2018 Kicker Rankings (Fantasy Football)
The second-class citizen status of place-kickers likely began a long time ago, when scrawny, unathletic part-time players trotted onto the field with those single-bar face masks and contributed some of the biggest blunders in NFL history when given the rare opportunity to do anything more kick a ball a few times per game. In recent days, the #bankickers movement in fantasy football has further vilified players who almost always dominate the final NFL scoring leaders standings every season. Kickers might rack up points, but they’re continually becoming extinct in fantasy football, and that makes it more difficult to annual find rankings and projections.
While their roles are being marginalized, plenty of fantasy football leagues will continue to feature kickers in their weekly lineups, if for no other reason than sticking with what they’ve always done. Being one of those owners who proudly participates in a league that pre-dates the internet, I incorporate kickers into my 2018 rankings and projections.
Due to their volatility, kickers tend to have short stints and are considered very replaceable, so be sure to check my 2018 kicker rankings regularly for updates throughout the preseason. For now, here’s the first wave of 2018 fantasy kicker rankings and projections.
Top of the Class
Aided by playing on a team that consistently finishes at or near the top in offensive production, Stephen Gostkowski has finished as a top-three fantasy kicker in six of the past seven seasons and averaged over 149 points per season. The Patriots tend to score more extra points, but Gostkowski regularly tops a 90-percent success rate on field goals and has converted 80 percent of his attempts from 50-plus yards out dating back to 2013. With no signs that Tom Brady and company are slowing down, Gostkowski is about as safe a bet as there is in fantasy football.
Justin Tucker might be a better NFL kicker that Gostkowski, but is both aided and limited by an inferior offense. Joe Flacco’s struggles often lead to plenty of field goal attempts and Tucker boasts a career make-rate that tops 90 percent. The Ravens’ lack of offensive success tends to lead to fewer extra point tries, which is a shame, as Tucker has never missed during his six-year stint. Tucker has scored 141 points in back-to-back seasons and could easily top the final 2018 kicker standings if Baltimore’s revamped offense shows even a marginal improvement.
Even though he was limited to the team’s first 14 games, Greg Zuerlein almost doubled his 2016 scoring output and led the NFL with 158 points. Zuerlein successfully booted 38 of his 40 field goal tries, with one of the misses coming from 63 yards out. While his 2017 production is unlikely to be repeated, Zuerlein has only missed five of his last 62 field goal attempts and should remain an elite option kicking for a potent offense led by Sean McVay.
2017 was probably the floor for Atlanta’s offense, which struggled to produce touchdowns in Steve Sarkisian’s first season as offensive coordinator. 43-year-old veteran Matt Bryant still produced excellent numbers, scoring 138 points and converting over 87 percent of his field goals. Bryant made 17 of his 19 attempts from 40-plus yards and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. The Falcons should be more successful converting drives into touchdowns this season, but Bryant remains a solid bet to top 125 points for the fourth time in five years.
There’s a little more uncertainty in the second tier of kickers. Wil Lutz, for example, is in a great position to put up elite kicking numbers for a formidable New Orleans offense, but missed eight total kicks last season. As long as he remains the Saints’ kicker, Lutz should be a reliable source for points, making him a reliable target after the elite options are gone.
Like Lutz, Jake Elliott plays for a high-scoring offense but doesn’t have a long track record for reliability entering his second season. Elliott finished fifth in the league with 39 extra points and scored seven or more points in 13 of his 15 games. He also made five of six from 50-plus and appears to have secured the job.
Ryan Succop is my favorite late-round “sleeper” kicker this season. After finishing ninth in the league with 136 points scored in 2017, Succop should be in a better spot kicking for an offense that will be led by playcaller Matt LaFleur, whose team’s past two kickers have each led the NFL in scoring with 158 points.
