Week 4 Kickers: Don't Fear McPherson

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Justin Tucker’s NFL record 66-yard field goal should never have happened. And that stinks.

In a just world -- a world in which refs in the Ravens-Lions Week 3 game had paid a shred of attention to the play clock -- Tucker wouldn’t have had a crack at the record-shattering kick that saved the Ravens from an early-season crisis. Furious Lions fans are right: The refs’ incompetence led to Tucker’s momentous moment.

Lamar Jackson, the play before Tucker trotted out and hit one from way downtown (bang), clapped at his center, desperate to beat the expiring play clock with the Ravens at Detroit's 49 yard line, down a point. Jackson’s urgency went unnoticed and the football was snapped not one second, but a full two seconds after the play clock hit zero. I slumped over on my couch, knowing John Harbaugh would have absolutely let Tucker get at a 66-yarder, but not a 71-yarder. The dream, I thought, was dead.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell didn’t seem to notice the clock had run down, or if he did, he didn’t make a fuss about it. Detroit’s victory seemed in hand, I suppose. In hindsight, Campbell should have chained himself to the goalpost until the refs righted their egregious wrong. Maybe Campbell thought Jackson would drop back as the clock wound down, scrambled a bit, and let one rip into a jumble of bodies in the end zone. Campbell rightfully liked his chances. The stadium buzzed with excitement: This thing was over.

Alas, it was not. Tucker, who has never missed a kick in the final minute of an NFL game, came out and blasted the ball the shortest distance it could possibly go without missing. It hit the crossbar just right and toppled through.

Tucker’s record is an illegitimate one. I take no pleasure in writing that, but it is. It won’t last long -- kickers are kicking further than ever. Coaches are trusting their kickers who crush the ball from distance. In the glorious and not-too-distant future, we’ll see kickers boot it from 70. The stain of Tucker’s record kicker will soon be washed from NFL history, unlike the sting of injustice endured by Lions faithful on Sunday.

Week 3 Results

Brandon McManus (DEN) vs. NYJ
4/4 field goals
16 fantasy points
Rank: 2nd

Matt Prater (ARI) at JAC
1/2 field goals
7 fantasy points
Rank: t-12th

Graham Gano (NYG) vs. ATL
2/2 field goals
6 fantasy points
Rank: t-16th

Zane Gonzalez (CAR) at HOU
1/1 field goals
6 fantasy points
Rank: t-16th

Now for some kicker notes…

-The Patriots are now 4.03 field goal attempts over expectation, the most in the league. You weren’t going to start Nick Folk with the Pats set to be sacrificed at the Altar of Tom Brady anyway. But you might beware Folk until the team’s field goal expectation numbers even up a bit.

-I’m deeply conflicted on whether to deploy Daniel Carlson in Week 4 against the Chargers. The Raiders are 3.5-point road underdogs to the Bolts, who have given up seven field goal tries over three weeks. Vegas isn’t the sort of hyper-aggressive team that will forgo field goals unless the game has really gotten out of hand. That makes Carlson viable, I think. Is he better than our streamers? Probably not. If you’re sick of making kicker waiver wire moves, stick with the greatest kicker in Vikings history.

-The Broncos are one-point favorites this week against Baltimore so you have permission to keep using Brandon McManus, aka the second highest scoring kicker in fantasy.

-Ka’imi Fairbairn should be back this week for Houston. It doesn’t matter. I will personally stop you from rostering a Texans kicker. Don’t test me.

-Greg Joseph is fantasy’s fourth highest scoring kicker on the strength of seven field goal attempts, the sixth most in the NFL. Joseph is 0.35 field goal tries under expectation too. It’s a good situation for a kicker attached to an offense pouring on the yards this year (as they did last year). Minnesota is a two-point dog to the Browns this week in a game with lots of shootout appeal. You could do much worse than Joseph.

-The Jaguars are trying out kickers following Josh Lambo’s nightmare start to 2021. Lambo has missed two extra points and three field goals in three games. Another disastrous week and someone else will be missing kicks for Jacksonville. You face up to ten years in prison for using a Jags kicker in fantasy, for the record.

Plug-and-Play Starters

Tyler Bass (BUF) vs. HOU: The Bills are favored by all the points -- 15.5, to be precise -- at home against the Texans this week. They have an utterly ridiculous implied total of 31.75 points. You’re playing Bass and you’re feeling quite good about it.

Greg Zuerlein (DAL) vs. CAR: Coming off their Week 3 drubbing of the green birds, Dallas is a five point home favorite against a Carolina team missing key starters, including their do-it-all running back and stud rookie cornerback. Zuerlein, who had seven field goal tries in the season’s first two weeks, had none against Philly. No matter. Sometimes good offenses turn everything into touchdowns. The good news about Zuerlein’s quiet Week 3: The Cowboys are now just 0.48 field goal tries over expectation on the season.

