Drafting for Success- Kickers and Defenses

I’m back with the fifth and final installment of Drafting for success. This time we’ll discuss the unpredictable and often overlooked last two starting spots on your fantasy team- kickers and defenses/special teams (DST).

You can read my previous articles on running backs, quarterbackswide receivers and tight ends on this blog.

It’s one of the fantasy football ten commandments that you shouldn’t draft either of these two positions early and that even goes for NFL kickers who play fantasy football! But here at Drafting for success we’re not put off by standard thinking. Today we’re going to dig a little deeper and see if we can spot any trends or nuggets of information that might give us a fantasy advantage.

We’ll start with kickers who despite their lowly status regularly score in excess of 90 points in a 13 week season- the equivalent of a RB3/4 score. This would appear to make kicker an important selection for a fantasy owner. The common wisdom for this position is to select a player on a winning team and even better a winning team with a top offense.

A closer look at the top 12 kickers last year generally agrees with that assumption. However, the presence of Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter and Houston’s Randy Bullock last year; Justin Tucker, Dan Carpenter (again), Jay Feely and Nick Folk in 2013; and Jason Hanson, Sebastian Janikowski and Phil Dawson in 2012 all point to a slightly different set of  attributes that may be determining the scoring leaders.

New Orleans are actually one of the important cases in showing why a top offense isn’t always a good home for a kicker. Over the last 3 years their offense has ranked 9th, 10th and 3rd in total offense, 10th, 11th and 3rd in scoring and 12th, 3rd and 10th in % of scoring drives, but their kickers have ranked just 12th, 19th and 17th. On the other side of the coin we have Dan Carpenter who’s part of an offence that’s ranked 25th, 19th and 19th over the last 3 years, but he’s still managed to break the top ten.

What the Saints kicker have to their advantage is being part of a great offense, but with a highly efficient red zone offense comes less opportunity. Saints kickers have had some of the lowest number of FG attempts in the league in the last 3 years (let’s call it the Jimmy Graham effect). Add to that a below average kicking accuracy and you have a recipe for a below average kicking unit. Conversely we have Dan Carpenter who suffers on a poor offense, but his skill and their reliance on that ability mean he sees a lot of work and makes it count.

What we have in effect here is a combination of 3 attributes that affect our kickers success. Finding a kicker who can answer at least 2 of those attributes ‘should’ guarantee you at least a top 12 finish.

  • Great offense
  • Accurate kicker
  • Large number of opportunities

One name does stand out over the last 3 years- Stephen Gostkowski has been the top fantasy football kicker from 2012-2014 and combines a rare blend of accurate kicking, great offense and large number of opportunities.

Therefore does it make sense to pick Gostkowski in round 9 before everyone else and take the positional point advantage?

It would be an option, but the difference in points per game is usually under 3pts and falls to just 2 points per game between the no1 and no12 ranked kickers. Therefore the difference between the no1 kicker and the no12 isn’t worth sacrificing the equivalent no20-30 WR or RB or no12 TE.

A further disadvantage with the kicker position is the large variance in weekly scoring. As I’ve spoken about in the previous Drafting for Success articles, success isn’t measured in total points a player scores rather your success at selecting players who score consistently or above average due to good match-ups.

The table below shows the consistency of each of the top 31 kickers in the league. Blue indicates a game better than 12.1 pts. Green is a game between 12.1 and 9.8 pts. Light green is a game between 9.8 and 8.7 pts. Gold is a game between 8.7 and 6.5 pts. Pink is a game below 6.5 points but better than 3.1 points. Games in red are where the kicker scored less than 3.1 points or missed that particular game (byes not included).

Kicker Scoring Consistency

kickerconsist

What the chart shows  is the highly inconsistent nature of kickers with even the best having a few stinkers. What is also frustrating for a coach is that a kicker having a good game relies on his offense being good….but not too good. What you need is consistent offensive production with poor red zone efficiency and that’s a little too deep for this article and really anyone to predict with any accuracy.

Another problem we have is beyond the top 5 or 6 guys things get really inconsistent and that leads us to the common thread throughout these articles. It’s not the total score your looking for its picking the weekly match-ups which bring you success. Which brings us to our conclusion on kickers, yes there are players you can rely on, but they’re not worth drafting high as the inconsistency of the position and the availability of replacements will likely burn any owner picking one before the 11th round

That then brings to the second part of our article. Where kickers are in equal part frustrating and unpredictable at least they produce points. Defense/Special Teams on the other hand are probably the least consistent position in fantasy football not just on a season by season basis, but play by play.

