Debunking the Randomness of Kickers in Fantasy Football

May 04, 2022
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 21-point performance from Graham Gano in Week 2 last year or rode Evan McPherson's 20-point leg to victory in Week 11. 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 three 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, 2021
ADP Player Half-PPR FP/Game Positional Rank
13.3 Hunter Henry 8.2 TE12
15.8 Rashaad Penny 11.9 RB23
15.9 Christian Kirk 9.9 WR35
15.12 Amon-Ra St. Brown 10.7 WR30
18.02 Dawson Knox 9.3 TE8
18.09 Hunter Renfrow 12.2 WR19
19.01 Elijah Mitchell 14.1 RB12
19.03 Dalton Schultz 10.0 TE5
20.7 Cordarrelle Patterson 13.0 RB19

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, 2021
Player Positional Finish Offense Rank in Passing Yards Total Passing Yards
Daniel Carlson K1 6th 4,567
Nick Folk K2 14th 3,857
Matt Gay K3 5th 4,642
Chris Boswell K4 15th 3,778
Matt Prater K5 10th 4,276
Greg Joseph K6 11th 4,238
Justin Tucker K7 13th 3,961
Evan McPherson K8 7th 4,403
Jake Elliott K9 25th 3,404
Tyler Bass K10 9th 4,284
Harrison Butker K11 4th 4,791
Greg Zuerlein K12 2nd 4,800
Ryan Succop K13 1st 5,229
Mason Crosby K14 8th 4,315

If we look at last year’s top 14 legs, nine of them came from offenses among the top 10 in total passing yards, with a handful 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?

Back 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.

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.

Last season 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.

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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