When it comes to drafting a kicker in fantasy football, it seems to be common knowledge that the best strategy is to wait until your final pick, then grab the best one available when your turn comes up.
This is indeed the best strategy, and everyone seems to agree. I find it amazing, however, that there is often a kicker or two drafted when there are five to eight rounds left in a draft. There seems to be an irresistible urge to grab that kicker who dominated the position the previous year.
I am here to convince you to resist that urge. There are too many factors which affect a kicker's opportunity to consistently stay at the top of fantasy rankings.
For example, when a kicker gets a higher proportion of field goal attempts relative to other kickers in the league, it usually means his fantasy production will be better. However, this can often mean his team is failing to convert touchdowns in the red zone.
Red zone efficiency then becomes a priority for the coaching staff in the offseason, which often leads to a reduction in field goal attempts the following season.
Therefore, I advise you to use these middle- to late-round picks and draft a player off your list of sleepers instead.
Below, I will list the top five fantasy kickers since 2004. The parentheses following the name indicates the kicker's fantasy ranking the following year.
The scoring system is as follows: extra point = one point, FG 18-39 yards = three points, FG 40-49 yards = four points, FG 50 + yards = six points.
1. A. Vinatieri 147 pts (22)
2. J. Elam 129 pts (11)
3. J. Reed 124 pts (12)
4. S. Graham 122 pts (3)
5. D. Akers 120 pts (30) (injured four games in 2005)
(12th ranked kicker scored 105 points)
1. N. Rackers 174 pts (7)
2. J. Feeley 168 pts (19)
3. S. Graham 138 pts (13)
4. J. Kasay 138 pts (14)
5. J. Wilkens 138 pts (2)
(12th ranked kicker scored 124 points)
1. R. Gould 158 pts (7)
2. J. Wilkens 152 pts (23)
3. N. Kaeding 145 pts (10)
4. J. Hanson 133 pts (6)
5. J. Scobee 133 pts (33) (injured eight games in 2007)
(12th ranked kicker scored 122 points)
1. M. Crosby 159 pts (12)
2. R. Bironas 152 pts (7)
3. J. Brown 146 pts (13)
4. N. Folk 142 pts (24)
5. S. Gostowski 140 pts (3)
(12th ranked kicker scored 127 pts)
1. D. Akers 193 pts
2. J. Carney 162 pts
3. S. Gostowski 159 pts
4. N. Rackers 158 pts
5. J. Reed 152 pts
(12th ranked kicker scored 142 points)
There are three points I would like to illustrate.
First, notice the top kicker from each season. None of these kickers were able to break the top five the following season. Neil Rackers and Robbie Gould each made it to the seventh ranking the following year. Not bad, but if you spent a relatively early pick on one of them, it would have been a big disappointment.
Adam Vinatieri went from the best fantasy kicker in 2004 to 22nd in 2005. A definite bust if you drafted him early. Mason Crosby went from No. 1 in 2007 to 12th in 2008, making him the last starting kicker worth using in a 12-team league.
Second, only three kickers cracked the top five two years in a row and no one has done it three years in a row. Steven Gostowski has done it in 2007 and 2008 while Jeff Wilkens made the top five in 2005 and 2006, yet in 2007 only managed to finish 23rd overall.
Shayne Graham made the list in 2004 and 2005, yet in 2006 ranked 13th overall. Rackers and Jeff Reed are the only other kickers that have made the Top Five ranking twice.
This means that over the past five years, only five kickers have been ranked in the Top Five twice, and no one has done it more than twice.
Third, the 12th-ranked kicker is usually only a fraction of a point per week difference than the fifth-ranked kicker. The top two kickers every year are about a one point difference per week than the fifth-ranked kicker.
Certainly, having Rackers in 2005, Gould in 2006, or Crosby in 2007 would have been a great asset for your fantasy team. The problem is that it is too hard to predict who will be the top kicker from year to year.
As a matter of fact, Gould and Crosby were waiver wire pickups for probably 99 percent of those who owned them. Rackers was never a popular pick prior to 2005 either.
I will conclude with a brief story about a draft I participated in last fall. The first kicker off the board was Nick Folk, drafted in the 12th round of a 20-round draft.
After the usual laughing, insulting, and heckling that follows when the first kicker is drafted, the person who drafted Folk stood up and yelled "Folk is the best kicker, man, and he plays for Dallas! He could be the best kicker ever! I would rather have the best kicker than throw darts and try to pick from a bunch of scrubs."
By Week Seven, this guy was starting Bironas as his kicker for the rest of the year, whom he had drafted in the 20th round to serve as a backup.
Some of those "scrubs" he passed up on? How about Eddie Royal, Pierre Thomas, Warrick Dunn, Darren Sproles, Joe Flacco, Kevin Walter, and Justin Gage? Not to mention several top defenses such as the Titans, Panthers, Ravens, and Packers, who all got drafted over the next several picks.
It's a classic case of why a kicker shouldn't be taken too early.