Wait to draft kickers, defenses

Publish date:

All veteran fantasy football GMs know the age-old maxim: Never draft a kicker or defense until the last picks of your draft. With rare exception, this is an immutable law of fantasy football; but is it sound advice?

Getting Your Kicks

I researched the issue, so I instructed the Sports Grumblings' computer, Mighty Max, to pull up the top 12 kickers, by season, since 2006. For this example, we're using the World Championship of Fantasy Football (WCOFF) scoring for kickers:

Looking at the results, we see some interesting trends:

• Over the past three seasons, only one kicker made the top 12 each season: Josh Brown. This is below last year's level, when two kickers (Brown and Shayne Graham) made the cut.

• No kicker was in the top five all three years.

• While we had a different "top leg" each of the last three years, the points produced by the top kicker was amazingly consistent..

• On average, the 12th-rated kicker can be expected to produce close to 81 percent of the top-rated kicker's output.

The lesson: trying to determine the top-rated kicker from season to season is a crapshoot. Furthermore, unlike the other positional players, selecting a "top" kicker isn't likely to result in a top performance. Think about it: we can debate whether LaDanian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson or Maurice Jones-Drew will be the top-rated runner, but we can likely agree that all three will be within the top 12 at their position. No such luck with the kickers.

Getting Defensive

Many of my readers know that I am a huge proponent of using individual defensive players (IDP) in fantasy leagues; but realizing that many leagues have not seen the light of fantasy football salvation, I'll try to provide some insight into the performance of defense/special teams selections.

Again, I imposed on Mighty Max to provide me with data on Defense/Special Teams fantasy scoring since 2006. The results:

Again, some interesting trends are presented by the results:

• Four teams have finished in the top 12 three years running: the Bears, Titans, Packers and Vikings.

• Only one team (Packers) was in the top five all three years.

• The 12th-ranked team's totals remained within 4 percent of each other.

• On average, the 12th-rated D/ST could be expected to produce about 67 percent of the top-rated D/ST.

These findings would indicate that selecting defensive teams might be a bit easier than kickers in that defensive teams seem to display a bit more consistency amongst the top performers; however, this is a positional consistency, that is, in the aggregate. Predicting which D/ST will actually place well in the scoring is still very hit-or-miss: look at the Ravens (Top 5 in 2006/2008, out of the money in '07) or Chargers (Top 5 in 2006/2007, out of the money in '08) as examples of boom-or-bust defensive selections. Want another example of the huge variance among D/ST? Consider that the top scoring defenses from 2006 (Chargers) and 2007 (Patriots) did not even make the Top 12 the following season! Hmmm ... perhaps fantasy owners should be avoiding the Eagles in this year's drafts?

The Payoff

OK, all this information is interesting, but does it support the theory that you should wait on kickers and defensive teams in your draft? In general, the closer the 12th-rated spot to the top-rated spot, the longer you can wait to draft that position. Given kickers and D/ST, the numbers indicate that D/ST should be drafted ahead of kickers.

But what about when these two positions are compared to the other offensive positions? The same type of analysis indicates the following order of value: WR, RB, QB, TE ... and all four shake out ahead of the kickers and defensive teams.

Sometimes, those old age-old maxims actually deserve to be age-old maxims!

John T. Georgopoulos is the publisher of Sports Grumblings, a fantasy sports portal providing strategy, articles and online tools to help you DOMINATE your leagues. John's Fantasy Forecast® series won the prestigious Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for Best On-Going Series. Visit Sports Grumblings today and get on the path to DOMINATING your fantasy football league!