KICKER. (Please don’t bounce.) It’s the article you’ve all been waiting for. It’s going to be mayhem, so buckle up and embrace the chaos. We’re going to venture through a lot of things in this article. First, I’m gonna spend some time being possibly a little snarky while making the most common pro ‘boot kicker’ arguments. I posed a question via Twitter earlier this week asking people for their best cases against kickers. I received a lot of well-articulated rationales. I also received some that were, well, less articulate. After I passionately try to convince you to keep or re-add kickers to your league and give you a little strategy insight, we’ll follow it up with some of my favorite kicker stories. Seat belts should be fastened and your seats and table trays should be in the upright position; any and all baggage should be underneath you or in the overhead cabinet. It’s time for take off.
The Case for Kickers
I won’t waste any of our time arguing about things like “it’s not soccer.” However, I will consume your time arguing against: “no one wants to lose to a fluke kick,” “kickers are too unpredictable,” and “drafting or streaming kickers requires no skill.”
“No one wants to lose to a fluke kick.” Let me correct this statement for you. No one wants to lose. That’s it. That’s the entire sentence. It’s true, though, of course we don’t want to lose. Fantasy Football players are not playing just because it’s fun. We like to win. Fantasy football is so nuanced, you could lose on a fluke anything. Say you need 12 total points from your running back for a win, it’s Monday night, the game is tied, and your rostered running back takes off for a breakaway touchdown with four minutes left. He’s been instructed not to score to run the clock down. The team’s kicker then comes out and nails the game-winning field goal and your running back finishes with 11.4 points. Are you really going to sit here and tell me that isn’t a fluke?
“Kickers are too unpredictable.” As if anything regarding fantasy football, or life in general, is predictable. Let’s check in with those that drafted Andrew Luck last year, only to have him unpredictably retire right before the season. Yes – kickers have low and high weeks. However, other positions have outlier weeks as well, and to keep you from having to do the looking, I already did. Please don’t come at me yelling about injuries; yes, some of these players missed games due to injury. I’m just making the case that any player has the chance to boom or bust any week. Yes, we do our research, our pattern finding, number reading, and our tape watching to try and set the best overall line up we can each week. An injury could catapult a bench player in a matter of seconds. You’re sitting there with 0.9 points, and the handcuff on your bench has two touchdowns and 150 yards. An unexpected hot streak could strike, and a player on the waiver wire is racking up points while your starting player is laying a goose egg while you watch helplessly.
I pulled full PPR fantasy points from weeks 1, 5, 10, and 15 from Fantasy Data, as well as where players finished at the end of the 2019 season. Gather around, let us have a look-see:
Sammy Watkins – WR1 with 46.8 points; finished WR50
Ezekiel Elliott – RB13 with 13.3 points; finished RB3
Travis Kelce – TE13 with 11 points; finished TE1
In comparison, you would have been better off starting Blake Jarwin in week one who finished as the TE10 with 13.3 points.
Will Fuller IV – WR1 with 53.7 points; finished WR53
Matt Breida – RB4 with 27.9 points; finished RB46
Gerald Everett – TE2 with 20.6 points; finished TE25
Christian Kirk – WR1 with 37.8 points; finished WR38
Brian Hill – RB13 with 14.1 points; finished RB64
Jacob Hollister – TE3 with 20.6 points; finished TE23
Breshad Perriman – WR2 with 34.6 points; finished WR51
Tony Pollard – RB9 with 22.3 points; finished RB53
Ricky Seals-Jones – TE7 with 15.9 points; finished TE41
Every position is liable to have peaks and valleys, no matter the amount of studying we do. All we can do is give our best, sometimes educated, guess. So why do kickers get excluded from that? It takes looking into the game scheme, team trends, opponents, weather, home or away games, and past performances. We look at these things and other factors to decipher our favorites; to dictate who we will start, sit, drop, buy, or hold. Kickers can and, more importantly, should, be viewed the same way. Unpredictability is part of the fun; it’s why we keep coming back. We all want that perfect line up or perfect draft even, to lead to that perfect season. Cutting kickers isn’t going to get you to that ideal season any faster, so quit taking out your anger on them.
“There’s no skill in rostering kickers.” With all due respect, you’re wrong. There are strategies for drafting or streaming kickers. Just because someone doesn’t want to research said strategies, doesn’t mean they cease to exist.
I prefer to stream kickers. Streaming a position is when you drop and pick up players from that position throughout the season based on who you believe will score more fantasy points in a given week. When looking at kickers, you are looking at the offenses they’re on, the defenses they’re playing, the weather if you can’t snag a kicker that is playing in a dome, and accuracy. When it comes to kickers on your fantasy football rosters, it’s quantity over quality. The more chances your kicker has to boot it through the uprights, the better. This is why you target kickers on teams that struggle in the red zone or who are playing against stout red zone defenses. Sure, high flying offenses that score a lot of points giving your kicker chances at a bunch of PATs are fine. However, teams that stall out in the red zone will look to their kicker to get three points on the board. Points on the big real-life football board equate to points on your fantasy board. This is my top tier decider when it comes to the kicker I stream for the week, sometimes multiple weeks.
