Fantasy Football: Method to the Kicker Madness
After the 2016 season ended, I had the pleasure of diving into every meaningful statistic I could find in our popular “25 Statistics” series. But none of the positions quite brought a fun and sobering perspective as the 25 Boom-Boom Kickers for 2016. Here are a couple nuggets to help refresh your brain…
- Despite being the consensus #1 kicker drafted, Stephen Gostkowski finished as the 9th kicker overall in standard. That is after a dominant run when he finished #1 overall 4 years in a row.
- There were 33 different kickers who registered a top 5 performance in 2016. Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein and the Rams were the only team without a top 5 finish. As you can see below, there’s a lot of movement and parity each week among top 12 kickers.
- Matt Bryant, Dan Bailey, Adam Vinatieri, and Dustin Hopkins were the only kickers to repeat as the top scoring kicker in bonus formats.
- The Jaguars have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing kickers back-to-back years. Their 9.4 standard points allowed per game is the most since 2012…. when the Jaguars once again were a haven for kickers at 9.6 points per game.
- According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, 6 of the top 12 kickers in 2016 went undrafted on average, the same number as 2015. In other words, just because you didn’t pick Justin Tucker or Matt Bryant, you’ll find someone who works.
Listen I get it… kicking is probably the most frustrating part of your fantasy life and it can seem we are at the mercy of an Alex Smith 2-yard dump off pass just to even get in range for a potential field goal. But I wanted to take this opportunity to review what we learned in 2016 and also sift out 4 key ingredients to see that there is some type of method to the kicker madness in the NFL. My hope is that these principles would stay in the back of your mind as your drafting and hopefully streaming kickers in 2017.
1. High-volume passing offenses rock for kickers.
The way a kicker piles on the fantasy points is opportunity. Duh! And yet opportunity comes knocking especially with high-powered offenses who aren’t afraid to throw the ball 40+ times a game. If you were to look at last year’s top 5 offenses in terms of passing yards per game, you’ll find an almost mirror image of last year’s top fantasy kickers.
|Rank||Offense (Passing Yards Per Game)||Kicker (Fantasy Finish)|
|1||New Orleans (317)||Will Lutz (5th)|
|2||Washington (297)||Dustin Hopkins (3rd)|
|3||Atlanta (295)||Matt Bryant (1st)|
|4||New England (269)||Stephen Gostkowski (9th)|
|5||Indianapolis (263)||Adam Vinatieri (11th)|
So how did passing yards help pace last year’s kicker group ahead of the rest of the pack? Moving the ball through the air has a direct correlation to something we’re chasing as fantasy owners: FG attempts. Despite all the factors that influence game flow and field position, you are looking for sheer attempts when it comes to fantasy. For instance, Dustin Hopkins was a fantasy monster (at least in kicker terms) in 2016 finishing 3rd overall aided by league-leading 42 attempts in an offense that consistently moved the ball through the air to the tune of nearly 5,000 passing yards. However, he also connected on only 81% of his kicks, a total placing him 25th in the league among kickers. In other words, ask Washington fans, the dude didn’t instill much confidence. And yet this leads to our next point…
2. FG accuracy isn’t the #1 telling factor.
In fact, according to resident kicker guru CD Carter’s weekly kicker column and a separate regression analysis in 2013 investigating the science behind the fantasy kicker, FG accuracy is a less telling fantasy statistic compared to other factors. The study found that total points scored, scoring rank, wins, QB passer rating and QB passing yards all held much more weight in terms of revealing kicker kick-assness in the fantasy football world.
Yes, we all love having an accurate kicker when it comes to rooting on our real life football teams. But when it comes to fantasy, you are simply looking more for the sheer amount of opportunity. Of the top 12 fantasy kickers from 2016, half of them finished outside the top 15 in terms of accuracy. So if you are wild enough to peruse kicker stats from last year, please set aside FG accuracy as a less important skill. Anyone hitting over 80% of their attempts is a viable option. Obviously a higher percentage is a good thing but it’s not the overwhelming factor for a top 10 pigskin booter.
3. Vegas lines are your kicker’s best friend.
What is clear is the point totals are king. There are points to be scored in oodles when Vegas starts drawing totals upwards of 47. That seemed to be the breaking point last year as you look specifically at favorites on teams with high projected totals. Why pick the favorite? Because what we find is that teams with positive game scripts will often settle for FGs when ahead as opposed to pushing the limits for a TD.
Besides truly elite kickers (Bryant and Tucker qualified last year), you shouldn’t be afraid to cut bait with whoever your current kicker is especially on byes. Peruse the Vegas lines before your league waiver wire submissions are due and find out who is a home favorite.
4. Kickers live and die by 3rd downs.
Another statistic which can give us some credence towards employing a well-thought out kicker is 3rd down percentage. It’s fairly straight forward knowing that the more a drive is extended down the field, the more opportunities there are for teams to put one through the uprights. However, we need to be somewhat tempered as the best offenses often turn 3rd down conversions eventually into visiting the end zone and a kicker receiving 1 point as opposed to 3+.
New Orleans led the league at 48.6% on 3rd downs which in turn allowed rookie Wil Lutz to boot his way to a 5th place finish among kickers. Baltimore and Houston tied for the most 3rd down attempts in the league (233) which boded well for Justin Tucker and Nick Novak, the 1st and 10th kickers respectively. Philadelphia also came out well with 224 3rd downs as Caleb Sturgis had a surprisingly robust campaign as the 4th kicker overall.