The kicker. Many fantasy sites have never had, or are doing away with, the kicker position, but the FFPC stands alone in the best ball community, a bulwark against the rising tide of anti-kickerism. Not only do you need to draft a kicker in FFPC best ball leagues, you need to draft multiple kickers.
You thought after years of fantasy football you were finally done with drafting Adam Vinatieri? Surprise! You can’t kill Vinatieri. He’ll be kicking field goals long after we’re all in the ground feeding whatever species replaces worms in the post-apocalyptic hellscape we’re hurtling towards.
Mike Beers has brought us his suite of best ball tools where you can now use the Roster Construction Explorer to optimize your roster builds and the ADP and Exposure tool to track your player equity. We can use the RCE to figure out how many kickers we need to take and when we should be taking them.
Total Number of Kickers
There’s not much debate here, you want three PKs on your team. Taking a fourth PK hasn’t been beneficial, and settling for two also has been a losing strategy. With that in mind, let’s look at exactly when you should be taking your three PKs, and what to do if you wait too long and miss out on a third.
We’ve all had it hammered into our heads at this point: Don’t draft kicker or defense until the final rounds of the draft.
Well, when the draft goes 28 rounds and all the starting PKs are gone by the 23rd, that advice no longer applies. It can feel like you’re being the fish among sharks by being the first one to grab a PK in any draft, but how early is too early?
Ignoring the small sample size prior to Round 15, it looks like taking an early PK is actually a winning play. Teams that took their PK1 as early as the 15th round had better winrates and higher scores on average. In fact, grabbing your first PK in rounds 15 through 17 has produced the highest average scoring over the past two seasons.
Teams that waited until rounds 18 through 20 to grab their PK1 also performed well, but there’s a slight drop off in overall scoring.
The difference isn’t drastic enough to say that you need to be taking a PK early to win, but it’s certainly not a fish play, and it historically has actually given you a slight edge.
Per the ADP and exposure tool, there are six PKs currently being drafted in the 15th through 17th round.
All but Justin Tucker come from offenses that are projected to be among the highest scoring in the league barring major injuries. Notably, those offenses all have offensive minded head coaches who have been in place for years with their respective organizations. While Tucker doesn’t have that luxury, he has the skill and distance to hit long field goals and a head coach who hasn’t been afraid to let him try.
Don’t be embarrassed to be one of the first teams to pull the trigger on one of these luxury kickers. You’re paying for stability here, and the data suggests it’s a fair price.
What if you don’t draft your PK1 early though? How late can you go without it being a problem?
It looks like Round 22 is about as late as you want to play kicker chicken.1 If you’re in the 22nd round of your draft and you really feel that whatever position player is there will make or break your team more than having a kicker that is currently employed, then you probably need to reevaluate your drafting strategy.
So how about your PK2?
Waiting a little bit longer on your PK2 has been preferable, but there’s not a huge difference between doubling up on elite kickers and just waiting until the 20th round or so. The important part seems to be keeping that PK2 in the kicker window where you’re getting starters with a decent shot at holding their jobs. Each draft is different, but in general if you’re waiting past the 22nd round you may find yourself choosing from players who are questionable to start the year for their teams.
Drafting your third PK is where things start to get dicey. We know we want at least three PK, but even if all 32 NFL teams had locked-in starters at the position, there wouldn’t be enough for every team in a draft to get three.
Once again it’s apparent that we want to try to make sure we draft a PK who is likely to be a starter, however in this case we do see a penalty for trying to grab your PK3 too early. If you’re drafting at one of the turns, you might be forced to reach a bit to avoid getting caught by a run, but in general you can wait until some of the last viable PKs are left on the board before making your pick.
While the data shows we don’t really want to wait past the 22nd round to get our PK3, there are a couple reasons I’m more willing to gamble on this pick.
Let’s be honest, most players nowadays aren’t going deep into their PK research, and many of the late PK picks are players who are competing for their job. For instance, the Buccaneers signed veteran Cairo Santos, but also drafted rookie Matt Gay in the fifth round to compete for the job at PK. Santos is currently being drafted much earlier, but many drafters are still taking Gay later. One of these groups of drafters is going to be wrong.2
Meanwhile, Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders is available after Santos, and is occasionally even going undrafted. Sanders was excellent as a rookie, and has absolutely zero camp competition. The Dolphins are among the favorites to be the worst team in the league, not exactly a great environment for a lot of field goal attempts, however Jason Myers was among the highest scoring PKs in the league last year on the 4-12 Jets.
Players like Dustin Hopkins and Daniel Carlson are also frequently available in the 23rd round or later, and neither of them are at a much greater risk of losing their job than many of the names being drafted rounds above them. If your draft is playing out such that you can get a starter with no obvious struggles, injuries, or major depth chart competition past the suggested window for the PK3, then it may be worth it to wait on the pick if there are values at other positions you can’t pass up.
What if I miss a PK3?
Let’s say you drafted two kickers by Round 20. You’re planning on grabbing your PK3 in the 22nd, but there ends up being a big run, and now all the starting PKs are gone. What do you do?
The data suggests you still grab your best available option before the draft is over.
Teams that drafted just two PKs, even when both of those came by Round 20, scored just 2496 points with a 6.9% win rate. Teams that drafted two PKs by Round 20 and then drafted a PK3 in any round afterwards, including the 28th and final round, averaged nearly 50 points higher and had win rates above 9%.
The aforementioned Sanders is frequently available in the finals rounds, and a player like Gay is going undrafted more often than not. Even if he loses the kicking competition in Tampa Bay, he could resurface on another team similar to how Randy Bullock beat out Jake Elliot for the Bengals PK job in Elliot’s rookie year, but then Elliot landed with the Eagles in Week 2. Rookie kickers who get drafted have a good recent track record of catching on with another team, even if the team that drafted them cuts them loose. 3
While it’s ideal to just lock in three starting PKs before you get to the questionable guys, don’t be afraid to gamble on your PK3 late rather than going into the season with just two PKs.
- Draft three PKs
- Draft your PK1 anywhere from Round 15 to Round 20
- Draft your PK2 by Round 22
- Follow the flow of your draft for your PK3 and try to get a PK with no obvious risks, injury, or competition. If you miss on those, don’t be afraid to grab a late PK3 with some risks that still has some upside.
Image Credit: Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Greg Zuerlein.
- “Kicker chicken” conjures up all sorts of images for me, many of which involve the punting of live poultry, but here’s a game you can play at home. Have one friend hold the football, and another set up to take a field goal kick (look, I know that’s a lot of friends for some of you, but bear with me). Then, you have two guys stand with their faces directly in front of the football. The first one to flinch loses. The last ones loses in a very different, and more painful, way. EDITOR’S NOTE: RotoViz does not endorse kicker chicken. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. (back)
- Though there’s always a possibility whoever gets cut ends up starting for another team. (back)
- Another recent example was Daniel Carlson in 2018. Drafted by the Vikings, he was cut after missing three FGs in Week 2 which resulted in Minnesota having to settle for a tie with the Packers. He then resurfaced with Oakland and played well enough to head into 2019 as the starter. Harrison Butker also fits this mold after the Panthers cut him for Graham Gano and now he’s a star on the Chiefs. (back)