Alternatively, there is taking the NFL’s best kickers a round or two ahead of your draft’s kicker run to secure some of the most accurate kickers out there. When I first started playing fantasy football, I was intent on drafting the best kicker. Admittedly, I didn’t understand much about scoring but it felt like a point of pride for me to score the best kicker. I went to embarrassing and unmentionable lengths to get who I thought would be the league’s best kicker that year. I’ve since restructured my thought process to the above strategy, which I prefer. The scary thing about taking a top NFL kicker like Justin Tucker and Harrison Butker is when they hit their bye weeks, you’re faced with a conundrum. Do you drop your valuable asset, do you drop a different offensive player to make room for a backup kicker, or do you play without the kicking position entirely and hope you don’t need the points that week? As a streamer, if Butker or Tucker ever hit the waiver wire after their bye week, I’d be buying. That’s the way to end up with the best kickers, wait until their managers have to drop them for a replacement during their bye weeks.
What it comes down to is finding your favorite variant of the kicker strategy. Just the same way you employ the ZeroRB or RoBustRB drafting strategy. Find what makes you the most comfortable with your kicker decision making and roll with it. As I stated above, we’re making, at best, educated guesses. It is sometimes just as simple as “I like that guy” or “he’s easy to cheer for.”
I had intended to split the argument and strategy sections. But they flowed together so gloriously, I’m leaving it. I make the rules.
So, let’s be real – some players are just easy to root for. George Kittle: the ultimate hype man, a beer-chugging, WWE watching, absolute treat; Gardner Minshew: jorts, with a mustache and an attitude to boot, what’s not to love; Teddy Bridgewater: a kind heart and two seasons removed from a gruesome knee injury; Phillip Lindsay: an undrafted free agent who put up 1,000 yards his rookie season while living in his parents’ basement. Anyway, you get the picture. There are some players you’re more inclined to cheer for. I’m going to leave you with a few kickers who have stories I’m either entertained, inspired, or intrigued by. Maybe pulling back the curtain of a few of these cool cats will inflict change in your heart.
Dan Bailey MIN – was a walk-on at the University of Arkansas, but was unable to secure the starting kicker role. He took a year off from college before joining the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2007. Once there, the legend of Dan Bailey took flight. In 2010 he won the Lou Groza award that is given to the nation’s best kicker. Bailey has only missed two PATs in his NFL career and is currently the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history. A guy who walked-on, got turned away, reevaluated himself, and then made it back to the field all those 13 years ago, how can you not hope for a star-studded finish to his career?
Chris Boswell PIT – joined the Steelers in October of 2015. In his first game, Boswell kicked 3/3 extra points and nailed a 47-yard field goal for a victory against the San Diego Chargers during a Monday Night Game. Meaning: this guy came out as green as you can during a prime time game and banged 100% of his kicks through the uprights. He is the youngest kicker to ever hit four field goals in a playoff game, which he did versus the Bengals later that year.
Sam Sloman LAR – sound the alarms, it’s the first rookie kicker mention. The Rams selected Sloman in the 7th round of the draft, taking him over the projected top kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. Sloman’s clutch factor in college cannot be overstated. In the last two years, in the second half or overtime, Sloman went 27 of 29. That’s almost 100% clutch. It should also be noted that Sloman progressed every year in college and is overflowing with competitiveness. He’s a kicker I’ll be keeping my eye on this year.
Tyler Bass BUF – one more rookie, for fantasy sake, pun intended. Firstly, this dude is friends with country music star Cole Swindell. So, that’s an immediate bump in stock. The Bills drafted Bass in the 6th round of the NFL draft. He’s since showed enough to give management and coaches confidence in him, enough that they waived veteran kicker Stephen Hauschka. A walk-on at Georgia Southern, Bass has had to work for every opportunity he’s gotten. He quotes his grandmother with the best advice he’s ever received. She told him, “kick it far and keep it straight.” Pretty solid advice for the Bills next kicker.
Alright, alright – one more, but only because you asked nicely.
Jake Elliot PHI – joined the Eagles in 2017 when they signed him off the Bengals practice squad. He started Week 2 for the Eagles, hitting both extra points and going 2 of 3 for field goals. In Week 3 against the Giants, Elliot hit a 61-yard field goal: the longest ever by an NFL rookie, the longest in Eagles history, and the longest ever kicked in Philadelphia. What a way to start your journey to a Superbowl. Elliot didn’t kick in his first football game until his junior year of high school, focusing on a different sport before taking up placekicking. I know you think I’m going to say soccer, but Elliot was actually considered one of the best youth tennis players in Illinois. He was sought after by the assistant football coach after watching Elliot kick during a homecoming game.
This subject is particularly close to my heart as my dad was a college placekicker for Oklahoma State University from 1981-1983. He kicked southpaw and barefoot. Still, to this day, his favorite thing is maintaining or reigniting the crowd hype after a touchdown. He’d stand out on the field and raise his arms, or twirl a towel, to keep the excitement level up. He didn’t handle field goals or extra points; the spot placekicking holds in my heart isn’t diminished by that fact. I didn’t grow up tossing the football in the back yard. I grew up kicking and punting it.
Kicking is such a beautiful part of real football for me. I don’t want to see it washed away in the NFL or in fantasy leagues. By all means, commission your leagues as you and your league mates see fit. Just don’t talk down to those of us who still enjoy the nuance of a kicker.