2021 Fantasy Football Kicker Draft Guide
For many fantasy football analysts, the task of ranking kickers falls somewhere between having dental work done and spending an entire Sunday at their in-laws without the NFL Sunday Ticket.
It is painful. It is boring. And it is somewhat of an afterthought compared to the amount of effort dedicated to ranking other skill positions.
Most analysts base their rankings on two factors. First, how the players finished the previous season. Second, kickers on high-scoring offenses tend to rise to the top of rankings based on the logic that they lead to more extra points and scoring opportunities.
While I find the first factor a sign of laziness, the second typically holds from season to season. Kickers on teams that score a ton of touchdowns do get an added floor of extra-point production.
In 2019, four of the top five kickers (led by Kansas City’s Harrison Butker) played on a top-five scoring offense. The lone top-five kicker who did not play in a top-five offense was Zane Gonzalez, who posted a career year for Arizona’s 17th-ranked offense.
Gonzalez benefited from rookie Kyler Murray struggling in the red zone, as young QBs often do, leading to more field-goal chances. Murray and the Cardinals moved the ball well between the 20s but were 29th in red-zone scoring, resulting in Gonzalez receiving 15 more field-goal tries than in any other season.
As you would expect, Gonzalez was a popular pick last season with a top-six position ADP on most sites. However, the Cardinals jumped up to 10th in red-zone scoring, and Gonzalez struggled before losing his starting job and finishing 27th at the position.
Gonzalez is a perfect example of why going off the previous year’s finish is not always a smart move.
To make matters worse, the high-scoring offense method also fell short in 2020. Only one kicker (Buffalo rookie Tyler Bass) in a top-five offense finished as a top-five fantasy kicker. Mason Crosby ranked 20th on the top-ranked Green Bay Packers, while Stephen Gostkowski got a severe case of the yips and finished 22nd despite the Titans placing fourth in total offense.
Ranking kickers based on the previous season’s results failed, and targeting kickers on high-scoring offenses flopped as well. (This was anomalous. I will explain later). It begs the question: Is there a better method to rank kickers?
After three seasons of writing about kickers and fine-tuning my K Score, I am confident that fantasy managers who utilize that metric can make more informed decisions on who to draft and stream during the season.
The K Score helped me to predict Younghoe Koo as a breakout candidate in my 2020 draft guide. It helped me identify Ka’imi Fairbairn as an early breakout target in 2018, and it can help you crush your fantasy draft and in-season streaming in 2021.
Target Potent Offenses for an Extra Point Floor
Last season notwithstanding, drafting kickers on high-scoring offenses is a smart move based on historical data. Going back to 2016, 13 of the 25 kickers who finished as a top-five play were on top-five scoring teams that season. That number goes up to 18 when looking at top-12 scoring offenses.
There are outlier seasons like 2020, but a kicker who plays an entire season on a high-scoring team is likely to finish as a top-10 play. Butker, Justin Tucker, and Greg Zuerlein are all strong options at the top of kicker draft boards, as the Chiefs, Ravens, and Cowboys project to possess some of the NFL’s top offenses. Bass and Tampa Bay’s Ryan Succop should also be in the top 10 based on projected scoring.
Why is Crosby not on that list after the Packer led the NFL in points per game? It’s simple. Aaron Rodgers (if he even suits up for Green Bay this season) is too efficient in the red zone and does not leave many chances for field goals.
K Score Studs
The Atlanta Falcons finished 16th in scoring, the Las Vegas Raiders were 10th, and the Miami Dolphins were 15th last season. Yet they housed fantasy’s top-three kickers in 2020.
The Falcons, for the second straight year, were 26th in red-zone efficiency. The Raiders were 23rd, and the Dolphins ranked 18th. They were all above-average offenses in terms of scoring and total yards, but faltered inside the 20.
That’s the perfect formula for kickers who are not on an elite offense. Their respective offense moves the ball well enough to give them multiple field-goal chances per game but struggle to score TDs. Their increased field-goal volume makes up for the lack of extra-point floor.
Here are a few K Score Studs I am targeting in 2021 drafts:
Streaming Targets to Watch Early
If you miss out on elite kickers from high-scoring offenses and cannot grab one of my K Score studs, I recommend grabbing someone based on Week 1 matchups and streaming the position using my weekly kicker guide.
Based on changes to offenses, historical red-zone efficiency data, and newly acquired QBs, the following players are candidates to become K Score targets in the first month of the season:
Robbie Gould (SF)
Gould finished fifth, 10th, and sixth in fantasy points per game with the 49ers from 2017 to 2019 before placing 32nd last season. The 2020 49ers were decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball, killing the value of pretty much all the team’s fantasy options.
Historically, the 49ers have not been a good red-zone team under coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. They ranked 27th, 32nd, and 20th in red-zone efficiency before jumping up to seventh last year. I anticipate closer to 20 for this team in 2021 with an increase in total yards per game, leading to more chances for Gould.
Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to a more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.