Debunking the Randomness of Kickers in Fantasy Football

May 10, 2021
Debunking the Randomness of Kickers in Fantasy Football

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.

At the core of the notion to get rid of kickers is the myth that their output is totally random and unpredictable. Sure, there are some who got blasted by a 25-point performance from Stephen Gostkowski in Week 3 last year or rode Tyler Bass' 20-point leg to victory in Week 6. 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.

Trends to Look for in Seasonal Kickers

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.

What Happens in Vegas

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 implied team totals. The more points a team puts on the board, the more their kicker scores.

As you can see from the past two seasons, the correlation between higher implied 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 implied total was 27 or higher was more than double the amount of when their predicted score was 26 or less.

For the Anti-Streaming Crowd

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.

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, 2020
ADP Player Half-PPR FP/Game Positional Rank
12.04 Justin Herbert 20.8 QB11
12.04 Dallas Goedert 8.5 TE10
12.06 Jonnu Smith 8.0 TE12
13.08 Brandon Aiyuk 12.9 WR17
16.04 Chase Claypool 11.5 WR29
16.04 Corey Davis 11.4 WR30
17.11 James Robinson 16.1 RB7
21.6 Mike Davis 11.8 RB24
23.12 Logan Thomas 8.8 TE9
N/A Robert Tonyan 9.4 TE5
N/A Miles Gaskin 14.4 RB11

A look at players drafted in Rounds 12 - undrafted in 12-team redraft leagues on MFL 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.

Finding the Perfect Best-Ball Kicker

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.

As Always, Chase Volume

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 and Team Passing Volume, 2020
Player Positional Finish Offense Rank in Passing Yards Total Passing Yards
Younghoe Koo K1 5th 4,363
Jason Sanders K2 20th 3,736
Daniel Carlson K3 7th 4,217
Tyler Bass K4 3rd 4,620
Rodrigo Blankenship K5 11th 4,053
Greg Zuerlein K6 8th 4,161
Ryan Succop K7 2nd 4,626
Justin Tucker K8 32nd 2,739
Harrison Butker K9 1st 4,854
Cairos Santos K10 22nd 3,655

If we look at last year’s top 10 legs, six of them came from offenses among the top 10 in total passing yards, with a few landing outside.

Look to the Third Down

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 2019, two of the top three kickers were among the top three offenses in the NFL in third-down efficiency. The Chiefs led the league at 47.6% on third downs, which allowed Harrison Butker to kick his way to the most fantasy points, while Baltimore ended second with 47.1% efficiency on the third down, earning Justin Tucker the K3 spot overall. Sandwiched between them was Wil Lutz, whose offense was a respectable 10th in this category with a 42.2% third-down efficiency.

Last year, 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.

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.

Patience Pays Off

Just like in redraft or seasonal leagues, waiting to draft your kicker in best-ball formats is advantageous to get the most points possible throughout the season.

Based on data from FFPC leagues from 2019, only 25% of winning teams drafted their first kicker by the 16th round, while 75% of them waited until Round 19 to grab their first one. It was also found that the highest percentage of winning teams went with two kickers on their roster as opposed to just one or drafting three.

In 2020, only 22% of winning teams drafted their first kicker by the 16th round, while that number jumped to 65.7% between Rounds 18 and 19 combined. One change from 2019 to 2020 was that builds featuring three kickers dominated win rates, as only one type of roster among the 12 highest scoring builds boasted just two kickers, with 11-of-12 constructed using a trio of placekickers.

The Bottom Line

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 be 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’s 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.

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