Fantasy football kicker primer: Everything to know heading into 2016
- Sure, none of us are racing to prioritize kickers in our fantasy drafts, but that doesn't mean the position is totally useless. Since you still have to use kickers, you might as well figure out the best way to get the most from your pick.
Some people view kickers as a necessary evil in football. That’s even truer in the fantasy game, where kickers are rarely loved and occasionally despised.
The fact remains that most fantasy leagues still use the kicker position, however, and we here at SI.com are here to serve all of your fantasy football draft prep needs. Just because you’ll almost certainly wait until the final two rounds of your draft to take a kicker doesn’t mean you should just grab the nearest sticker and put it up on the draft board. You still want to have a strategy for tackling the position that avoids tackling at all costs. We’ll help you craft one.
Get a full overview of the position with our 2016 kicker primer. My complete kicker rankings, as well as those of fellow SI.com fantasy writer Pat Fitzmaurice, can be found at the bottom of the story.
Does the kicker position matter?
As long as your league uses it, then yes, it does. Last year’s top-scoring kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, averaged 9.44 points per game. The average starter—or the average weekly score for the top-12 season-long kickers—scored 8.23 points per game. That means Gostkowski outscored the average starter by 14.7% per week. That doesn’t measure up to the margin at other positions, but it’s still noteworthy.
Still, you should be waiting until the last two rounds of your draft to grab a kicker. Gostkowski is the only kicker for whom I might make an exception, but we’ll get to that later. You need as many reinforcements at running back and receiver as possible, even if that 15th-round selection doesn’t seem too important on draft day. Kickers matter, but keep that in perspective. It remains the lowest priority position in fantasy football.
But seriously, should fantasy leagues abolish the position?
There’s a movement in some fantasy circles for eliminating the kicker position altogether. I understand the argument for it, especially since the counter to it is, “But that’s how we’ve always done it.” Their scoring can be random, and no one likes losing because Justin Tucker burned them with five field goals. As for me, I’m ambivalent on kickers. I’ll play in leagues with or without them, and won’t give their inclusion much thought. One element of kicker scoring needs to go, however, and that is yardage bonuses.
Last I checked, all field goals in football games are worth three points. They could be 19 yards or 70 yards, and they count the same. That’s true in high school, true in college, and true in the NFL. So why is a 50-yard field goal with more than a 35-yarder in some fantasy leagues? Better still, why is a 50-yarder worth one more point than a successful field goal from 49 yards? How can something be worth more in the fantasy game than it is in real life?
We all do realize that kickers are better than ever, right? I’m pretty sure the NFL introduced an arbitrary rule last season that completely changes the game to combat that reality. Kickers converted 65% of 50-plus-yard field-goal attempts last season. That number was at 61% in 2014 and 52% 10 years ago. Making a 50-yarder isn’t what it used to be. It’s time to end the scourge of yardage bonuses.
What’s the best way to target a kicker?
The simplest rule of thumb? Get yourself a kicker tied to a strong offense. Not all good offenses, however, create scoring opportunities for their kickers equally. And not all bad offenses are completely worthless for their kickers, either.
Don't overthink this one. Last year’s top-three kickers were Gostkowski, Graham Gano and Chandler Catanzaro. The Patriots, Panthers and Cardinals were also the top-three touchdown scorers and the three highest scoring teams in the league. The Seahawks were sixth in touchdowns and fourth in points, but Steven Hauschka ranked ninth among kickers. He had five fewer field-goal attempts than Gostkowski and Gano, and while he had the same number of attempts as Catanzaro, he had 14 fewer extra-point tries.
On the flip side of this are Blair Walsh and Tucker. The Vikings were tied for 20th in touchdowns, but Walsh rode 39 field-goal attempts, tied for second most in the league, to the fourth-most points among kickers. Tucker was the only kicker with more field-goal tries than Walsh, and he finished seventh at the position despite the Ravens scoring fewer touchdowns than all but four teams. Walsh and Tucker both made more field goals than Hauschka attempted.
How did Walsh and Tucker do it? The former was likely a fluke. The Vikings were 29th in yards and tied for 18th in takeaways. They didn’t do anything that would lead to a high-scoring kicker, and yet Walsh was fourth in points. It happens. The latter is easier to explain. The Ravens were 14th in the league in yards and they were first in terrible, brutal luck. The Ravens were regularly unable to get the ball into the end zone when they were in scoring range. They had to settle for Tucker’s field-goal magic.
Should fantasy owners stream kickers?
Streaming defenses is a widely accepted practice, while streaming quarterbacks has gained popularity in recent years. You don’t see nearly as many fantasy owners streaming kickers, but it’s absolutely doable.
The most important element of a successful stream play isn’t the player you add, but the team they are facing. The Jaguars, Giants and Raiders surrendered the most points to kickers last year. Jacksonville allowed the second-most points overall, while the Giants were third. The Raiders were 11th, still in the top half, but not embarrassing. Tampa Bay was fourth on the list of points allowed to kickers, while the Browns checked in sixth and Eagles seventh. All three of those teams were in the top seven in points allowed, as well, finishing fourth, seventh and fifth, respectively.
There will be an outlier in almost any group, and in this case it was the Rams, which allowed the fifth-most points to kickers despite ranking 13th in points allowed. They were, however, 23rd in yards, allowing opposing offenses into scoring position more frequently than is comfortable.
