Friday, June 29, 2012

Kicker Power Rankings: Top 10

The kicker is probably the least valued position on the fantasy football team, but they shouldn't be ignored. Yes, you should still wait until either the 14th or 15th round to draft your kicker, but making the right decision does carry some weight. The difference in value between the 1st and 10th kicker (excluding last season because Akers broke the record for most field goals in a season in NFL history) is typically going to be 16-32 points, meaning that you can gain 1-2 points per contest on the competition by making the right decision.

There are two schools of thought when drafting kickers. The first is to draft a kicker whose team scores a lot of touchdowns. This is my preferred method because you have guaranteed points coming in. These kickers will get a disproportionally high number of points from PATs, so they will be more consistent throughout the season. These kickers are also, typically, more easy to target in your fantasy drafts because most explosive offenses are not a surprise once the season starts. The second kind of kicker would be one who kicks loads of field goals thanks to a successful defense and weak offense that doesn't turn the ball over often. The 2011 49ers perfected this method, allowing Akers to have, statistically, the best season of any kicker in history. These kickers naturally have more risk attached to them because it is more difficult to predict a team's turnover differential before the season begins, and their offense might not be able to move into field goal range with enough frequency during any given game. The St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars are great examples of this issue. Both teams have good, strong-legged kickers but their offense turned the ball over and was completely unable to move the ball down the field.

Some kickers, such as Dan Bailey, fall between these two categories, and it is up to each individual owner to decide which type of kicker they prefer. The kickers' descriptions will tell you which way I classify each of the following kickers.

1. David Akers - I did not think I would end up with Akers as my top kicker because I usually prefer PAT kickers, but it is difficult to argue with his production from last season. The odds of him repeating his successes from last season, but I wouldn't be surprised if he averaged just over 2 FGs per game and 2 PATs per game. The 49ers defense might have a more difficult time this season (they have to play high-powered offenses because they won their division), but Akers should still be one of the main scorers on this team. My worry would be an Alex Smith relapse to every season before 2011, when he had trouble with turnovers. It is unlikely that any good fantasy owner will be able to draft Akers, since many computer automated draft systems start drafting kickers and defenses in the 9th and 10th rounds.

2. Sebastian Janikowski - Janikowski has been one of the most consistent 50+ yard kicker of the last decade. He has had at least 7 attempts from 50+ yards for the last 6 seasons, and there is no reason to believe that he will be slowing down any time soon. Consider this; Janikowski's longest made field goal was a 63-yarder last season. The Raiders offense is finally coming along, so Janikowski should see more PATs than he is used to, but I would still place him in the field-goal-kicking category. If this offense really picks up, Janikowski could easily lead all fantasy kickers at the end of the season.

3. Steven Gostkowski - Gostkowski (Patriots) is definitely a PAT first guy. He gets the edge because he takes and makes more field goals than some of the other PAT kickers, and Belicheck is a very strategic guy. While the Packers and Saints are more prone to go for it on 4th down, Belicheck is willing to take field goals, and this gives Gostkowski an edge. He should have just under 2 FGs per game and over 3 PATs per game. He is the best blend of sure PATs and potentially big FG totals.

4. Garrett Hartley - I saw someone's mock draft where they took Kasey in the 11th round and I just had to facepalm. Hartley was due to be the new Saints kicker before he sustained an injury in the offseason and missed all of the 2011 season. There is no reason to believe that Kasey will get his starting role back, especially since Hartley is younger and has a bigger leg. I think the Saints will be kicking more field goals this season, but I have to express concern about his season away from football. I don't know of many other times when a kicker has missed an entire season (maybe a reader could point me in the right direction), but there is always concern for a player coming back from injury. If he wins the starting job, expect him to be consistent with 50+ yard upside.

5. Mason Crosby - The Packers don't like to kick field goals, but they score a lot of touchdowns, so it all evens out. Crosby had his best FG% last season, which is a good sign for fantasy owners. This youngster (27 is pretty young amongst kickers) has a good track record of attempting and making 50+ yard kicks, and he has never had less than 2 (but has never had more than 3) 50+ yarders in a season. This makes predicting his position relatively easy, as he should make 1.5 FGs per game with 3-4 PATs. Consider it a bonus during the 2-4 games when he makes a 50+ yarder.

6. Dan Bailey - As was mentioned abover, Dan Bailey is a hybrid kicker. The Cowboys don't have one of the most explosive offenses, so Bailey will probably average just under 3 PATs per game, but they do kick plenty of field goals, so he should approach 2 FGs per game. Last year was his rookie season, so you are taking a chance by drafting him, but I think it is a worth-while chance, especially since the Cowboys offense is looking dangerous (but don't the Cowboys always look good before they actually start playing football?).

7. Matt Bryant - The Falcons are consistent and so is their kicker. Bryant does not kick a lot of long field goals, but he typically gets nearly 3 PATs per game  and kicks 1-2 field goals. He should be ideally consistent if you are looking for a kicker who is unlikely to let you down on any particular Sunday. Just don't expect any 15-point games. I just don't see them coming from this Falcons offense.

8. Jason Hanson - Hanson is ancient, even for a kicker, but he is still getting the job done. He is a primarily PAT kicker, but benefits from the fact that his stadium is indoors. Kickers in indoor stadiums have a clear advantage, which gives this 42-year-old dinosaur a chance at another top-10 fantasy season.

9. Nate Kaeding - I assume Kaeding will be the starter again, but any Chargers kicker can fill this space. This guy (whoever he might be) should be consistent, despite the bad season from the 2011 Chargers. They have the potential to be an explosive offense, but it might take them a few weeks to gel. Kaeding was one of the highest rated kickers before his injury last season, so don't worry too much about drafting him.

10. Panthers Kicker - It will either be Olindo Mare or "that-other-guy." Either way, this offense is consistent and didn't turn the ball over very often last season. Odds are that you won't have to draft either of these guys, but you could if you needed someone.

Potential Sleepers:

Matt Prater saved the day for the Broncos on a regular basis last season. If this offense does what it is expected to do, feel free to draft Prater.

I like Alex Henery, but I want to see a little more from him before I promote him as a starter. Consider him off waivers if the Eagles succeed this season.

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