Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fantasy Football Strategy: How to Select Your Kicker

Nobody is perfect. But, I mean, let’s face it, I’m pretty goddamn close. However a few comments have found a flaw from last week and that would be my Kicker rankings. In fact, for nearly every single fantasy football blog or advice site you go to, you will see that this is the weak point. I don’t want to say that it is impossible, but really, there is so much inconsistency that luck plays about 90% of the role.
Why is it so damn hard to predict? In 2010, nine kickers averaged 8+ fantasy points per game. Only one player on that list also had 8+ points in 2009, David Akers. Also the difference between the fifth highest scoring kicker from 2010 and the fifteenth highest scorer was a mere 1 fantasy point per game. Just one.
But, this is an advice site. So I will advise. Though there has never been, and likely never will be an accurate system for picking kicker performance, I’ve been trying to find any sort of formula to accurately predict kickers. Below are a few strategies that might be worth your while. Best of luck to you.

1) Playing the Kicker on the Highest Powered Offense
As previously stated, nine kickers averaged over eight fantasy points per game last season. Sebastian Janikowski, David Akers, Josh Brown, Adam Vinatieri, Matt Bryant, Neil Rackers, Dan Carpenter, Nick Folk and David Buelher. Just to round this out and have an even number, Mason Crosby would be the 10th highest scorer.
Of these 10 kickers, seven* of them were on one of the 2010's top 10 highest scoring offenses. So, if you are going strictly by top scoring team, you can see that you stand roughly a 70% chance of having a highly rated kicker.
*The kickers from the Patriots (highest scoring team) and Giants (8th highest scoring) would probably have made the top 10 kickers if their seasons were not shortened by injury.
These are statistics from the 2010 season, so predicting the highest scoring offenses in 2011 is where this strategy gets tricky. It is possible to single out the powerhouses though, and choosing their kicker to be your starter is the strategy that I have always gone by.
Using this strategy, it is safe to assume that kickers like Gostkowski (Patriots), Crosby (Packers), Henery (Eagles), Bryant (Falcons), Janikowski (Raiders), and Rackers (Texans) would be among the top 2011 performers when all is said and done.
In Week 1 of the NFL, 5 of the top scoring fantasy kickers were on the top 10 scoring teams.

2) Kicker Based on Matchup
This is wild, and I have never tried it or really heard anyone who has tried it, but it could be worth a shot. We all factor in the opponent for every other position. If your running back is going up against a team that is fantastic stopping the run, you might think twice about using him. I have used the Shuffling Defense Strategy for years, playing a different defense every week based solely on the offense that they are up against. So, will this work for kickers?
Here is a list of the 2010 defenses that allowed the most field goals (extra points do not come into play):
1.     Arizona Cardinals (40)
2.     Tennessee Titans (39)
3.     St. Louis Rams (35)
4.     Indianapolis Colts (31)
5.     Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos (29)
6.     Cincinnati Bengals, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins (28)

We can see that this list isn't exactly the best defenses. In sorting by points per game allowed, 6 of the 11 teams made the list. Sorting by yards per game, 5 of the 11 made the list. So, while they are not the best defenses in the league, they are also not the worst. Predicting the defenses that will let teams march down the field, but hold them out of the endzone is a bit dicey.

It is also likely not a good idea to run off of the previous season's numbers. Of the 11 teams listed above that gave up the most field goals in 2010, only four of them made the top 10 in 2009.

Just for fun though, lets compare last year's results with the outcome of Week 1 this season. Only three of the top performing kickers of Week 1 (Janikowski, Scobee and Rackers) played against these teams. So much for that strategy.

3) Basing Your Predictions Solely on the Kicker

We previous listed the top fantasy point producing kickers of 2010, so you dont have to scroll back up, here they are again: Sebastian Janikowski, David Akers, Josh Brown, Adam Vinatieri, Matt Bryant, Neil Rackers, Dan Carpenter, Nick Folk, David Buelher and Mason Crosby.

So, here's a novel fantasy kicker strategy, why not base it on the kicker's 2010 performance. Seems like a no-brainer because that is what we do with every other position, right? Not so much.

Of the top 10 scoring kickers from last season, only three made the top 10 performers of Week 1. David Buelher isn't even the Cowboys' kicker any more. And as stated at the beginning of the article, only one of the top performing kickers from 2009 repeated as a top performer from 2011.

In conclusion, of the three strategies listed above, playing the kicker of the highest scoring offense seems to be the way to go. In Week 1 of the 2011 season, this paid off 50% of the time. And in 2010, 70% of the highest scoring kickers played for the highest scoring teams. Compare that data to the 30% success rate of the two other strategies.

And really, since the margin separating 2010's highest scoring kicker from the 17th highest scoring kicker was only 39 points, I am happy to accept that no strategy might be the best strategy.

If you have run across a better formula for finding your starting kicker, by all means, please post it in the comments. But for now, I will be running with the strategy that I have since my very first fantasy football team: The best offense often provides the best kicker.


  1. GHL thanks for the additional insight.. Looks like the kicker may just have to be a crapshoot from week to week.. but I'm going to follow your matchup strategy and see if it has any merit after a larger sample size of games have been played to compare to.. I'll stick with Crosby in the one league (some idiot dropped his 7th pick because he only got 6 pts.) and Akers in the other. To me it seems that these two will have a story to tell for this column.


  2. Both play for high powered offenses, so go with it. Look again at them and the FA kickers after Week 5 or 6. But I dont imagine that you'll have a problem with Akers or Crosby

  3. What about indoors/outdoors? Kickers who a) play home games in a dome and b) have a high proportion of away games in domes surely have a better chance of making more kicks?

    I'll leave it to you to do the numbers, in the meantime I'll let you know that I picked Hanson of the Lions for that very reason... just the 14 points last night!

  4. Thanks for looking into this man - looks like I'll just be going with my gut on this.

  5. Gostkowski, Crosby, Gould, Akers, Folk. All played home games last year in the North. I agree that I rarely play Ks on very cold days, but as all of them are very high on the list of fantasy points last year, I ruled out weather as a major factor in picking a kicker.

    Of course if you know that a game is going to be rain-soaked, or extremely cold, it is a generally good idea to find someone else. Thanks for bringing it up.