Fantasy Football Kicker Draft Primer (2020)
The study of kickers in fantasy football is a lonely island.
As the industry continues to move away from standard scoring leagues in favor of superflex, full PPR, and leagues without kickers and DSTs, I often feel like an out of touch boomer trying to convince millennials about the good ‘ole days of fantasy football.
The truth is, I play in leagues without kickers and DSTs, and I find them to be far more enjoyable than standard formats. It’s nice to focus on skill position players in the draft, and it’s nice to no longer lose a weekly matchup because my opponent’s kicker went bananas and outscored my quarterback is a refreshing change.
Yet, like millions of other fantasy players worldwide, I also play in leagues that continue to use kickers and defenses — long-standing leagues that will not alter their rules or settings for the sake of record books, continuity, and frankly, stubbornness.
Instead of accepting kickers as just a necessity and a nuisance, I decided a few years ago to dive deep into kicking data to see if there was a way to find an advantage at a position that nearly everyone neglects. In a game where victories often come down to fractional points, it seemed reasonable to try to find any advantage that could help me beat my opponents, even if it meant combing over nearly a decade of kicking data to identify trends.
My research culminated in the K Score, a simple metric that provides a numerical value of anticipated kicker volume and scoring opportunity. Using variables like team offensive total yards, total points, red zone efficiency, and defensive red zone efficiency, the K Score is a tool that owners who stream kickers can use to identify opportunities for success off the waiver wire.
For the last two seasons, I’ve written a weekly kicker primer that incorporates the K Score when attempting to find waiver selections for the upcoming week. Over that span, I have been able to successfully identify a top-12 kicker for the week nearly 70% of the time, including multiple weeks with a top-five play.
If you plan on streaming the position this season, I recommend taking a look at the primer before waivers run. Who knows, maybe the kicker you choose off the wire could be the difference between a win and a loss that week.
For owners who want to spend a little more time and effort on kickers in the draft, the following kicker draft guide should give you a leg up on your competition.
Set it and Forget it
While studying kicker data, it became clear early that a kicker on a high-scoring team is going to be a valuable fantasy asset due to the high levels of extra points. Not to sound like Captain Obvious, but the top-five kickers every year typically come from teams who finished in the top-five for scoring offense. Although these kickers often do not have the most field goal opportunities, they make up for it with elite production from extra points.
These elite kickers also provide an excellent level of consistency, as it is not likely that a top-scoring offense is going to be shut out very often over the course of the season.
It also held true that kickers who play on teams who rank in the top-10 in yards per game were likely to finish as a top-10 kicker based on the fact that their team provided enough movement of the football to get substantial field goal opportunities.
I like to call this first tier of kickers the set-it-and-forget-it group, which includes the following players based on their elite offenses heading into 2020. These four players should be considered no-brainers, the first four players off the board, and will likely only be benched on their bye week. If you don’t want to worry about streaming kickers, it would be a smart move to use a little extra draft capital to secure one of them.
K Score Targets
If you miss out on one of the set-it-and-forget-it kickers in your draft, I recommend targeting one of the following kickers who offer a decent amount of upside based on their K Score.
Just like DST’s, there is often a ton of turnover at the kicker position in the middle and lower tiers. Players like Ka’imi Fairbairn jump from out of nowhere to become top-5 performers, only to return to Earth the following season. Last season Zane Gonzalez became a fantasy darling as the No.4 overall kicker — yet he’s just two seasons removed from getting cut from the Browns after his rookie season.
Joining him in the top seven at the position were rookie Matt Gay of the Tampa Bay Bucs and veteran Josh Lambo of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gay benefitted from playing on an offense that finished fourth overall in total points scored, as Jameis Winston and the Bucs scored a ton of points, and their defense failed to stop their opponents.
Lambo, on the other hand, benefitted from the same K Score mechanism that made Gonzalez a top-five player in 2019 and made Fairbairn elite in 2018. All three players played on teams with young quarterbacks who moved the ball well between the 20s but failed to convert drives into touchdowns at or above the league average. The Jags finished dead last in offensive red zone efficiency, and the Cardinals were the third-worst in that metric, which gave their respective kickers ample field goal opportunities.
Even the best young quarterbacks tend to struggle in the red zone. Deshaun Watson, despite his amazing big-play ability, struggled in red zone efficiency in 2018, leading to a huge year for Fairbairn. Even the high flying Rams and Jared Goff were at or below the league average, which was a huge reason why Greg Zuerlein was dominant in 2017 and 2018.
As we look to 2020, I recommend targeting players who are on teams with potent offenses with young quarterbacks for your streaming kickers to start the season. The following three players all play on emerging offenses with young quarterbacks.
Oldies But Goodies
Don’t let age dissuade you when choosing your kicker in the draft. While older kickers like Matt Bryant, Stephen Gostkowski, Adam Vinatieri, and Mike Vanderjagt fell off the cliff quickly, they were excellent options for many years, providing a high level of consistent production.
The following kickers are long in the tooth, but they play above-average offenses and could be considered safe plays compared to other middle-tier options. For those who are wondering why Mason Crosby is not on this list, it’s because of the high level of red zone efficiency Aaron Rodgers and the Packers display each year. An Aaron Rodgers led offense scores too many touchdowns in the red zone, which is a reason why Crosby tends to disappoint fantasy owners.
If you’re looking for a breakout candidate who offers both a high floor of extra point production from playing on a top-10 scoring offense and an attractive volume of possible field goal opportunities, this is the guy for you. It also doesn’t hurt that he plays in 11 dome games this season, including the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
Younghoe Koo crashed and burned as a rookie with the Chargers, as he missed three field goals, including a few game-winners, before the Charges cut bait on him. After a year out of the game, Koo resurfaced for the Falcons last season and made 88% of his kicks and 15 of 16 extra point attempts.
The Falcons finished the top-eight in average yards per game dating back to 2015. Yet, in two of the previous three seasons, the Matt Ryan-led Falcons offenses rank 23rd or lower in red zone efficiency. If this trend continues and Koo can make enough of his kicks to keep his job for the entire season, he is in line to smash his current ECR of 10th overall at the position, and could he be this year’s breakout candidate. He also has an excellent week one matchup at home against the Seahawks in what could be a high-scoring game.
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