2018 PSDG: Waiting to Draft a Kicker
Chris Rito - 7/27/2018

This Is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things

The title reflects the old saying that always comes to my mind every time I talk to people about drafting kickers (and to some extent, defenses) in fantasy football. Newbies and experienced veteran FFLers alike always want to draft a kicker before the last two rounds, and frankly, this is an indefensible mistake. Unambiguously, irretrievably, undeniably wrong. Period. I insist that it is beyond lame to draft a kicker – especially at that mid-round point where someone inevitably says "hell…my top kicker is still on the board, so why not?" When this happens in my drafts, I just say thank you and chuckle to myself when it happens, because it is in my best interest that the rest of my league thinks this way! And if anyone ever challenges me on this, I go through the facts and eventually they realize I am right. And then I say "…and THIS is why we don’t draft kickers until the final round!" (This applies slightly less in "Draftmaster" type leagues; stability of NFL job is a real concern for drafting Ks these days if you can’t replace them in later weeks)

 

Seriously….everyone wants to have a difference-making player at every position and kicker is no different. But far too often people overdraft a kicker thinking they have the "sure thing" at the position based on history. Even overlooking the obvious fact that statistically the top K each year rarely is significantly different in PPG from the lowest starter (say, K#12 in a 12-team league), the simple fact is that predicting even a startable fantasy kicker is a total crapshoot. Let’s look at some recent data to assess the facts behind the harsh statement I am making here.

 

Here are the ADPs of the top 12 kickers drafted across ~3500 drafts on myfantasyleague.com in 2017. Note that "guaranteed" solid kickers like Justin Tucker and Steven Gostkowski was going on average at the end of the 11th round in a 12-team league.

 

player

overall ADP

final 2017 rank

Tucker, Justin BAL PK

128

6

Gostkowski, Stephen NEP PK

129

5

Bryant, Matt ATL PK

147

7

Bailey, Dan DAL PK

154

28

Crosby, Mason GBP PK

164

38

Vinatieri, Adam IND PK

175

19

Prater, Matt DET PK

177

11

Lutz, Wil NOS PK

178

9

McManus, Brandon DEN PK

184

26

Boswell, Chris PIT PK

185

8

Forbath, Kai MIN PK

186

12

Walsh, Blair SEA PK

187

27

The final rankings are based on kicker PPG in a standard scoring system; this is a fairer comparison when considering players that were injured (Caleb Sturgis, Dan Bailey), underemployed (Josh Lambo), and even released due to poor performance (too many to name). When you look at these numbers, it is apparent that the general FFL world was only able to predict and draft a top 12 kicker a mere 1/2 of the time when looking at the reasonable expectation of doing so (i.e., the top 12 kickers drafted). Indeed almost half of the time, they failed miserably – although this is a better percentage than in most recent years. And in case you think that there are a lot of dumb drafters out there skewing the figures….let’s look at the FanEx draft from last year. Since these people are all fantasy football "experts" and most work in the trade, surely they can do well better than this, right?

 

draft slot

overall

player

final 2017 rank

12.08

140

Tucker, Justin BAL PK

6

15.04

172

Gostkowski, Stephen NEP PK

5

16.05

185

Crosby, Mason GBP PK

38

16.06

186

Bailey, Dan DAL PK

28

16.11

191

Bryant, Matt ATL PK

7

19.01

217

Vinatieri, Adam IND PK

19

19.03

219

Prater, Matt DET PK

11

19.09

225

Lutz, Wil NOS PK

9

19.12

228

Janikowski, Sebastian OAK PK

--

20.02

230

Hopkins, Dustin WAS PK

21

20.03

231

McManus, Brandon DEN PK

26

20.06

234

Gano, Graham CAR PK

20

 

Several things to notice here. First…yes, the "Pros" did a little worse than the regular "Joes" in predicting success (to be fair, this was an earlier draft than most). But that success rate was around 50% in getting a top 12 kicker with a top 12 drafted kicker. And you will also notice that many of the top drafted guys were actually not even rosterable in many cases! Secondly, you will notice that the experts drafted far fewer kickers (no one took a backup) and drafted them MUCH later than the average population; notice that Gostkowski went about 4 full rounds after his ADP. These experts all recognized the variability and unpredictability of a kicker and devalued them appropriately in the draft. But the simple fact remains that even the best in the business cannot do very well in predicting kicker adequacy, let alone kicker greatness!

 

Looking at some of the undrafted kickers in this 2017 FanEx draft and their final rankings in fantasy scoring is even more shocking:

 

Player

final 2017 rank

Sturgis, Caleb PHI PK

1

Zuerlein, Greg LAR PK

2

Butker, Harrison KCC PK

3

Gould, Robbie SFO PK

4

Elliott, Jake PHI PK

9

Succop, Ryan TEN PK

10

Lambo, Josh JAC PK

14

Coons, Travis FA PK

15

Myers, Jason SEA PK

16

Hauschka, Steven BUF PK

17

Dawson, Phil ARI PK

18

 

 

[Note: Elliot and Sturgis each went undrafted and combined for a top 9 finish for the Eagles] The top four kickers, and 2/3 of the top 18 overall went undrafted by a panel of experts. Most of these guys all had undrafted ADPs as well (i.e., > 240 overall). Nonetheless, even the experts in FanEx were way more likely to draft a total loser for fantasy scoring than a top 10 scorer. Astounding. (BTW, Mike Nazarek and I targeted Wil Lutz from the outset of the draft, and by waiting we were one of the few to hit it on the head with our kicker – and at a bargain price in the late 19th round)

 

The numbers from previous years all show this same pattern as well. It is a total crapshoot, with many wild misses on draft day and a lot of waiver wire bargains to be had. Drafting of a kicker had absolutely zero correlation to actual kicker scoring in any given year. Where there IS a high correlation is in kicker ADP and the previous year’s kicker scoring. Basically, drafters get far too enamored with the previous year’s success and assume it is a predictor of the next year’s success. Which is insane, because the position is the most volatile as well as having the least significant difference among the top scorers (whomever they might be this year). All that drafting a kicker too high does is this: it demonstrates that you looked at last year’s stats and blindly are using it for your rankings. I have also noticed that drafters who actually do think carefully about their predictions and rankings show the largest deviations from ADP at the kicker position. So in the rare cases when predictions could be worthwhile….this means that a patient drafter can still likely get one of his own top 10 projected kickers, even by being the very last guy to select one!

 

Do yourself a favor when kickers start going off the board in the middle rounds -- take that 4th WR with good bye week matchups or an undervalued ADP rather than reach for Stephen Gostkowski. When the inevitable kicker run starts after the second kicker gets drafted….sit back, chuckle and look for your backup QB or TE a round or two earlier. When everyone else starts plowing into the kickers near the end of the draft… take that flier on a sleeper or rookie, the one that you think has a high upside and a little bit of risk. And then with your very last selection, take your top rated remaining kicker (one of your top 10 will likely still be there…seriously), or simply take a guy with a great week 1 matchup and worry later about week 2 and beyond. Your overall roster depth will be a little better all across the board because all your bench guys will get selected one round sooner. Heck, you might get that favorite sleeper that otherwise could have been snagged just ahead of you. And most of all, you won’t feel like you guessed wrong on too high of a pick, wasting it to get a guy that historically is more likely than not to disappoint you.

 

End.

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