Streaming kickers is absolutely a viable strategy. First, look to points allowed. Second, look to yards allowed. Those two simple stats will point you in the right direction.
Are there any kickers worth keeping when they’re on their bye?
Generally, rosters are too thin to justify carrying two kickers, even for one week. There are exceptions, of course, depending on the size and scope of your league. If you have a lot of bench spots, more than you know what to do with, feel free to keep your kicker on your roster. If your roster is so deep that you’re carrying backs and receivers who add nothing more than depth on their real-life teams, you can cut them instead of your kicker, as well.
There are specific player exceptions to this rule, too. The first is Gostkowski, but, again, we’ll expand on him in a bit. Another is Tucker, who is so good that the Ravens justifiably used their franchise tag on him this off-season, before agreeing to an extension. Tucker has never made fewer than 29 field goals in a season. He has missed just one kick inside 40 yards, while connecting on 18 from 50 or longer in just four years. He was one of four kickers to not miss an extra point last season, and John Harbaugh is not shy about using him from extremely long distance. Tucker is a guy I’d try to keep when he goes on his bye.
Other kickers potentially in the mix are Dan Bailey and Hauschka, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to keep them.
Elite: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
Alright, finally, we can talk about one of the only kickers who can really move the needle in fantasy leagues. Gostkowski has led the league in scoring in each of the last four seasons. Before Gostkowski’s run, David Akers led the league in scoring in consecutive seasons. Before them, the last time a kicker was the highest scorer at the position in two straight years was 1980 when New England’s John Smith achieved the feat.
Of course, Gostkowski’s greatness isn’t a recent development. He played just eight games due to injury in 2010, not including that year, he has been a top-two kicker in the league in all but two of his seasons. He was sixth in 2009 and 16th in his rookie year of 2006. New England’s offense is an engine that just doesn’t quit, but it’s not entirely responsible for Gostkowski’s bankability. He has connected on at least 85% of his field-goal attempts in five seasons, and has surpassed 91% in each of the last three years. The Patriots routinely put him in good spots, but he comes through time and time and time again. He may not be the very best kicker in the game today, but he’s among them and is the best bet to get the most scoring chances. That makes him the best fantasy kicker.
Breakout: Roberto Aguayo, Buccaneers
It’s hard to say there will be a true fantasy breakout at the kicker position. We’re into symmetry, though, and since we have a breakout for every other position, we’ll keep it rolling at kicker. In this case, think of it more as a player who we haven’t yet seen on the fantasy landscape turning into a reliable starter, rather than someone who is really going to make headlines. Although, to be fair, Aguayo has already made NFL headlines, and his career hasn’t even officially begun.
The Buccaneers traded up to get Aguayo, securing his services in the second round of this year’s draft. The Florida State product was one of the best college kickers of all-time, making 88.5% of his career field-goal attempts. Aguayo was so good, in fact, that he decided to forego his final year of eligibility to enter the draft after his junior season, which is simply unheard of for a kicker. He was 18 for 24 on kicks from 40 to 49 yards, and connected on five of his eight attempts from beyond 50 yards, so distance shouldn’t be an issue for him in the pros. Aguayo is tied to an offense on the rise, joining college teammate Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and Charles Sims in what is a sneakily fun fantasy group. One Florida State kicker, Sebastian Janikowski, is about to leave the stage. Aguayo is ready to take the torch.
Value: Jason Myers, Jaguars
What we mean here is someone you can get if you’re the last owner in your league to take a kicker. Myers’s ADP is outside the top-220 players, so it’s safe to say he fits that bill.
Myers enjoyed a strong rookie season with the Jaguars last year, making 26 of his 30 field-goal attempts and scoring 110 total points, finishing 15th among kickers. He did have some trouble with the new 33-yard extra point, however. Myers missed seven PATs to lead the league. Had he made all of those, he would have been tied with Mike Nugent for 11th in points among kickers with 117. The good news, however, is that he didn’t have trouble with field goals of the same distance. He made all eight of his field goals from between 30 and 39 yards, and nine of 12 from 40 or longer, including three out of four from at least 50 yards.
With Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon and Julius Thomas, the Jaguars offense is clearly on the ascent. Myers should have even more field-goal opportunities this year tied to such an offense, especially when you consider that his 30 attempts were tied for 13th among the 18 kickers who played all 16 games last season. Myers is in the right environment to be a top-10 fantasy kicker.
Reach: Graham Gano, Panthers
Gano rode the 2015 Carolina offense to the best season of his career, making 30 of 36 field goals and scoring 146 points, finishing second to Gostkowski. That has helped make him the second kicker off the board in a typical draft this summer, and that’s nothing more than a case of drafters taking last year’s stats as gospel.
Let’s start with the field goals. Gano made 30 largely thanks to his volume of attempts. He was successful just 83.3% of the time, which ranked 20th in the league among full-time starters last year. He was better than league average on attempts from 40 to 49 yards, but not to the same degree as Gostkowski, Justin Tucker or Dan Bailey, who should be considered the three best circumstance-neutral kickers in the league. Gano also had the benefit of getting 59 PAT tries, the most in the league. He scored 16 more points on PATs than Steven Hauschka. He had nearly double as many extra points as Tucker, and still only outscored him by 18 total.
Gano is a fine kicker with a great offense at his back. He’s not the second-best fantasy kicker, however. Do not draft him as such.
Michael Beller's rankings