DFS Kicker Strategy: FanDuel 2015 Year in Review
When a casual fantasy football fan calls for the abolition of kickers on fantasy rosters, I get it.
But when an actual fantasy analyst wants kickers removed, I'm left scratching my head.
Firstly, contrary to popular belief, kickers aren't random or difficult to predict. In fact, they are the second-most consistent fantasy position, behind only quarterbacks.
Secondly, identifying the top kickers in a given week is as simple as looking at the Vegas lines and targeting kickers on teams that are favorites, have large spreads, and/or have high implied point totals.
DFS players that write off kicker production as random usually compound the problem by not putting as much thought into their kicker selections as they do at other positions, which provides players like you an I with an advantage. TJ Hernandez sums it up best: playing in leagues with kickers will give you an edge.
For an in-depth discussion on how to use Vegas lines to identify the best kickers each week, check out my article entitled DFS Playbook 2016: Kicker Strategy. This article will focus on kickers through the lens of pricing and value.
I compiled some data on the performance of kickers relative to their FanDuel salary in 2015 to see what we can learn going forward.
Salaries were broken down into $500 increments, then I calculated points scored per $1,000 of salary, percentage of time hitting cash game value, and percentage of time hitting tournament value. I also took a look at how each individual kicker performed.
I ended up with a sample of 502 kicker games from 2015 (essentially every game where a starting kicker had a FanDuel salary). The kicker data will be compared across salary ranges and across positions, which in this case is mainly to D/STs.
I will lay out the data below and follow it up with some key points, then I'll sum up the actionable takeaways at the end of the article.
Salary vs. Performance
|Salary||QB Avg||RB Avg||WR Avg||TE Avg||K Avg||D/ST Avg|
- Whereas you got the same ROI in terms of points per dollar for both kickers and D/STs under $5,000, kickers provided less ROI than D/STs at $5,000 and above. However, there is more to the story. As you'll see, whether you prioritize spending on kicker or D/ST can oftentimes come down to whether you're playing in a cash game or a tournament. Also, since there is not much difference between the salaries (or scoring) of the most and least expensive kickers, price sensitivity can take a backseat to simply using the Vegas lines to identify kickers in the best spots to produce and choosing the cheapest one.
Cash Game Value
The exact score you need to cash will vary on a weekly basis, but generally, if your lineup scores two points per $1,000, you'll reach 120 points, which is usually enough to place in a 50/50 league or win just over half of your head-to-heads.
|Salary||QB 2x %||RB 2x %||WR 2x %||TE 2x %||K 2x %||D/ST 2x %|
- When comparing kickers to D/STs, it's clear that expensive kickers were safer bets in cash games than expensive D/STs.
- Although expensive kickers provided a better ROI than expensive D/STs, it is often unecessary to pay up for an expensive option at kicker because you should be able to identify cheaper artbitrage options using the Vegas lines. In 2015, home favorites (1.60) and road favorites (1.53) scored more points per $1,000 than road underdogs (1.47) and home underdogs (1.44). Kickers with implied team totals of 24-26.75 (1.65) and 27+ (1.62) scored more points per $1,000 than kickers with implied team totals of 21-23.75 (1.52), 18-20.75 (1.43), and below 18 (1.30).
You're generally aiming to score at least 180 points to place highly in a tournament, and you'll likely need 200 or more points to win. If your lineup scores three points per $1,000, you'll have a score of 180, which is the value point I will use to examine tournament performance:
|Salary||QB 3x%||RB 3x%||WR 3x%||TE 3x%||K 3x%||D/ST 3x%|
- Kickers don't have as much upside as D/STs, which is why D/STs obliterated kickers in terms of percentage of time reaching three points per $1,000.
- Although expensive kickers don't hit 3x value as much as D/STs in the same price range, a case can be made to pay up at kicker in a GPP. In 2015's grand-prize-winning Sunday Million lineups, the average ownership for kicker was 3.8 percent. Since most of the field tends to shy away from paying up at kicker, the most expensive options tend to be lower owned than they should be. Whether you spend up or not, kicker is one of the best positions to gain differentiation from the field in tournaments.
In case you were curious, here is the breakdown by each salary amount:
|Salary||Avg. Val.||FD Pts/G||2x%||3x%||Games|
- The odds of hitting 2x value gradually increase as you go up from $4,500 to $4,800, indicating that there isn't anything inherently risky about a min-priced kicker.
Individual K Value
|Rk.||K||Avg. Val.||FD Pts/G||Avg. Sal.||2x%||3x%||G|
- Not surprisingly, we see kickers from the top offenses at the top of the list. Kicker value has a strong correlation with Vegas implied point totals, with anything 24 and above being ideal.
- A common myth is that you should target kickers on poor offenses who will stall in the red zone and thus kick more field goals. This isn't true. For one, teams with poor offenses usually end up trailing in games, and the average NFL team attempts roughly 25 percent fewer field goals when they are trailing than when they are leading or tied. And as I mentioned, Vegas implied point totals positively correlate with kicker scoring -- the teams projected to score more points score more touchdowns ... and more field goals.
In terms of pricing, the biggest takeaways are that you can almost always find a viable low-cost option at the position, but you can still leverage higher-priced options either as safe cash game luxuries or when taking a contrarian approach in tournaments.
Remember, kickers are relatively predictable, and analyzing the Vegas lines will tell you all you need to know.
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