2022 Fantasy Football Kicker Draft Guide
For most casual home leagues, each fantasy manager’s draft preparation will vary greatly. Some managers will spend hours combing over data, looking for possible sleepers or value picks others may have missed, and listening religiously to their favorite fantasy football podcasts. In contrast, others will spend next to no time preparing for the draft, often relying on an outdated magazine that they purchased along with a six-pack of beer and a bag of chips on the way to the draft party.
Hopefully, you are not like the latter fantasy manager since you are on FantasyPros reading a draft prep article in the summer. You see the value in putting in research and preparing for your drafts with valuable and actionable intel.
And since you are taking the time to read an article about kickers, the red-headed stepchild of fantasy sports, chances are you already understand the fact that any slight advantage you can gain over your opponent helps in a game where weeks are often won and lost by the tiniest of margins is crucial.
In the preview below, I will explain how most of the fantasy industry ranks kickers and provide some insight into why there are flaws in some of their logic. I will explain the K Score and why I believe it is a better way to predict kicker success, and I will provide a draft and in-season strategy to help you get the most out of the position.
Real-life points do not always equal fantasy goodness.
A common narrative in the fantasy community is that targeting kickers on teams who rank in the top 12 in points scored will result in fantasy points, as a sizable floor of extra points buoys these players that kickers on lower-scoring teams do not receive.
While, in some cases, this does make sense, a quick review of last year’s rankings brings this theory into question. The number one ranked kicker in 2021 was Daniel Carlson of the Las Vegas Raiders, a team that finished 18th in points per game. The number three kicker and the top-ranked kicker in 2022, Justin Tucker of the Ravens, played for a team that finished 17th in points. And the number five kicker, Chris Boswell of the Steelers, was able to post a top-5 season despite playing on the NFL’s 21st ranked offense.
Conversely, the team that led the league in fantasy points per game was the Cowboys, and their kicker, Greg Zuerlein, was a hot mess last season and is no longer on the team. Despite playing half his games in climate-controlled Jerry’s World, Greg the Leg missed six field goals and six extra points.
Last year, the second-best scoring team was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and their kicker finished outside the top-10 as the K13.
The third-ranked scoring team was the Bills. Their kicker, Tyler Bass, did not live up to expectation as the number 11 kicker on the season.
In fact, none of the kickers in the top five NFL scoring teams from last year finished as a top-10 fantasy kicker. They did provide their fantasy managers with a consistent floor from a surplus of extra points. Still, their teams’ offense’s red zone efficiency and effectiveness limited their scoring upside.
As we look at the ECR for 2022, you will notice that once again, it appears that the industry is favoring points as a deciding variable, with seven of the top 12 ranked kickers playing on teams that finished in the top-12 last season.
It is certainly possible that many of these kickers will finish as top-12 kickers, don’t just assume that it is their offense that is the reason.
Other variables than just points
Each year, I write a weekly piece that features what I call the K Score, a combination of a few metrics that look to predict kicker success beyond points scored by their respective offense. The K score includes red zone efficiency and their opponents’ red zone defense for that week, offensive rank (yards-per-game), and kicker accuracy.
Instead of looking at just how many points a team scores, the K Score looks at how well they move the ball between the 20s, how well they convert those drives to scores, and how well the opponent stops teams from scoring TDs in the red zone. The accuracy variable looks to add value to those kickers who are more likely to convert when given the opportunity.
Justin Tucker of the Ravens is a perfect example of the value accuracy and consistency bring to fantasy managers. Tucker was the 5th ranked kicker last season for fantasy while playing on the 18th-ranked offense in points per game. Dating back to 2016, Tucker has finished as a top-10 kicker every season and a top-5 option five different times. In that same period, the Ravens had a top-10 offense just thee times, and in two of those instances, they were 9th.
Another reason why Tucker has been a fantasy mainstay over the past six seasons is the relative struggle the Ravens have experienced as an offense in the red zone. Since 2016, Baltimore produced just two seasons as a top-12 red zone team in 2017 and 2019.
