Fantasy Football: No, kickers are not random

NFL

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Brandon Aubrey #17 of the Dallas Cowboys
Brandon Aubrey was one of the best kickers in fantasy football last season. (Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images)

The war against kickers has reached a fever pitch in recent years, and I am not here for it. 4for4 has always been a safe space for those who play in leagues with kicker spots, a haven, if you will, for fantasy managers to appreciate how the position has the potential to be a difference-maker in their collective seasons.

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At the core of the notion of getting rid of kickers is the myth that their output is totally random and unpredictable. Sure, there are some who got blasted by a 21-point performance from Dustin Hopkins in Week 7 last year or rode Blake Grupe’s 17-point leg to victory in Week 12. When those weeks happen, it’s easy to blame it all on the “randomness” of the kicker spot, but very few take the time to research and see that it may not be so capricious at all.

This piece will break down the best way to tackle the kicker position divided by fantasy formats. FFPC still has the stones to use kickers in their best-ball leagues, and of course, there are plenty of redraft and seasonal leagues out there that are pro-kicker.

First and foremost, streaming is your best bet in redraft leagues, so the kicker that you click on or walk that sticker up to the board for, is of very little significance other than your possible Week 1 guy.

We don’t look to predict individual kicker components like field goal attempts, extra-point tries, or kick distances, as that would be somewhat futile. Instead, we turn to Las Vegas for kicker love in the form of team totals. The more points a team puts on the board, the more their kicker scores.

Kicker fantasy points per game vs. Team Total 2020-2023. (Chart by 4for4.com)
Kicker fantasy points per game vs. Team Total 2020-2023. (Chart by 4for4.com)

As you can see from the past four seasons, the correlation between higher team totals and larger kicker output is solid. As I dug even deeper into this data, I found that the number of times a kicker scored 10+ fantasy points when their team’s total was 27 or higher was more than double the amount when their predicted score was 26 or less.

If you’re not into streaming your kicker and prefer just rolling with one throughout the season, here are a few pointers to up your odds of getting the most production out of them.

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First and foremost, wait to draft your kicker until the final round of the draft. With every pick in a fantasy football draft, there is an opportunity cost associated with that pick. In fantasy terms, opportunity cost is simply the value of players that you don’t draft, but you had the chance to take. Selecting a kicker before the last round, whether you are in a 16, 18- or more-round draft, has a potentially large opportunity cost attached to it.

Notable ADP Values in Rounds 12-24, 2023. (Chart by 4for4.com)
Notable ADP Values in Rounds 12-24, 2023. (Chart by 4for4.com)

A look at players drafted in Rounds 12 – 24 in redraft leagues via FantasyPros last season reveals a decent group of positional players who produced starting numbers and even a few potential league winners. Drafting a kicker before their time could mean missing out on those points throughout the season, so as hard as it may be — and whatever FOMO you may be experiencing — tap the brakes on that kicker before the final round.

Most of this information can also be used for those of you who play in redraft or seasonal leagues and do not want to stream from week to week. However, in best-ball formats, there is no roster manipulation after the draft, so this advice will live here in this section.

Looking for volume is nothing new when it comes to fantasy football, and applying it to kicker selection can also prove effective. High-volume passing offenses lead to scoring opportunities, which is something we want from the leg of our placekickers. Teams that aren’t afraid to chuck the ball tend to produce higher-scoring kickers.

Kicker Finishes in Fantasy Points Per Game and Team Passing Volume, 2023. (Chart by 4for4.com)
Kicker Finishes in Fantasy Points Per Game and Team Passing Volume, 2023. (Chart by 4for4.com)

If we look at last year’s top 14 legs, nine of them came from offenses among the top half of the league in total passing yards, with a handful landing outside.

Another stat that can lend us some credence in drafting a kicker to roll with for the season in best-ball leagues is third-down percentage. The farther down the field a drive is extended means there’s more of a chance for scoring, right?

In 2020, three of the seven highest-scoring fantasy kickers were from the offenses in the top eight in third-down efficiency. The Falcons were third in the league in third-down efficiency at 43.9%, which led to a K1 performance from Younghoe Koo, while Tampa Bay and Dallas ended fourth and eighth with 43.5% and 40.5% respectively, earning Ryan Succop K7 and Greg Zuerlein K6 spots in total fantasy points.

The next year, in 2021, we saw three of the top five kickers from offenses within the top eight in third-down efficiency, with six more rounding out the 14 highest-scoring kickers in 2021. The Patriots were seventh in the metric (44.0%), leading to a K2 performance from Folk, with Gay of the Rams putting up K3 numbers with a sixth-highest third-down efficiency number of 44.7% from his offense. Matt Prater was K5 on the season, with the Cardinals’ 43.5% third-down efficiency ranking eighth in the league. Kickers 9-14 were all on offenses that landed in the top 10 in third-down efficiency in 2021, with the Eagles (4th), Bills (2nd), Butker (1st), Zuerlein (10th), Succop (5th) and Crosby (9th) all on productive offenses.

In 2022, four of the top seven kickers in total fantasy points were on offenses that finished the year within the top nine in third-down efficiency, with two more on teams among the top 16 in that metric. The Cowboys ranked fifth (45.2%), producing a K4 performance from Brett Maher, with the 49ers right behind (45.1%) in sixth, with a K4 finish from Robbie Gould. The high-octane Buffalo Bills featured the highest third-down conversion rate in 2023 (50.2%), with Tyler Bass putting up a K6 finish in overall fantasy points. Despite their offensive woes, the Falcons managed to convert third downs at the ninth-highest rate (41.8%), allowing Younghoe Koo to do his thing as K7 on the season.

Last season, four of the top six kickers in total fantasy points were part of offenses that ended the 2023 season among the top 10 in third-down efficiency. The Cowboys were second in the metric at 49.2%, producing a K1 output from Brandon Aubrey, with Chicago’s Cairo Santos putting up a K3 performance on the season backed by the Bears’ 41.2% third-down conversion rate (10th). Jake Elliott and Harrison Butker checked in at K4 and K6, with their teams converting third downs at the fifth (46.2%) and sixth (43.3%) highest rates, respectively.

We do need to remember that the very best offenses should be converting third downs to find that end zone, so sometimes you’ll only get one point instead of three or more.

  • Kicker hate is at an all-time high, and before you let those carpet cleaners in your house and join the cult, you may want to consider how helpful they can be to your team’s overall output.

  • Sure, we’ve all been burned by the kicker position in the past, and on the surface, it all seems super random, but by putting in some time and effort, kicker production from week to week may not be as arbitrary as it appears.

  • Looking at Vegas odds, teams’ offensive efficiency and volume can also assist you in getting the most from your kicker regardless of fantasy format.

  • Let your league mates draft their kicker(s) way too early, while you sit back armed with some actionable data to steer you towards the right one.

More analysis from 4for4: June ADP risers and fallers

This article was originally published on 4for4.com

A proud alumna of the UGA Grady College of Journalism, Jennifer Eakins has been working in the sports industry for well over a decade. She has had stints with CNN Sports, the Atlanta Hawks and the Colorado Rockies. Her first fantasy football draft took place in 1996 where she selected Ricky Watters with the first overall pick, and she has been a fantasy degenerate ever since.

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