There’s a great quote from the advanced stats site Football Outsiders of which we should take heed-

Offense is more consistent from year to year than defense, and offensive performance is easier to project than defensive performance. Special teams are less consistent than either.

This is one of the main reasons why they’re drafted in the last round. Trying to find a DST that maintains consistency from week to week is hard enough never mind from year to year. If we just look at the top 10 fantasy DST’s from 2011-2014 an average of 50% of those in each year return to the top 10 in a subsequent year.

Top 10 Fantasy Defense/Special teams 2011-2014

2014 2013 2012 2011
Eagles Chiefs Bears 49ers
Bills Seahawks Broncos Bears
Texans Panthers Seahawks Ravens
Dolphins Bengals Patriots Lions
Cardinals Cardinals Bengals Jets
Rams 49ers Chargers Packers
Packers Rams 49ers Seahawks
Patriots Bills Texans Eagles
Vikings Patriots Rams Patriots
Colts Colts Cardinals Texans

In many cases coaches play a damage limitation exercise with their choice of defense or attempt to stream defenses against some of the poorer offenses in the league on a weekly basis. Both strategies have there merits and certainly the streaming option becomes more difficult when more coaches participate in that strategy.

However, a canny coach can find a considerable weekly advantage if they can pick a high scoring defense/special teams each week and the payout can be very high in some cases. A large number of games in the EFFL were swung on defensive performances. Therefore getting a handle on a effective strategy for this position is a MUST.

The table below shows the weekly performance of defenses in the league for each of the 13 regular season games. Blue indicates a game better than 13.5 pts. Green is a game between 13.5 and 10.2 pts. Light green is a game between 10.2 and 8.6 pts. Gold is a game between 8.6 and 5.4 pts. Pink is a game below 5.4 points but better than 3.7 points. Games in red are where the DST scored less than 3.7 points but more than 0.4 points. Games in black are where the DST scored less than 0.4 points. Byes are shown in gold.

Defense/Special Teams scoring consistency

dst_2

What the table shows is the huge variation in week to week scoring for even the high scoring defenses (except perhaps the Bills and Texans). Of course some of that variation can be explained by the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, but for every instance of that there’s a 31st ranked Jets fantasy defense scoring 14 points against an offense that scored 94 points against defenses ranked 10th and 12th in the league.

And this is the main problem with trying to predict, draft and determine which defense/special teams is a good choice for your roster. Not only are you not guaranteed consistent performance, but picking from last years top performers is also a bit of a lottery.

Let’s go back to the quote we had at the beginning of the DST section particularly this section-

Offense is more consistent from year to year than defense, and offensive performance is easier to project than defensive performance

If that’s a given then perhaps its a better idea to find poor offenses than good defenses. Does that improve our weekly predictions for DST scoring?

In 2014 the 5 worst NFL offenses were Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and the Jets.

The 5 offenses giving away the most fantasy points per game were Jacksonville, St. Louis, Washington, Tampa Bay and Tennessee. The Jets and Oakland gave away the 8th and 11th most fantasy points to opposition DST. Washington and St.Louis were ranked 26th and 21st respectively, but both ranked highly in turnovers.

In 2013 the 5 worst teams painted a similar picture- Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Baltimore and the Giants were the worst offenses in the league. The Giants, Texans, Jets, Vikings and Redskins were the most generous to DST’s that year.

and it was a similar picture in both 2012, 2011 and 2010….but I think you’re getting the picture.

So in conclusion I’m not advocating any startling changes to your strategy when it comes to Kickers and DST’s, but here’s our 2 pearls of wisdom for them.

  • Draft Kickers in round 11 and DSTs in round 12- kickers are (slightly) more valuable than DST’s
  • You should try to stream DST’s against the weaker and turnover prone offenses.

……but you knew this already!

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3 thoughts on “Drafting for Success- Kickers and Defenses

  1. good stuff as usual, some strategy here too – particualrly for th 1,2,11 and 12 picks as they get those 2 picks close together, they can possibly pick up their DST and kicker ‘in a oner’ withouth having to wait and gamble – whoever picks their K first can set off a wee avalanche of kicker picks?

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    • yeah, i made a bold move last year picking Hauschka in the 9th round last year (part hunch part analysis-neither were correct 😦 )and i spent the year regretting it. It did set off a mini avalanche with half our kickers going in rounds 10-11. Having done the research and lived with being the first person to take a kicker last year i’m not sure it’s worth it. However, saying that there is probably only 10 kickers worth having permanently on your roster……if you miss them you’re looking at kicker streaming and that’s not fun!

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