My only kicker take this year: Be the last one in your league to draft one & take Ryan Succop. The #titans offensive coordinator is Matt LaFleur whose offenses and their kickers have led the NFL in scoring the last two seasons:
2016 M Bryant ATL 158 1st
2017 Zuerlein LAR 158 1st
— Jody Smith (@JodySmithNFL) June 20, 2018
Kansas City found Harrison Butker off of Carolina’s practice squad, and Butker was superb, finishing second in the NFL with 10.9 points per game and excelling for a team that attempted an NFL-high 45 field goals last season. You could argue that Butker belongs in the top tier of kickers, but there is a chance that Kansas City’s offense won’t be quite as effective without Alex Smith.
Chris Boswell converted a career-best 92.1-percent of his field goals tries last season and should remain a top option in a Steelers offense that regularly ranks among the league’s top-scoring units. Mike Tomlin isn’t adverse to calling two-point attempts unconventionally, which robs Boswell of some extra point tries and the late-season weather in Pittsburgh is often problematic.
The Vikings traded up to snag Auburn rookie Daniel Carlson in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Carlson and incumbent Kai Forbath will battle it out in training camp, but Carlson, the all-time SEC leader with 92 made field goals, should be an upgrade over Forbath, who missed 11 kicks last season yet still finished 10th in the NFL with 130 points. The arrival of QB Kirk Cousins should also assure that Minnesota’s offense should once again provide plenty of scoring opportunities for Carlson.
Mason Crosby had a poor showing in 2017, making just 15 of his 19 field goal attempts and hitting double-digit points in only one game. Most of that can be attributed to the absence of QB Aaron Rodgers, but Crosby’s 78.9 percent success rate on field goals was his poorest performance since 2012 and was the first time in his career that he failed to top 100 points. A full season of Rodgers under center will result in a boost in Crosby’s totals, making him a solid target with the penultimate pick of your draft.
Detroit got a new, defensive-minded coach in Matt Patricia but he retained offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, which should assure the Lions remain a solid source of points. Matt Prater gets the benefit of kicking indoors and has been very reliable on kicks from 50-plus yards. Note that the Lions play at Buffalo in Week 15 this year, often a treacherous place for opposing kickers.
Some of the kickers in Tier 3 will make solid streaming options and fine free agent targets for fantasy leaguers who refuse to draft a kicker and have open waiver claims before Week 1 kicks off. Many of the players in this grouping play for lesser teams or don’t have the best job security, making them riskier targets on draft day.
The Chargers have a potent offense but were terrible in the kicking department last season. They signed Caleb Sturgis to a two-year deal, but he got hurt in the season opener. Sturgis should retain his job and could quickly enter the top 10 if he’s able to hold on to that role.
Once the league’s most accurate kicker, Dan Bailey struggled with a groin injury and made only 15-of-20 field goals in 12 games. Bailey also missed the first two extra points of his career but should rebound now that he’s fully healthy. Bailey averaged 127.2 points in his first six pro seasons and was a top-10 fantasy kicker in five of those six campaigns.
Graham Gano is perennially underrated and missed just one field goal last year, which came from 55 yards out. My concern for the Carolina offense is the introduction of offensive coordinator Norv Turner and how QB Cam Newton and the Panthers’ intriguing group of skill-position players will adjust.
Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich are trying to install a fast-paced, aggressive offense that could lead to a huge increase in scoring opportunities for Cody Parkey, who has bounced around the league but comes off of a fine season in Miami. It isn’t necessary to draft Parkey, but if the Bears are racking up a lot of points in their first couple of games, he’s a solid waiver wire add.
I remain much more skeptical of San Francisco’s offense than the vast majority of fantasy analysts, which means I’m much lower on Robbie Gould than the consensus. Gould put up a career-best 145 points last season and finished as the PK3. If the Niners offense is as good as advertised, it will lead to fewer field goal attempts and more extra points. If the opposition can use the available film on QB Jimmy Garoppolo and slow down last year’s momentum, the offense won’t have near as many scoring opportunities. Either way, Gould is likely to be overrated.
Josh Lambo missed only one field goal after taking over in Week 7. After making his final 14 attempts of the season, Lambo should have secured himself some job security and will be a decent streaming option for a Jacksonville team that likes to run the ball and is likely to be protecting leads with a defensive mentality.