Matt Gay (LAR) vs. ARI: Gay is benefiting bigly from the Rams’ offensive explosion to start the year. He’s logged multiple field goal attempts in each of the season’s first three games; only five kickers have outscored him through Week 3. This week, the Rams are six-point home favorites in a game that could shoot all the way out. Gay is a set-it-and-forget it kicker as long as Matthew Stafford is upright and healthy. The Rams are 0.08 field goal tries over expectation.

Harrison Butker (KC) at PHI: I’m close -- real close -- to freeing you from the chains of having to start Butker every week. In fact, go ahead and dabble with streamers if you can’t stomach another subpar outing from KC’s kicker, who has a mere three field goal tries this season and is 3.48 field goal attempts under expectation. The Chiefs are 7.5-point road favorites with a monster implied total (31) -- the same as last week and the week before and every week before that. Great offenses sometimes spoil the kicker process.

Justin Tucker (BAL) at DEN: I’m a little queasy about Tucker this week against the Broncos. Denver’s ferocious front seven squaring off against Baltimore’s shoddy offensive line could easily generate a bunch of negative game script for the Ravens -- the kind that usually limits field goal tries. Denver is a nightmare kicker matchup: They’ve held their first three opponents to two field goal attempts, neither of which sailed through the uprights. The Ravens are one-point road favorites, so yes, Tucker technically fits the process. Maybe lower your expectations for Tucker in Week 4, although a 69-yarder in Denver’s nice, thin air could be in play.

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Week 4 Streamers

Evan McPherson (CIN) vs. JAC (4 percent rostered)

Nothing makes one feel more alive than one’s fantasy kicker blowing up on Thursday Night Football. If you doubt me, play rookie Evan McPherson in a plus matchup against Jacksonvillle this Thursday. You’ll see.

It’s a total cop out, I know, but I don’t have a preference between Randy Bullock (see below) and McPherson. Probably you can’t go terribly wrong with either option -- they both fit the kicker process perfectly. McPherson -- my choice to one day break Justin Tucker’s longest field goal record -- has had a fine if understated opening to his pro career. He’s drilled four of four field goal attempts -- including two of more than 50 yards -- and has converted all eight of his extra point tries. He’s good. He could be great.

The Bengals are 7.5-point home favorites against the Jaguars, with an implied total of 26.5 points. Not bad for a Thursday night. With an offense that’s clicked more than it’s not clicked through Week 3, the Bengals should see plenty of neutral and positive game script, a decidedly positive development for their young kicker. Only the Football Team and the Jets have allowed more field goal tries than the Jags this season. All three kickers to face Urban Meyer’s fledgling team have logged multiple attempts. They’ve given up 32 fantasy points to kickers in three weeks. That’s not a little.

I don’t see McPherson becoming an every-week fantasy play in 12-team leagues since the Bengals have tough draws against the Packers and Ravens over the next month. Against the Jags this week and the Jets in Week 6, McPherson is a must-play if you didn’t roster an elite kicker.

Randy Bullock (TEN) at NYJ (0 percent rostered)

You’re bowled over. You can hardly sit up straight. You might be hyperventilating, as you often do when you read about kicker waiver wire options. Yes, we are once again targeting the Jets, who once again stink with such intensity, one almost feels bad about mocking them. Almost.

The Titans are 7.5 point road favorites against Robert Saleh’s walking disaster of a football team. Tennessee’s implied total of 26.75 points is the second highest of the week. Bullock has been as solid as he was in the first half of the 2020 season, when he outpaced all kickers in Joe Burrow’s offense. He’s connected on five of six field goal tries since joining the Titans a couple weeks ago, including, of course, a game winner against Seattle in Week 2.

Bullock isn’t a screaming regression candidate either: The Titans are just 1.02 field goal attempts over expectation through three games.

No team has allowed more field goal attempts (10) than the Jets through Week 3. The past couple weeks have seen kickers make eight of eight field goals against New York as opponents average four red zone possessions per game against the Jets. The Titans being without A.J. Brown (hamstring) doesn’t matter. They could gain 400 yards and score 30 points against the Jets with their practice squad. Fire up Bullock in an ideal matchup.

Aldrick Rosas (NO) vs. NYG (1 percent rostered)

Do I feel fantastic about touting a kicker who missed two field goals last week and has managed just one field goal in three games? I do not. Nevertheless, we persist.

Rosas is very much viable in a game that sees New Orleans at home -- sort of -- favored by 7.5 points over the utterly hopeless Giants. The Saints’ 25.5 point implied total is the third highest of Week 4, quite the expectation for an offense with the second fewest total yards through Week 3.

The Giants -- as they did in 2020 -- are shaping up as an excellent target for those who are faithful to the kicker process. The G-people allowed multiple field goal tries to Brandon McManus in Week 1 and Dustin Hopkins in Week 2 before Younghoe Koo was held to a single attempt (the game winner) last week. The Giants are giving up the ninth most red zone possessions per game (3.8).

Rosas is only 0.66 field goal tries over expectation in this young season. Fantasy managers who can stomach plugging and playing a guy fresh off two field goal misses could be handsomely rewarded in Week 4. The process, the process, the process.