Fantasy Football Preview 2013: Kicker Sleepers, Busts and Breakouts
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
You have fully caught on to how to pick your kicker in fantasy football: last. There just isn't enough of a difference between the No. 1 performer and the eighth, 10th or 12th best.
But once you get to the last couple of rounds, who do you go with? In this kicker preview, we give you a road map.
Every kicker is a sleeper in fantasy terms, but some are more intriguing than others:
No. 1: Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
He is consistent and accurate from year to year, and he benefits from all those Tom Brady-led drives. With the receiving corps decimated, there figures to be more stalls in the red zone, too—at least until Rob Gronkowski (back) returns in mid-September or later.
Late bye week: Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks
You don't want to have to swap your kicker out in the first couple of months, so pick a kicker with one of the late bye weeks.
Gostkowski has a Week 10 bye. If you miss out on him, Hauschka kicks for an equally potent contender and has his bye in Week 12. Dan Bailey (Week 11), Greg Zuerlein (Week 11), Mike Nugent (Week 12) and Alex Henery (Week 12) are fallback options.
Potent offense: Matt Prater, Denver Broncos
Kicking opportunities are always greater for teams that can move the ball. Even if their offenses score a high rate of touchdowns in the red zone, you will get more points going with a kicker from a productive team.
Prater, Matt Bryant (Falcons) and Garrett Hartley (Saints) are the best picks in this category. Basically, pick the respective kicker of one of the first five quarterbacks off the board in your drafts.
Big leg: Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson wasn't the only big-legged fantasy star on the Vikings a year ago. Walsh was an NFL-record 10-for-10 on field goals from 50-plus yards as a rookie. He added seven more makes from 40 to 49 yards. Unlike most of those above him on cheat sheets, he kicks on turf for over half his games, too.
Zuerlein, Phil Dawson (see breakouts below) and Justin Tucker are others who hold more value in leagues that reward bonus points for longer kicks.
There really is no such thing as a bust of a late-round pick, especially at kicker, since you can just swap him out without being challenged on the waiver wire. But here are some kickers who won't be drafted on any of this writer's teams:
Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders
Janikowski has been a trendy name among kickers for years, perhaps because he looks more like a fantasy football owner than an NFL player. He has a great leg and could win a kicking contest against anyone under controlled conditions.
However, this Raiders team is scary bad, and that bodes poorly for Janikowski's fantasy prospects. Heck, he could get shut out some games this year because the offense looks so putrid.
Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
We love the Packers' offensive firepower, but Crosby is on a short leash after missing a league-high 12 field goals a year ago. Granted, seven of those misses came from 50-plus yards, but a bad start could get Crosby sent to the street. The Packers are a top contender that cannot afford blowing games because of a headcase kicker.
Last season was a huge one for breakthroughs at the position, namely for Walsh, Tucker and Zuerlein. All three rookies posted solid fantasy numbers right away. We buried the lede in this preview, because the kicker you are going to get the most out of in fantasy resides here:
Phil Dawson, San Francisco 49ers
If they are all on the board, who do you pick as your kicker?
Speaking of burying things, Dawson has been buried in fantasy obscurity in Cleveland, but his is one of the most accurate and powerful legs in the game.
The 49ers' potent running game generates a lot of field-goal attempts, so consider him headed for a career year. He is a pretty good bet to be the No. 1-scoring kicker in football this season.
Randy Bullock, Houston Texans
Quality running teams move the ball into the red zone with regularity, so it generates plenty of scoring opportunities. If you couple that with a passing game that doesn't produce a lot of touchdowns through the air, you can imagine a lot of stalled drives in field-goal range.
The Texans are like the 49ers in terms of ample attempts, so Bullock can emerge as top-10 fantasy option in his first full year.
Caleb Sturgis, Miami Dolphins
The first kicker picked in this past April's draft beat out Dan Carpenter and has the kind of leg that will make him a perennial fantasy option. You cannot be too sure of the Dolphins offense at this point, though, so consider Sturgis more of a bye-week replacement than a sure-fire fantasy starter initially.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.
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