A fantasy football team can win a championship without a great kicker, but it certainly does not hurt to have one.
Kickers are the low men on the fantasy totem pole. They trail quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and even defenses and/or individual defensive players. They are normally drafted in late rounds, if not final rounds. And they are never considered the main reason a fantasy team wins a title, unless it is because a kicker makes six field goals during a league’s Super Bowl week.
I do not subscribe to the pick-kickers-last theory. I think you can select a premier kicker a round or two earlier and this way have a slight leg up (pun intended) on other fantasy squads.
While it is difficult to predict on a game-by-game basis which kickers will be afforded the most scoring opportunities, it is not as hard to figure out over a full season which ones will be the most accurate and which will post the most points.
Here are three of the top kickers in fantasy football, how their 2012 values will be different from their 2011 values and what you can expect out of each of them this upcoming season.
David Akers, 49ers
Akers had one of the most amazing seasons for a kicker of all time last year, if not the most amazing. He kicked 44 field goals, 11 more than the next closest kicker and the most in a single season in the history of the NFL.
And Akers obliterated the field of field-goal kickers not only in 2011 but over the last decade.
The only other kicker who successfully connected on 40 FG in a season over the past 10 years was Neil Rackers, and that was back in 2005, when Gus Frerotte had fantasy value and Maroon 5's music was just beginning to irritate listeners.
San Francisco’s offense was perfect for Akers: good enough to get into field-goal range but bad enough not to score touchdowns.
And sometimes it almost seemed as though Alex Smith and company were on Akers’ payroll. The 49ers' stellar, staunch defense would create a turnover and hand the offense the ball on the opponent’s 20-yard line, and three plays later Akers was lining up for a field goal.
But unfortunately for Akers and any fantasy owners who actually might have considered holding onto him in keeper leagues, the 49ers upgraded their offense this offseason. Because San Francisco added running back LaMichael James in the draft and signed free-agent wide receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, Akers will probably be lining up for more extra points and fewer field goals in 2012.
Akers kicked field goals last year as often as Tosh.0 was repeated by Comedy Central. There is no way he is going to be afforded three-plus field-goal chances per game for the second season in a row.
Akers will still be a top-10 fantasy kicker, but he won't be a No. 1.
Alex Henery, Philadelphia Eagles
Henery is remembered by the casual football fan or the hardcore compulsive gambler as the guy who shanked two makeable field-goal attempts against San Francisco early in the season when Philadelphia was in a tailspin Danica Patrick would have been proud of.
But Henery rebounded from that disaster, successfully connected on 16 straight field-goal attempts over Philly’s final 11 games and did not miss any of his 46 extra-point attempts. His 88.9 FG percentage not only set the single-season Eagles record but also made him the most accurate rookie kicker in NFL history.
Heading into the 2012 campaign, Henery has to be considered one of the top kickers to draft, but his fantasy worth hinges on Michael Vick’s health. If Vick stays injury free, which we have seen this preseason is almost impossible for him, then Henery will be given more scoring opportunities.
But if Vick gets injured again and the Eagles offense is grounded by poor backup quarterback play, Henery might have a couple weak weekly point totals.
There are a few things that are impossible to make any better, such as Devin Hester’s punt returns, Warren Sapp’s interviews and Jessica Alba’s looks.
But somehow the New England Patriots offense appears to have gotten better.
With the additions of Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney, two veterans receivers who each topped the 900-yard mark last year, and by going with the young and speedy Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen at tailback, Tom Brady’s brood is primed to score more points than ever.
This increased firepower can only lead to more extra points and field goals for Gostkowski, one of the most reliable and productive fantasy kickers since 2006. He has scored 125 points or more in four of the past six seasons and scored 143 in 2011 thanks to 28 FG and 59 XP.
With Brady having two more weapons to throw to and with fresher, more dynamic legs running the ball in the backfield, the Patriots should be in their opponents’ territories more often than Ryan Lochte is in swimming pools.
That means the Patriots are setting up Gostkowski to top the 140-point plateau for the third time in his career.
All he has to do is make 80 percent of his field-goal chances, as he usually does, and he will be a top-five fantasy kicker, if not the best of the best.