

Nick Folk (NE) at ATL: Folk at long last gets to avoid the elements with a dome game against a Falcons team that has no shot of stopping Mac Jones and the suddenly potent New England offense. Folk has multiple field goal tries in five of six Patriots wins this year. They’re 6.5 point favorites against Atlanta.

Justin Tucker (BAL) at CHI: Baltimore is a 6.5-point road favorite this week, meaning you need to start Tucker once again (barring catastrophic autumn weather in Chicago). The Ravens are now 2.46 field goal attempts below expectation -- a number that’s climbed back toward zero with seven Tucker field goal tries over the past four games. Tucker’s days as a ceiling option are over with the Ravens committing to analytics-based decision making. He’s still a fine play.

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Week 11 Streaming Options

Randy Bullock (TEN) vs. HOU (22 percent rostered)

Thousands upon thousands of fantasy managers blissfully unaware of the kicker process will take a look at Bullock on the waiver wire, see he’s playing the wretched Texans, and keep scrolling under the assumption that Tennessee will score all the touchdowns and none of the field goals against Houston this week.

And yeah, the Texans defense is bad. Some might say really bad. Houston opponents are averaging 28.7 points and 386 yards per game. They are, as you probably know, a bottom-three defense (being as generous as humanly possible). But kickers are still posting solid fantasy floors against the Texans, who allow a touchdown on about 63 percent of red zone visits -- a middling rate through Week 10. Two kickers -- Tyler Bass and Nick Folk -- have attempted four field goals against Houston this season. They are, in short, a worthy streaming target.

Gone (for now) are the days when the Titans offense turned nearly every red zone visit into six points. After being among the league leaders in red zone touchdown rate, Tennessee’s offense is scoring TDs on 62.5 percent of its red zone possessions -- not awful, but certainly not elite. That’s afforded Bullock the fifth most field goal attempts (21) of 2021. Tennessee is 2.86 field goal tries above expectation this season. It’s a tad concerning, but not enough to sway me from using Big Boy Bullock against Houston.

We love the process because it’s plainspoken and simple. We want kickers on heavily favorited teams with big implied totals. The Titans -- 10.5-point favorites with a total of 28 -- fit that description nicely in Week 11.

Evan McPherson (CIN) at LV (7 percent rostered)

The Bengals rookie -- a mainstay in this space -- is technically a process play in Week 11. The Bengals, you see, are favored by a single point on the road against the fading Raiders. The game’s total of 49 is nothing to scoff at. So stop scoffing, please.

As Vegas’ season circles the proverbial hair-clogged drain, they’re giving up plenty of opportunity to enemy kickers. Each of the past two kickers to face the Silver and Black have had three field goal tries; the Raiders have allowed multiple field goal attempts in three of their four 2021 losses. When teams build a lead, they’re more apt to attempt second half field goals, per the data. Hence, we have Harrison Butker kicking three field goals against Vegas in Sunday night’s blowout.

McPherson’s toasty start to the season has cooled considerably with the Begals’ recent struggles. The rookie has a single attempt in each of his past two games -- both Cincy losses in which they chased points throughout. Before that, McPherson had multiple tries in five of seven games. He was, long, long ago (in October) a top-12 fantasy kicker.

Cincinnati getting its stuff together during their Week 10 bye and a matchup against a reeling opponent should set up McPherson nicely for a bounce back game in Week 11. The Bengals are an encouraging 2.98 field goal tries under expectation this season. I’d prefer Bullock, but just barely.

Jason Sanders (MIA) at NYJ (24 percent rostered)

The Dolphins are three-point road favorites with a less-than-despicable 24.25-point implied total. What else could we ask for? Nothing. The answer is nothing.

Sanders, for better or worse, is a good and decent process option against a Jets team allowing the third most field goal tries this year. Though field goal opportunities for Jets opponents have dried up in recent weeks, Robert Saleh’s crew has allowed multiple field goal tries in six of their nine games. Seven of those nine kickers have managed at least nine fantasy points. Would you sign up for nine kicker points every week? You would.

Sanders has attempted multiple kicks in the four games this year in which the Dolphins hung with their opponents into the second half or won outright. That’s hardly a coincidence, and we can project Miami -- however inept -- to produce at least neutral game script against the bottom-barrel Jets defense. No team has given up more red zone possessions per game (4.9) than the Jets in 2021.

The Dolphins are 0.2 field goal attempts under expectation through Week 10.

Robbie Gould (SF) at JAC (12 percent rostered)

We will never relent on picking on the Jacksonville Urbans With Hands on Knees. We streamed Michael Badgley last week against the Jags -- good for 11 fantasy points -- and we’ll do it again in Week 11 with senior citizen Robbie Gould (he’s eight months older than me).

Gould made his long-awaited return from a groin injury last week and made his lone field goal try against the Rams, along with four extra points. He’s made five of six field goal attempts in 2021 -- his only miss was a 53-yarder. We must have mercy on the elderly. The Niners are 6.5-point favorites with a hefty implied total of 26.5 points this week. Gould fits the process. Long live the process.

Jacksonville has allowed 2.22 field goal attempts per game, among the highest in the NFL. Seven of the nine kickers to face off against the Jags have notched multiple attempts. While the inconsistent play of the 49ers could turn this into a surprisingly competitive affair, I like the Niners to at least maintain neutral script -- enough to give Gould two or three attempts.