News & Analysis

No, really, take your fantasy kicker last

By Daniel Kelley
Mar 13, 2017

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HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Stephen Gostkowski #3 of the New England Patriots attempts a kick against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)

Memes are always hit and miss. Some are funny, some are dumb, and some are just flat-out incorrect. But one I have always enjoyed goes something like this:

“There’s a difference between intelligence and wisdom. Intelligence is knowing tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

To that end, let’s talk a little about kickers. Because intelligence is knowing kickers are volatile in the long term. But wisdom is knowing that even year-to-year performance from the big names is impossible to trust.

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I wanted to test our conventional kicker wisdom, so I looked at year-to-year fantasy finishes at the position. And in the last 10 years, exactly three kickers have finished in the top five at the position in back-to-back years:

  • Steven Hauschka for the Seahawks, finishing fourth in 2013 and fifth in 2014.
  • David Akers for the Eagles, finishing second in 2008 and 2009, then first in 2010.
  • Stephen Gostkowski for the Patriots, who basically breaks the curve, finishing first in 2007 and 2008, then fifth in 2009. He got hurt partway through 2010, then came back with a third place in 2011 and first every year 2012-2015 before slipping to ninth in 2016.

(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

That’s the entire list. Nobody else — not Justin Tucker, not Matt Bryant, not Mason Crosby, nobody — has been top-five in consecutive years. Only 16 kickers total (counting the three above) have even finished top-10 in back-to-back years. Overall, in the last 10 years, the correlation between a team’s top kicker performance one year to the next has an R-squared value of 0.204 — which is to say, there essentially isn’t a correlation.

Every draft season, the fantasy sharps preach taking a kicker late, yet every time I draft, a handful of players ignore that advice. If you’re doing it for Gostkowski … well, I still don’t love it, but I at least get it. But if you do it for Bryant or Tucker or any of the other successful-last-year guys (or any kicker, really), you are betting on predicting something that has proven utterly unpredictable for a long time now.

Some other interesting kicker notes:

  • Only three kickers (Adam Vinatieri of the Colts, Sebastian Janikowski of the Raiders, Mason Crosby of the Packers) have been their team’s leading kicker in each of the last 10 years. Crosby has averaged a ninth-place fantasy finish with three top-five finishes; Vinatieri 15th with two top-five spots, Janikowski 18th with one top-five result.
  • The biggest year-to-year improvement by a single kicker was Matt Bryant last year; he was the No. 29 kicker in 2015 and an easy No. 1 in 2016. But eight different teams have seen their leading kicker go from bottom-five one year to top-five the next in the last 10 years.
  • His offense certainly bears a big part of the blame here, but Greg Zuerlein — our “must re-sign” free agent for the Rams this offseason — has finished inside the top 20 only once in his five years (18th in 2013). His fantasy finishes have been, in order: 27th, 18th, 24th, 27th and 29th.
  • The Patriots’ leading kicker has had an average fantasy finish of 5.1 each year (only that low because of Gostkowski’s injury season). The Packers (and Crosby) are the only other team to even average a top-10 finish.
  • Florida is bad for kickers: The Jaguars (best finish: 17th for Josh Scobee in 2010) and Dolphins (11th for Dan Carpenter in 2009) are the only two teams to not have a top-10 kicker in any of the last 10 years, and the only time the Buccaneers have had one was 2008, when Matt Bryant (yes, him again) finished sixth.
  • It’s tempting to say that Gostkowski has been so productive because his team fields one of the best offenses, but at the same time, New Orleans’ vaunted offense has produced the 30th kicker or worse three times in 10 years, and 20th or worse seven times.

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