If QB Andrew Luck is cleared to open the season as the Colts’ starter, Adam Vinatieri will likely move up about 10 spots on this list. Even at 45, Vinatieri is still a reliable kicker who made five out of six from 50-plus yards last season. Vinatieri also has a solid fantasy playoff schedule with a Week 14 indoor game at Houston followed by home tilts against Dallas and the Giants.
Denver’s quarterback woes were a problem for Denver’s offense, but Brandon McManus also missed eight of his 32 attempts and failed to top triple digits for the season. QB Case Keenum will be a big upgrade for the Broncos and give McManus ample opportunities to bounce back, but if he misses another pair of chip shots from under 30 yards out, he could be replaced.
Ka’imi Fairbairn missed three extra points and three field goals from under 40 yards. While the Texans could boast a potent scoring attack with a healthy Deshaun Watson, Bill O’Brien hasn’t been afraid to change kickers, and that makes Fairbairn a risky proposition to make it through the season if he can’t improve on last year’s 80 percent success rate, which ranked 26th among all kickers.
Stephen Hauschka is a much better NFL kicker than he is in fantasy, mostly because of the seemingly mediocre-at-best supporting cast in Buffalo. Hauschka has made over 90 percent of his field goal attempts over the past three seasons but has the dual-threat of often chaotic Buffalo weather and what looks like a bottom-five offensive unit in Buffalo.
Cincinnati should be much better this season, making Randy Bullock a decent candidate to get into the top half of scoring. But Bullock doesn’t have much power and has made only one try from 50-plus yards while bouncing around the league over the past three seasons. He’s merely a streaming option that will only be targeted in drafts by hardcore Bengals fans.
I’d rate Sebastian Janikowski quite a few spots higher if I knew he was going to win the job in Seattle. The 40-year-old “Sea Bass” will battle in training camp with 27-year-old Jason Myers for Seattle’s kicking duties. Janikowski still has a strong leg but has been merely average in overall accuracy, plus he missed the entire 2017 season with a back injury.
The Jets have averaged 104.5 kicking points over the last two seasons and look to once again have one of the league’s lesser offenses in 2018, making Cairo Santos a poor choice as a weekly fantasy option.
Tampa Bay should produce plenty of yards and scoring opportunities, but Chandler Catanzaro has been below average in accuracy in each of the past two seasons. If he can get over those woes, Catanzaro has an outside shot at moving into the top 12 provided QB Ryan Fitzpatrick fares well while Jameis Winston serves his suspension.
Phil Dawson is 43 years old and has seen his accuracy decline in each of the past three seasons. The Cardinals are also a rebuilding team that is unlikely to be good enough to produce a weekly fantasy-relevant placekicker.
In three pro seasons, Dustin Hopkins has converted less than 84 percent of his field goal attempts and has struggled from beyond 50, making just five of 13 from long range. Washington should be fine with QB Alex Smith now at the helm, but Hopkins hasn’t been much better than replacement level.
Aldrick Rosas was the league’s least accurate kicker last year, missing 10-of-45 total kicks. While the Giants should be much improved offensively, Rosas will have to show vast improvements as a sophomore to maintain his job.
The Dolphins spent a seventh-round pick on New Mexico kicker Jason Sanders, who missed one-third of his kicks last season for the Lobos. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dolphins bring in a veteran to compete with Sanders this summer. It’s also been four years since the Dolphins have had a kicker exceed 90 points.
Cleveland’s offense has some intriguing pieces and should be among the most improved units in the league, but Zane Gonzalez converted just 75 percent of his field goals as a rookie. Until the Browns can break out of the doldrums and form a credible scoring attack, there’s no reason to target the kicker from a team that hasn’t finished in the top-10 in kicking points in the past 11 seasons.
Giorgio Tavecchio was below average last season and looks unlikely to become a reliable fantasy option in an Oakland offense that is led by a retread head coach who plans to “turn back the clock” to an old-school, run-based offense.