Doc’s note: Thanks to Jason (or as long-time Razzballer’s know him, Pork Burn) for taking the time to research and write about kickers.  It’s a thankless job, usually.

Its round 15 of the draft and you’ve filled in most of your roster spots and started on the back-ups. Suddenly the sweaty guy you work with but don’t really like drafts a kicker. It gets worse as the next three players are also of the kicking variety, picked by your girlfriend’s brother, that guy that used to be your friend but now you only talk to when its fantasy season, and the fish you use to get an even number of teams. What do you do now that Hartley, Longwell, and whoever the kicker for the Rams is, have been scooped up? As an initial matter, why are you mad the Rams kicker is gone? – you weren’t going to draft him anyways. Second, why are you playing with these people? Find a real league with people you like. Finally, let them waste the pick on the kicker. You’ve done your homework. You’ve read Razzball Football. You know to only take a kicker with the last pick and even that’s a 50/50 shot.

The truth is that you shouldn’t spend any time analyzing which kicker to draft. Not “any large” amount of time, but any time. That’s right, bold underlined AND italics. I went there. The time you spent wrestling over which kicker to take would have been much better wasted spent reading this site’s opinions about the other positions. Last season Nate Kaeding was the #1 fantasy kicker – good thing they don’t count the postseason – and Tampa Bay’s Connor Barth was the worst.[1] Using the RCL standard scoring Kaeding scored 156 points while Tampa scored 71. A gap of 85 points over a 13 game season averages out to 6.5 points a week between the best and worst kicker. The more realistic spread between the #1 and the #12, or whatever size league you happen to be in, is 2.8 points a week. Yes, there will be weeks you lose by 3 points but generally speaking this differential isn’t enough to obsess about.

If that didn’t convince you to stop reading this post and go do something else you must be expecting some sort of analysis. Jerk. Awwww, don’t make that face, I was only playing. Here, here’s some kicker analysis to make you feel better. Actually, this piece came about because I had wondered for some time if crappy teams had better fantasy kickers, not because I needed something to bribe you with if I made fun of you. The hypothesis was their drives would stall out more often than the better teams and they would kick more field goals. To test that we listed the 2009 teams by total kicking points and rank, offensive rank, offensive touchdowns, and defensive rank. The defensive rank came about as an off-shoot of the original theory: maybe if a team had a really good defense and a crappy offense (J-E-T-S!!) they would have more field goals because they wound up with better field position from stopping teams but couldn’t seal the deal. The numbers don’t exactly support that theory, but they don’t undermine it entirely.

Four of the top five kicking teams had offenses ranked between five and eleven in the NFL. The fifth was New England and its third best offense. Controlling for actual TDs scored clears up the picture somewhat, as these five teams ranged from the 2nd to 7th. The Defensive rank played a much smaller role in predicting kicking performance, probably because the number of times the defensive group gets the ball in field goal range for its offense is so small. The Saints and their top-rated offense (both by yards and TDs) were 11th in kicking points, perhaps due to its 25th ranked defense. By contrast, the Broncos had the 6th ranked kicker but were 15th in offensive yards and 21st in TDs but had the 7th best defense. To really make this confusing, the gap between the Saints at 11 and Broncos at 6 was a total of 9 points.[2]

What does this prove other than I can write a really confusing paragraph about a topic probably nobody cares about? It proves that trying to turn drafting a kicker into an art is a lot like shooting heroin. You may be right once or twice on accident but after that you are going to waste a lot of time and energy chasing the dragon while your family and friends notice drastic weight loss, track marks, and the fact that you stole their TV to support your habit. Don’t go down that road, friend, just remember its only 2.8 points a week you are trying to eke out.

[1] For the sticklers out there, there were two FGs made by the Bucs that Barth was not responsible for, but for the sake of this exercise we are treating TB’s FG points as Barth’s and vice versa.

[2] Yes, this is a small sample size and to truly test for correlation one would have to do multiple years. Knock yourself out. It is boring and tedious and completely pointless. Do you really want to prove me wrong that badly? Suit yourself.

  1. BAM says:

    Any thoughts on the use of draft softward (draftdymanix draft analyzer, fantasyfootbal starters, etc.)?

  2. VinWins

    VinWins says:

    If I thought I could prove you wrong, I’d go for it. But I’d probably prove you right, and then I’d have to cover up the study, and things would get complicated, and… forget it. You’ve convinced me.

    I may not even draft a kicker, since once I look over my picks I’ll realize I did something stupid and I’ll have someone to drop for a kicker.

  3. Doc

    Doc says:

    @BAM: Sorry, meant to get back to you on this. I have never used any so I can’t say either way. I’m sure it could be helpful.

  4. p0rk burn says:

    @VinWins: As I briefly mention, not drafting one altogether is an option (one I usually use). You can get just as good value off the wire after the draft and the pick is usually better for a flier. Due to this post being far too long for anything having to do with kickers I didn’t follow up on the thought.

  5. tourinnc says:

    I agree with pork burn. I usually will not draft a kicker unless the league dictates that I do. Then as soon as the FA wire opens up I drop my kicker and pick up an upside left over who I would have drafted if I was not forced into picking a kicker.
    I will choose match ups if needed or pick a kicker and keep them depending on Bye week or opponent. If I think that I will easily beat my opponene I will not pick a kicker at all or wait and grab a Monday night kicker if it is close and one is available. Just makes sense to save the pick for someone who could be a star. This is a longer post because it really is talking more about draft startagy and not kickers.

  6. Although this is the best analytic write up I’ve ever seen about picking names at random out of a hat, this is the only part of this post you need to read:

    “The more realistic spread between the #1 and the #12, or whatever size league you happen to be in, is 2.8 points a week. Yes, there will be weeks you lose by 3 points but generally speaking this differential isn’t enough to obsess about.”

    As already said above, picking a kicker anywhere but last is a totally wasted pick and if you don’t have to draft one at all, don’t.

  7. p0rk burn says:

    @tourinnc: @mattmaison: Thanks both of you. Unfortunately (maybe fortunately) there are a lot of people that seem to think the kicker is a spot they actually need to worry about. I’m sure you’ve seen the guys that insist on grabbing a top 3 kicker by using a semi-decent pick on him. Those people are probably who the post is intended for but are also the least likely to see it.

    Other than educating the ignorant, for some reason the idea that there could be a method to the madness of drafting a leg kept popping in my head during the off-season. I originally suggested the post more as a joke than anything, but Chet doesn’t have a sense of humor and he made me actually do it. I would, however, love for someone – someone else, that is – to actually show there is a meaningful predictor for a kicker’s performance.

  8. Zack Neugut says:

    You say it as if 2.8 points doesn’t mean a lot each week, but that’s just an average. Generally I find that the difference between the top kicker and the average starter is 2 random weeks where the top kicker kicks 5 fg’s and so a better kicker can decide a matchup 2 or 3 times a season which is a huge deal. However, I also find it impossible to predict so I don’t worry about it, but the fact that there is no substantial difference I disagree with.

  9. p0rk burn says:

    @Zack Neugut: Certainly it is an average but there’s no real way to analyze the situation without resorting to some sort of schema. Its been a long time since I took Statistics and there are ways to refine it, but as we both agree you can’t predict it.

    I’m not sold the top kicker is any more likely to net you 5 FGs in a week, and since its based on an average wouldn’t that mean he has weeks of less points than the mediocre kicker?

    Food for thought.

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