Fantasy Football Cheat Code: Don’t Draft a Kicker
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I’d love if every league just agreed to drop the kicker position altogether (and replace it with a SuperFlex) since kickers add a major element of luck to fantasy football. Kickers are so volatile in fantasy even with matchups and expected game script baked in. We aren’t quite to the point where non-kicker leagues are the standard yet but fortunately, we can spin that into an advantage.
This idea has been catching on around the industry since I introduced it on the FantasyPros Football Podcast a few years ago. It is simple and the math checks out but still, many will draft a kicker regardless and miss out on an opportunity to triple (or more) their 16th round pick’s expected value. Today I’ll explain how and why this strategy works then I’ll give you the list of players I’m targeting instead of a kicker with my last pick in this year’s drafts.
Math Behind the Cheat Code
Look, I’m not telling you to forgo the position entirely. That obviously is a losing strategy as it would cost you an average of about 9 or 10 points a week. What I’m suggesting is that instead of drafting a kicker, you draft a lottery ticket and hang onto him until right before Week 1 kicks off, at which point you bite the bullet and pick up a kicker.
Over the last five years, we’ve only seen four kickers end top 12 in three consecutive seasons: Stephen Gostkowski (NE), Justin Tucker (BAL), Will Lutz (NO) and Matt Prater (DET). Beyond them, it has been a constant game of musical chairs. Even among those four, there are plenty of weeks where it doesn’t make sense to play them because there is a streamer available who has an ideal matchup. While the top fantasy running backs, wide receivers and tight ends are projected to finish above the replacement level (top available free agent) 90-100% of the time, the top kickers are down around 35%. To put it more plainly, a compilation of the top streaming kickers each week is projected to score more fantasy points than even Gostowski and Tucker over a season. That doesn’t make their value 0, or even negative, but it does mean their value is only what they offer above replacement in Week 1, if anything at all. Even the best kicker is never more than 2 or 3 fantasy points above replacement in any week, so that means grabbing an average kicker in round 16 is worth about half a fantasy point above replacement. Why not draft a potential league-winner instead and then drop him two weeks later if nothing comes of it for that kicker who is projected for just half a point less in Week 1 than the guy you could have drafted?
Let’s look back at some of those league winners from the past few seasons: James Conner (’18), Kareem Hunt (’17), Alvin Kamara (’17), Jordan Howard (’16), Devonta Freeman (’15), DeAngelo Williams (’15), Jeremy Hill (’14), and C.J. Anderson (’14). Notice a pattern? Backup running backs who were drafted late or not at all, but blew up because they fell into carries in a strong running scheme thanks an injury to the starter. Because you have to grab some depth pieces for byes, injuries and bad matchups, you won’t have enough room on your bench for many lottery tickets like the above names. Passing on a kicker in the last round will afford you the opportunity to draft one (or another) though. Every year some running back gets hurt, holds out or gets suspended in the preseason. In fact, over the past decade, it has happened to over 8% of top 15 fantasy running backs.
So let’s rewind to this time last year when we had no indication Le’Veon Bell would actually holdout. James Conner was the clear-cut backup and was presumed to assume a bell-cow workload should anything happen to Bell. Like the year before when I was begging owners to draft Kareem Hunt just in case something happened to Spencer Ware, I was shouting to draft Conner instead of a kicker. Now, hitting on 8% odds in back to back seasons is unprecedented and we can’t rely on it to happen again, of course, but the numbers are still in our favor. If the lottery tickets (listed below) are plopped into the starter’s role, they would quickly become projected for 50+ fantasy points above replacement. Seeing that there is an 8% chance it happens historically, that makes their implied value over replacement at least 4 points. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is substantially more than even the best kickers give you above replacement.
Although D/ST is a more predictable position, it is still volatile enough that you can make a strong case for executing this strategy instead of drafting that position as well. It may work better this year than most, too, as the Cowboys should be a top-10 defense in Week 1 and will likely still be available on your waiver wire next kickoff.
Last-Round Replacement Targets
- Justice Hill (RB – BAL) – if he steals job or Ingram gets hurt
- Dallas Goedert (TE – PHI) – if Ertz gets hurt
- Tony Pollard (RB – DAL) – if Zeke holds out or gets hurt
- Justin Jackson (RB – LAC) – if Gordon holds out or gets hurt
- Chase Edmonds (RB – ARI) – if DJ gets hurt
- Josh Gordon (WR – NE) – if the NFL reinstates him
- Ryquell Armstead (RB – JAX) – if Fournette gets hurt
- Mohamed Sanu (WR – ATL) – if Julio gets hurt
- Bruce Anderson (RB – TB) – if he steals the job
- Jake Kumerow (WR – GB) – if any top 3 GB WRs gets hurt
- Malcolm Brown (RB – LAR) – potential backup if Gurley gets hurt