These kickers actually make a difference. (Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)
The Fantasy Kicker Mistake
How to handle kickers in your fantasy football draft
Updated: July 20, 2015
Original Release: October 29, 2002
Simply put, a good kicker selection will not win you a championship, but it can cost you one if made too early in your draft. One of the typical mistakes made by folks either new to fantasy football or the
perennial doormats of their league is drafting a kicker too early. They either fall prey to the mentality of wanting to complete their starting roster or convince themselves that the available kickers
carry more value than other seemingly less-attractive, skill-position players. This is a costly mistake. These picks could and should have been spent on selecting hidden gems/sleepers at other skill
positions (RB, WR, and QB) that can breakout and absolutely make a huge difference for their team. In fact, we recommend you take your kicker with your last or second to last pick in your draft. Use
your other mid-to-late round picks for running backs, wide receivers, and quarterbacks that could have a breakout season (a.k.a. Fantasy Football Sleepers).
Beyond just missing out on potential breakout candidates at more meaningful positions, there are several other reasons to not take a kicker until very late in your draft:
1. The fantasy point difference between the very best kickers compared to the average kickers is relatively small. Hence, you do not gain a significant advantage by owning one of the best kickers in
the land relative to the gains you can make by owning one of the best running backs, wide receivers, or quarterbacks in the land.
2. The kicker position is one of the most difficult to predict entering a season. This is largely due to kickers not being in control of their own fate. They are completely dependent on a third party
to even have a chance to deliver results. Specifically, they are dependent on an offense that can move the ball into position but not good enough to get a TD (a.k.a. "stall offense"). Predicting which offense
is going to stall is extremely difficult and is reflected in the top-10 kicker rankings at the conclusion of each year compared to a preseason top-10 based on Fantasy Football Mock Drafts. Kickers magically appear in the final
top-10 while other "reliable" options disappear for seemingly no reason at all. Furthermore, kickers are also dependent on the quality of their defense, as teams trailing by large leads need TDs rather than
field goals to have any shot at winning. Again, another variable adding to the volatility of the kicker position.
3. Some of the very best kickers can and are grabbed each year off the waiver-wire and/or free agent pick-ups early in the season. Again, this is due to the volatility of the position and difficulty in predicting
who will be the best for that season. If you draft a kicker early, you will have more of an emotional investment in this player and will be more reluctant to drop them for another kicker. Conversely, if you grabbed
your kicker with your last pick or two in the draft, you will have no problem kicking them to the curb to pick up the Neil Rackers of the 2005 season off the waiver wire. (For those newer to fantasy football, Rackers made 40 field goals in 2005 in just 15 games... 6 of which were from 50+ yards and 13 from 40 - 49 yards... and he went undrafted in virtually all fantasy football leagues). A quick trigger on the waiver wire for kickers
early in the season can pay nice dividends for your team. Typically, kickers who start the season hot in the first few weeks generally continue that trend throughout the season.
So what do you look for when it does comes time to draft a kicker (a.k.a. the end of your draft)? Again, don't get too excited about your selection and be ready to have a quick trigger on the waiver wire. All things being equal (which they aren't, ref: point #2 above), there are some factors
to keep in mind when selecting a kicker. First, weather is a big factor. You want your kicker to have ideal conditions when he does actually get an opportunity to kick, and for that reason dome kickers are desirable. Another factor is selecting a kicker that plays for a team with a good defense. Good defenses keep teams in the game,
which in turn give kickers opportunities late in the game. Conversely, kickers who kick for teams with bad defenses that put their team behind the eight ball force the issue of needing a TD rather than a FG. Consequently, these teams will go for it on fourth down rather than trying a long field
goal attempt. Last, select a kicker with a strong leg. Typically many fantasy football scoring systems reward more points for field goals of longer distance. Having a kicker with a strong leg or one kicking in conditions that yield an effective strong leg (such as kicking in the thin air of high
altitudes... ahem Denver) will always keep the possibility of raking in those few extra fantasy points from a long field goal.
In summary, just remember that a decent kicker is not hard to find,
whereas a good RB, WR, and QB is hard to find. The more picks you use on those positions later in your draft increases the odds that you will land a real difference maker for your team. In fact, there have been instances where we participated in a fantasy football draft and didn't draft a kicker at all. Rather, we used that extra pick on another
RB, WR, or QB with potential to breakout. Prior to kickoff of week 1, we dropped our least desireable player from our roster to make room for a kicker to pick-up and start. Basically this strategy buys you an extra roster slot from the time your draft ends to the start of the season to purchase another lottery ticket on a potential breakout player.
This can pay dividends, particularly in leagues that hold their drafts well in advance of the start of the NFL season, as unexpected players develop late in the NFL preseason and new starters emerge due to injuries.
Hopefully we have convinced you of the pitfalls of selecting a kicker too early. If you heed this advice, you are almost assured of not getting one of the "top rated" kickers. For those
still insistent on drafting a kicker early or perhaps in a unique scoring system where kickers carry unusually high value, our Fantasy Football Player Rankings will help stack the fantasy odds in your favor when selecting your kicker.