Kickers to Target and Avoid in Fantasy Football in 2020

Jul 06, 2020
Kickers to Target and Avoid in Fantasy Football in 2020

The anti-kicker brigade on social media—funded by shadowy billionaires with heavy investments in the testosterone supplement industry—will smear the kicker position with accusations that kicker scoring is all luck. It’s pure chance, they bellow. Choosing a kicker is akin to a roll at the craps table.

There's no skill involved! You're a fraud! Log off! It gets ugly.

Well, they’re wrong. But like any position in fantasy football, luck—we’ll call it variance—certainly plays a factor in weekly and seasonal results.

Some tight ends and wide receivers score touchdowns at a totally unsustainable pace. Running backs too. Every season, a handful of quarterbacks will toss a bunch more touchdowns than the league average. Efficiency and variance don’t determine who we target in a given season, of course, but they should play a factor in how we value players at every position. Unless you just want to draft the best players. Probably that’s the best plan.

Last year, I identified a few kickers who had brutal luck with field goal attempts during the 2018 NFL season. Harrison Butker, for instance, tried 13.9 fewer field goals in 2018 than we’d expect based on Kansas City’s offensive yardage. He outperformed expectations in 2019, attempting 4.5 field goals over expectation. Butker—or Goatker, as the zoomers call him—finished as fantasy’s top kicker.

I also pointed to a couple of kickers who got insanely fortunate in 2018. One of those kickers—Ka’imi Fairbairn—kicked around eight more field goals over expectation on his way to becoming the highest-scoring kicker. Fairbairn fell to earth harder than Thomas Jerome Newton in 2019, attempting a not-nice 6.9 fewer field goals than expected. He was K19 in last season.

Let’s start with a look at kickers who were on the wrong side of variance in 2019—guys who could be overlooked simply because their team was unnaturally efficient in the red zone or the team wasn’t in position to try field goals late in ballgames. I didn't include teams whose real and expected field goal attempts were nearly identical.

Kickers That Performed Above Expectation in 2019 (Busts)

Team Yards/FG Attempt Actual FG Attempts Expected FG Attempts Difference
Denver Broncos 140.5 34 26.2 -7.8
Atlanta Falcons 151.8 40 33.5 -6.5
San Francisco 49ers 156.3 39 33.0 -6.0
Washington 146.5 30 24.2 -5.8
Pittsburgh Steelers 142.8 31 24.4 -5.6
Arizona Cardinals 156.2 35 30.2 -4.8
Kansas City Chiefs 160.4 38 33.5 -4.5
Jacksonville Jaguars 160.8 34 30.1 -3.9
New York Jets 156.0 28 24.1 -3.9
Indianapolis Colts 168.9 32 28.9 -3.1
New Orleans Saints 166.1 36 33.0 -3.0
New England Patriots 166.6 34 31.2 -2.8
Miami Dolphins 165.3 30 27.3 -2.7
Cincinnati Bengals 166.7 31 28.5 -2.5
Carolina Panthers 178.4 32 30.0 -2.0
Dallas Cowboys 172.6 40 38.1 -1.9
  • Atlanta’s real-expected field goal gap puts a bit of a damper on Younghoe Koo’s 2020 prospects. But not much, considering he’ll be available in the final rounds of every draft that doesn’t include a Koo friend or family member. Kickers attached to Matt Ryan-led offenses have a long and stories history of scoring a bunch of fantasy points. Koo is next.
  • The variance police are arresting Brandon McManus as I write this column. I take no pleasure in reporting this. McManus defied expectations on a mostly horrid Denver offense in 2019, making the most of his chances with lots of long field goals. The process demands we let some other fool take McManus in drafts this summer.
  • I wouldn’t read too much into the 49ers making the bad list. That team is a positive game script machine. It doesn’t hurt that they have an ultra-conservative head coach. While Robbie Gould’s attempts might dip a bit in 2020, there’s no reason to fade him in drafts.
  • I don’t see Chris Boswell—the Boz—as a fade because of last season’s real-expected field goal gap. With Ben Roethlisberger back, everything changes for the Steelers, including for their kicker.
  • Any bad team on the bad list should tickle our variance spidey senses. Washington, the Jets, and the Jaguars got supremely lucky while experiencing very little neutral or positive game script last season. You might make a case for the Colts and/or Dolphins providing decent opportunity for their respective kickers as both teams will (likely) have new quarterbacks to start the year.

Kickers That Performed Below Expectation in 2019 (Sleepers)

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