Kickers don’t get very much love in the fantasy game, and you know why? It’s only because they don’t deserve it. I’m sorry, kickers. You guys are integral to the real-life game, deal with a ton of pressure quite gracefully, and are worthy of the praise that comes all too infrequently. The harsh reality, unfortunately, is that kickers just don’t really matter in fantasy football. They populate the very end of your draft. Even if you have a good one, you can rationally drop him during his bye week. The easiest way to find the worst pick in your draft is to first see if anyone selected a kicker before the last two rounds. That’s the worst pick in your draft.
Having said all that, kickers remain a component of nearly every fantasy league. You may not think about them until 200 players have had their names called in your draft, but you’re going to have to think about them eventually. When you do, we’ll be there to help.
Elite: Dan Bailey, Cowboys
Bailey has been a top-10 kicker in all four of his years in the NFL, but there’s reason to believe this will be the best season of his career. He has one of the biggest legs in the league, drilling 11 field goals of 50 yards or more over the last two seasons, including a career-high 56-yard strike last year. Bailey has also connected on 18 of his 19 field goal attempts from between 40 and 49 yards in the last two years. Perhaps most importantly, Bailey is tied to a Dallas offense that should be among the best in the league this year and plays his home games indoors.
Even though the Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray, they still have Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and a cast of characters in the backfield to keep the offense clicking this year. In fact, Murray’s exodus could be a boon for Bailey’s fantasy value. With Murray now punching in touchdowns in Philadelphia, there’s a chance the Cowboys will stall more often in the red zone, resulting in more field goal tries for Bailey. The fifth-year player out of Oklahoma State attempted just 29 field goals, the fewest of any kicker who finished in the top 10 in fantasy points. If Bailey can get up into the mid-30s in field goal attempts this year, he’ll be the top scorer at the position.
Breakout: Dan Carpenter, Bills
After five middling seasons in Miami, Carpenter has turned into a top-tier fantasy kicker with the Bills. He was the No. 10 kicker in 2013 and rose to No. 6 last season, knocking through 34 of his 38 field goal attempts. Like Bailey, Carpenter has one of the longest ranges in the league. He has made three kicks from 58 yards or deeper, including a career-long 60-yard blast in 2010. Once the Bills are inside their opponents’ 45-yard line, they’re in Carpenter’s range.
Over the last two years, the Bills’ offense has been good enough to consistently provide Carpenter with plenty of field goal attempts, but not quite good enough to substitute too many of his field goals for extra points. Carpenter trotted out for 36 field goal attempts in 2013 and 38 last year, the second-most over the last two seasons. The Bills may have added LeSean McCoy, but the offense could still lack efficiency with one of Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor or E.J. Manuel at the helm. Carpenter should be in line for the first top-five season of his career.
Steal: Shaun Suisham, Steelers
Suisham is at the back end of one of the league’s best offenses, tacking on the extra point after a Steelers touchdown or cleaning up with a field goal when they fail to hit pay dirt. Last season, Suisham scored the seventh-most points in the league despite 13 kickers having more field goal attempts, but somehow Suisham is the 12th kicker off the board in typical drafts. Even if the Steelers’ offense is too efficient in the red zone, Suisham is going to have a ton of scoring opportunities.
Extra points may not be ideal for kickers, but they’re usually indicative of a high scorer at the position. Last season, the five kickers with the most extra points finished first, second, third, fourth and eighth in fantasy points. With Pittsburgh’s offense looking like a juggernaut this season, Suisham will almost certainly get somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 or 50 cheap points, even with the change in extra point rules. Suisham is a near lock to be a top-10 kicker this season and could easily work his way into the top five.
Reach: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
Gostkowski has led the league in scoring in each of the last three seasons and has been a top-three kicker in six of his nine career seasons. He’s justifiably seen as the top kicker heading into this season and holds that spot in our rankings. So why is he a reach? Kicker is a fungible position with a lot of turnover year to year. If you draft a kicker—remember, you don’t actually have to draft one—it should be with one of your last two picks. Given that Gostkowski will be the first kicker off the board in most drafts, he’s a reach. Unless you’re backed into a corner, the first kicker selected is usually one of the worst picks in any draft.
This, of course, is not Gostkowski’s fault. Kicker simply is not an important position in fantasy leagues. You’re better off drafting your seventh running back or receiver before taking your kicker. Someone in your league is going to use a pick in the 12th or 13th round to take Gostkowski. You do not want to be that person.
Injury Risk: Robbie Gould, Bears
It’s hard for a kicker to be a legitimate injury risk, especially when you consider that you aren’t devoting significant resources to the position. Sure, a kicker or two is going to get injured this year, but if you’re using a 17th-round pick on him, it doesn’t much matter. Gould has been one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, but he has missed three or more games in two of the last three seasons. Gould missed the final three games of the 2012 season with a calf injury and sat out four games last season due to a balky quad.
There’s no reason to get yourself invested in a kicker who has had two different leg injuries in the last three seasons. That proposition becomes even less attractive when you consider that Gould is entering his age-33 season. The Bears kicker is appropriately priced, checking in as the No. 19 kicker in the consensus ranking on FantasyPros. Unless you’re in a very deep league, you can do better.
There aren’t any rookies who are expected to be starting kickers this season. Kyle Brindza, who is in camp with the Lions, could supplant Matt Prater as the starter in Detroit, but it is unlikely.