Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Kick Return Leagues

So, the bad thing about asking people for article ideas for your blog is that you are pretty inclined to actually write about their suggestion. This one comes from @ChevyJas from Twitter. Chevy wants an article about the top punt and kick returners for a fantasy football league that give points for return yardage.

Anyone who is a frequent reader of my site will know that I am pretty anti-return yardage in fantasy football. It is an unjust scoring system when Detroit Lion Stefan Logan is the highest fantasy scoring wide receiver on his team instead of Calvin Johnson. And don’t feed me the argument that “They are an important part of the team and should get points for what they do.” No. In that case, let’s make a league where you can draft offensive linemen and punters. Their effort affects games. But no one wants to join the league where I’m taking Steve Weatherford in the fourth round because he’s a beast at pinning them in the 20.

But I’ll write the kick returner article, even though I disagree. I will cater to the requests of the ill-informed minority. I hate discrimination more than my grandfather in Boca hates his new black neighbors. (Because the husband is always away on business as a lawyer and doesn’t have the time to properly care for his lawn, you racist.)

This early in the year, a lot of the returners aren’t settled yet. There are still guys competing for the return spots and some players who used to be returners will likely give up the role to new guys to avoid injury.

A couple important things to note before planning a draft around the return yardage statistic:
1) Kick returners get far more yardage than even the best punt returners, so go for a guy that either has both duties or only kick return duties.
2) The new kickoff rule will likely affect the return yardage statistic negatively. Teams are experimenting in the preseason to see if they will consider running the ball out from 5 yards back in their own end zone. It goes without saying that there will be far more touchbacks and far fewer return yards in 2011 than any previous season.

Last year’s top performing kick/punt returners:

1. WR Marc Mariani, Tennessee Titans (KR/PR) – 1859 total return yards, 2 TDs
2. WR Stefan Logan, Detroit Lions (KR/PR) – 1810 total return yards, 1 TD
3. RB Leon Washington, Seattle Seahawks (KR/PR) – 1710 total return yards, 3 TDs
4. WR Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams (KR/PR) – 1594 total return yards, 0 TDs
5. WR Brandon Banks, Washington Redskins (KR/PR) – 1586 total return yards, 1 TD
6. RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, Arizona Cardinals (KR) – 1548 total return yards, 2 TDs
7. WR Brad Smith, Buffalo Bills (KR) – 1432 total return yards, 2 TDs
8. RB Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints (KR/PR) – 1423 total return yards, 0 TDs
9. WR Eric Weems, Atlanta Falcons (KR/PR) – 1330 total return yards, 2 TDs
10. WR Michael Spurlock, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (KR/PR) – 1322 total return yards, 1 TD
11. WR Ted Ginn, Jr., San Francisco 49ers (KR/PR) – 1313 total return yards, 1 TD
12. WR Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders (KR) – 1280 total return yards, 3 TDs
13. RB Bernard Scott, Cincinnati Bengals (KR) – 1257 total return yards, 0 TDs
14. RB Deji Karim, Jacksonville Jaguars (KR) – 1248 total return yards, 0 TDs
15. WR Brandon Tate, New England Patriots (KR) – 1057 total return yards, 2 TDs
16. RB Mike Goodson, Carolina Panthers (KR) – 1048 total return yards, 0 TDs
17. RB C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills (KR) – 1014 total return yards, 1 TD
18. WR Joshua Cribbs, Cleveland Browns (KR/PR) – 982 total return yards, 0 TDs
19. WR Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings (KR) – 933 total return yards, 1 TD
20. RB/WR Dexter McCluster (KR/PR) – 729 total return yards, 1 TD

There are a handful of guys who will likely be taken in your fantasy football draft anyways because they will get a good amount of points in their wide receiver or running back role without return yards added. These players were returners last year, but might not be filling that role this season: Dez Bryant (might not be a returner), DeSean Jackson (might not be a returner), Percy Harvin (might not be a returner), C.J. Spiller (might not be a returner), Jacoby Ford, Davone Bess, Emmanuel Sanders (might not be a returner), Jacoby Jones (might not be a returner) and Danny Amendola.

The following players will gain points in their regular position, but are not as highly ranked as those previously mentioned: Andre Roberts, Devin Hester, Dexter McCluster, Eddie Royal, Joshua Cribbs, Julian Edelman, Mike Goodson, Brad Smith, Darren Spoles.

And then you have the true kick return specialists that you will only see drafted in leagues with return yardages: Marc Mariani, Leon Washington, Stefan Logan, Brandon Banks, Eric Weeks, LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Strategy-wise, it will be important to conduct further research if you are in a return yardage league. You want to make sure that the guy you are drafting is actually going to be out there returning kicks, so take a glance at the depth chart a few minutes before your draft begins. The best players to get would be the names that you recognize because you will be getting return yardage points along with their regular RB or WR stats. Players on this list would include Percy Harvin, Joshua Cribbs, Dexter McCluster and Danny Amendola.

But as you can see, there are 17 guys on the list above who compiled over 1000 return yards last year, meaning that you are getting 100+ points out of them if you get one every ten yards. Just make sure you keep the rule change in mind, as kick return yards are likely going to fall 25-50% this year as most NFL kickers will be able to boot it out of the back of the end zone.

Long story short, as much as I hate to say it, it’s probably a wise idea to go pretty early and get WR Marc Mariani of the Titans so he can carry your fantasy team. Pity.


  1. A couple of weeks ago I read an article by another fantasy football columnist who was making an argument that there needs to be a way to reward players who get all the yardage between the 20s, but never seem to get TDs. (I wish I could remember who actually wrote it.) He was basically saying that the best way to do that is PPR, though I don't see how that helps some RBs. Anyway, my point is that his argument seemed related to this one. I understand and agree with your point about how return yardage unfairly makes nobodies more important than top talent. But allow me to play Devil's Advocate here for a moment. If we give yardage points for RBs and WRs, then why not KRs? They're arguably doing the same thing: moving downfield towards the goal while trying to avoid defenders and hang on to the football (which is not the same as punters and O-linemen). The biggest difference is that KRs (usually) get a running start. Hell, a lot of WRs make beau-coup fantasy points just by catching the ball and falling down. Wouldn't it be more fair if they only got points for receptions and yards after the catch? (I don't actually advocate that system, by the way. Just making a point.)

    I've been trying to figure out a way to find a compromise so that KRs aren't ignored, but also aren't unfairly rewarded. I'm thinking about giving kick yardage in the new league I just started with my friends, but handicapping it to, say, 1 point for every 20 yards. Could you ever see yourself warming up to a system like that?

  2. Theres a very fine line. If you give them 1 point for every 10 yards, then they pretty much going to be the best receivers on their team. If you give them 1 per 20 or 1 per 25, then they are getting 5 points per game tops and no one is going to care that much.

    I think the NFL might have actually fixed the problem for us by moving the kickoff line up. There are going to be far less returns and will definitely handicap the players that get all their points from the KRs.

    I'm still against it. I know that they gain yards for their team and thats all good. They are an absolute asset to the NFL. But they don't belong in fantasy. You don't need to have any football knowledge or predictive talent to know that a kick returner is going to get 80-100 yards per game and give your team that many points. Fantasy football is based on analyzing statistics and hunches and chance and luck. And by plugging in a KR, you are taking that aspect of the game away by knowing you will consistently have those points week in and week out.