Tucker managed to finish as the K6 in 2017 because he made 92% of his kicks and all of his extra points, and he rode the Lamar Jackson MVP wave to a No.2 finish with the most extra points in his career. Tucker’s superior talent and situation make him an elite option regardless of whether Jackson has a monster season again or the Ravens finish in the middle of the pack.
Mason Crosby of the Packers is a case in point in the opposite direction and the type of player you want to avoid at all costs. Crosby’s 81% accuracy in his long career with the Packers has him ranked 52nd all-time. Although he has played on some of the league’s best offenses with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are consistently among the best in the league in the red-zone offense. So Crosby does not get many chances, but when he does, he is historically not very good at converting him.
No wonder Crosby has year after year disappointed, despite fantasy owners drafting him based on the hope that he will benefit from playing with Rodgers and a high-powered offense.
Predicting the success of an opponent’s red zone defense is not easy, as defenses can change dramatically over one offseason, and a team that is bad in the red zone one year can be much better the following. For this reason, I do not consider red zone defense in my draft ranking K Score and only use it in-season after the first month of games. At that point, we have a small but valuable sample size to use when targeting kickers off the waiver wire who may become a breakout star like Kai’imi Fairbairn in 2018, Zane Gonzales in 2019, Younghoe Koo in 2020, and Daniel Carlson last season. All four of those players had an impressive early-season K Score that identified them and waiver wire gold, and all four of them went on to be league winners.
Who will be this year’s K Score darling? Be sure to read my column each week, as it is packed with intel to help you gain an edge over your opponents.
We all can’t draft Justin Tucker, and I’ve explained that drafting a kicker based solely on the scoring prowess of their offense is not always a great option. So what is a fantasy manager to do when it comes to drafting a kicker?
The answer to that depends on the type of fantasy football manager you are and how much you are willing to make adjustments mid-season.
If you are the type of manager that wants to draft one kicker and stick with them throughout the season, there are only four kickers on my draft board that fit that description. Outside of these four players, I plan to draft a kicker who has a solid matchup in week one (indoors and with a low K score)
- Justin Tucker
- Daniel Carlson
- Matt Gay
- Tyler Bass
If you are the type of fantasy manager who likes to draft with upside, the following kickers are ranked outside the top-12 ECR yet have a K Score and outlook that could make them top-10 players this season.
Lastly, if you are the type of manager who loves to yell “steal of the draft” with your last pick, hoping that the player really turns out to be a steal, Greg Joseph of the Vikings is a player to target.
Joseph returns to the same team on which he finished as the No.7 kicker in 2021. He plays two-thirds of his games indoors, and the Vikings have an ascending offense that should give him a decent floor from extra points. Why Joseph is ranked 24th overall at the position is a mystery to me, as I have him ranked in the top-12.
The single-worst thing fantasy managers do when it comes to kickers is sticking with an underperforming player and not pivoting to another option who might be more valuable. Whether it is stubbornness, laziness, or a combination of both, many fantasy managers draft a kicker ranked in the top-12 and stick with them throughout the course of the season.
This is especially true if a manager drafts a top-3 player from the previous season. Those poor owners who drafted Harrison Butker in 2020 after his monster 2019 season were treated to a 15th overall finish. I distinctly remember writing week after week about how his K Score changed dramatically and that manager should move on to Younghoe Koo or Daniel Carlson. But, the stubbornness of those owners won out, and Butker finished with nearly a 95% roster percentage and hurt more than a few fantasy rosters, while Koo and Carlson provide to be league-winners.
My advice is to read my weekly kicker guide, look for trends in low K Scores, and not be afraid to play the waiver wire. Every season, there is an otherwise unknown player who benefits from a surprise change in red zone efficiency in their offense, a string of games against teams with a solid red-zone defense, or a great team moving the ball inside the 20s but stinks at scoring touchdowns.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.