Fantasy Football: Be the Last One to Take a Defense and Kicker

Nick Caron@@nicholascaronAnalyst IAugust 23, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 29:  Patrick Willis #52 of the San Francisco 49ers hits David Garrard #9 of the Jacksonville Jaguars at Candlestick Park on November 29, 2009 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It seems like everywhere you look, there is some fantasy football “expert” telling you not to draft a defense or a kicker until very late (usually your last two picks) in your fantasy draft. But most of them never explain why. That is about to change.

Today is your chance to better understand a theory that is echoed by so many of the top fantasy football minds and why your theory of “getting the best defense” or “getting the best kicker” is just an irrational fallacy.

Like just about everything with fantasy football, it’s about the numbers—and all of the numbers point in the direction of waiting to draft your defense and kicker. The first two are directly related to the average fantasy draft positions of defenses and kickers.

  1. The top defenses and kickers drafted rarely finish near the top at the end of the year.
  2. The top scoring defenses and kickers can be undrafted.

To illustrate these first two points, I have created a chart that breaks down the final season rankings of defenses and kickers from each of the previous three NFL seasons. Though I kept this to three seasons in order to more quickly prove my point, I encourage skeptics to look back further and see that this trend has remained relatively consistent in recent history.

In the tables, the top 10 defenses or kickers are listed in order of their final season rankings. Each player is also marked with a number in parentheses that shows the average position they were drafted in amongst players at their same position. For example:

7. 2007 Mason Crosby (UDFA)—This tells us that Packers Kicker Mason Crosby finished seventh among Kickers but was an Undrafted Free Agent in most fantasy leagues.

1San Francisco 49ers (UDFA)Baltimore Ravens (11)San Diego Chargers (4)
2New York Jets (8)Pittsburgh Steelers (7)New England Patriots (3)
3New Orleans Saints (UDFA)Philadelphia Eagles (12)Seattle Seahawks (14)
4Philadelphia Eagles (7)Tennessee Titans (UDFA)Chicago Bears (2)
5Baltimore Ravens (2)Tampa Bay Buccaneers (UDFA)Minnesota Vikings (12)
6Green Bay Packers (11)Chicago Bears (3)Indianapolis Colts (UDFA)
7Dallas Cowboys (13)New York Jets (UDFA)Green Bay Packers (16)
8Denver Broncos (UDFA)Minnesota Vikings (2)Tampa Bay Buccaneers (UDFA)
9Arizona Cardinals (UDFA)Indianapolis Colts (13)Dallas Cowboys (10)
10Minnesota Vikings (3)New York Giants (5)Tennessee Titans (UDFA)
1Nate Kaeding, SD (4)Stephen Gostkowski, NE (3)Mason Crosby, GB (UDFA)
2David Akers, PHI (9)David Akers, PHI (UDFA)Rob Bironas, TEN (UDFA)
3Ryan Longwell, MIN (7)John Carney, NYG (UDFA)Stephen Gostkowski, NE (7)
4Rob Bironas, TEN (2)John Kasay, CAR (UDFA)Nick Folk, DAL (UDFA)
5Jay Feely, NYJ (UDFA)Ryan Longwell, MIN (UDFA)Josh Brown, SEA (13)
6Stephen Gostkowski, NE (1)Rob Bironas, TEN (6)Jason Hanson, DET (14)
7Matt Prater, DEN (UDFA)Jason Elam, ATL (8)Shayne Graham, CIN (3)
8Lawrence Tynes, NYG (UDFA)Kris Brown, HOU (UDFA)Robbie Gould, CHI (5)
9Mason Crosby, GB (UDFA)Mason Crosby, GB (4)Kris Brown, HOU (UDFA)
10Jeff Reed, PIT (UDFA)Matt Bryant, TB (UDFA)Phil Dawson, CLE (UDFA)

As we can see in the above chart, there are many undrafted free agents and late picks who have finished in the top 10 both as kickers and as defenses. In fact, one-third of the defenses and over half of the kickers who finished in the top 10 were undrafted over the past three seasons.

Also pay particularly close attention to the lack of high picks who are finishing in the top 10 at their position. Only once has the top kicker selected finished in the top 10 at his position over the past three seasons, and that was Stephen Gostkowski in 2009, who finished sixth among kickers.

Even worse yet, there hasn’t been a single time in the past three seasons when the first defense taken has finished in the top 10 at its position.

Unlike other fantasy positions, where we generally have a good grasp on what will happen, we, the fantasy community, are not predicting kickers and defenses at a good pace. In fact, we’re predicting them at a staggeringly bad pace.

If someone is picking a kicker or a defense two or three rounds ahead of when everyone else does, they should be expecting to get a top performer.

It’s not like these defenses or kickers have some crazy injury that knocks them out of contention—it’s just a complete lack of consistency from either of the positions that makes predicting what will happen with them impossible.

We can’t spend our time trying to predict what will happen at these positions when as many as half of the top 10 players at the position are not even drafted.

It makes no sense to draft a player who you are not fairly certain will outscore a guy you can get at the very end of the draft. Reaching up to draft kickers and defenses before your final two picks is a pointless gamble that leads to nothing but missed opportunities.

By missed opportunities, I mean the guys you could be drafting instead of your kicker and defense who you are reaching up to draft.

Every year, there are players near the end of drafts who break out and are viable fantasy options at positions that actually matter—namely, any position other than defense or kicker. This is the final, most important reason why reaching for a defense or kicker is bad technique:

3. By selecting a defense or kicker too early, you’re passing up on potentially valuable players at other positions.

Not only are you taking an unnecessary gamble at a position that you have little or no idea about, you’re potentially missing out on a great player at another position. To prove this point, here are the highest drafted defenses and kickers from the past three seasons, followed by three players who could have been drafted instead:

2009 Top Drafted Defense: Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP 86)
Players You Could Have Drafted: Percy Harvin (ADP 90), Derrick Mason (ADP 94), Brett Favre (ADP 97)

2009 Top Drafted Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski (ADP 124)
Players You Could Have Drafted: Hakeem Nicks (ADP 126), Miles Austin (ADP 136), Steve Smith [NYG] (ADP 143)

2008 Top Drafted Defense: San Diego Chargers (ADP 90)
Players You Could Have Drafted: Vincent Jackson (ADP 102), Derrick Mason (ADP 106), Philip Rivers (ADP 115)

2008 Top Drafted Kicker: Adam Vinatieri (125)
Players You Could Have Drafted: Kurt Warner (ADP 129), Pierre Thomas (ADP 138), Steve Slaton (ADP 139)

2007 Top Drafted Defense: Baltimore Ravens (ADP 77)
Players You Could Have Drafted: Tony Romo (ADP 78), Santonio Holmes (ADP 90), Jason Witten (ADP 98)

2007 Top Drafted Kicker: Adam Vinatieri (ADP 122)
Players You Could Have Drafted: Derrick Mason (ADP 135), Wes Welker (ADP 143), Dallas Clark (ADP 146)

In the end, defenses and kickers are just too random of a position to be taking chances on. Statistically, you’re just as likely to get the No. 1 kicker or defense by selecting them with your last pick as you are if you’re the first person to take one.

You’re not “assuring yourself a top defense or kicker” by being the first sucker to pick one. In fact, if you are the first one, you might as well be holding a sign that says, “I’m going to be the first one to spin the pointless wheel of chance,” because history tells us that there is little to no rhyme or reason as to which defenses or kickers are actually going to perform.

Taking chances is a necessary and important part of fantasy football, but doing so on these two positions is a waste of time. Give yourself a chance at a breakout star at another position and leave your last two picks for your defense and kicker.


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