Kick the Kicker 2013 Edition: Part One

Jacob Feldman

Last Spring I wrote my first article for DLF and simultaneously embarked on a personal crusade to convince the fantasy world to rid itself of something that seems to be equally enduring and worthless, the kicker. Change is difficult and by nature we tend to resist it. For that reason, it was no surprise that my first article stirred up some strong feelings and lots of debate.

Now that it has been several months and the idea has sunk in a bit, it’s time to revisit it. If you’re already on board with the idea, I hope that this article combined with the original and the one still to come will help you convince your leagues. If this is the first you’ve heard of the idea or you’re against it, all that I ask is that you take a breath and read this with an open mind. Change isn’t for everyone, and maybe you love your current system, but give me a chance to convince you to Kick the Kicker!

If you haven’t read the original article, go back and take a look at it, especially at the four reasons that people want to keep kickers. If you or someone in your league wants to keep kickers, it is probably for one of those reasons. Ask yourself, “Is it really a good reason?”

This two part series will look at the primary characteristics that we, as dynasty owners, hold in the highest regard: predictability of production and consistency of production. We want a player who will produce at a high level each and every year as well as from one week to the next instead of a one hit wonder. We also want to be able to predict when a player is going to see a sudden uptick in production, when it will continue at the same level, and when that production is going to drop off a cliff. It is only when we have consistent production that we can accurately predict that we can get real value out of a dynasty asset, so let’s see what happens when we apply those ideas to kickers.

Just to be clear, here were the ground rules that were used to evaluate the scoring of the kickers:

  • In order to keep the scoring basic, all field goals were 3 points and extra points were 1. I did look at distance scoring briefly, but the vast majority of kickers were within 1 place regardless of the scoring method and the top 12 was still the same top 12 in 2012. Lawrence Tynes, Shayne Graham and David Akers were the only kickers to fall more than one place in the rankings when distance scoring was used. Blair Walsh and Connor Barth were the only ones to gain more than one place in the rankings.
  • Individual players were used as opposed to team kickers. Team kickers seem to be in the minority.
  • All averages were calculated over a 16 game season. If a kicker missed a game due to injury or if their team was shut out, that was included.
  • I will be focusing on the top 12 kickers since 12 team leagues are the happy medium and the vast majority of teams only carry one kicker on their roster at a time.

In fantasy football, we spend an awful lot of time and effort trying to forecast and predict what will happen in the coming year. In dynasty football, this is amplified as we try to predict out multiple years and try to scoop up talent before that breakout happens. The better our ability to predict, the more championships we tend to win. Sure, sometimes we will guess wrong or might get lucky when we didn’t expect it, but in general, if you put in the time you can not only increase your ability to predict success and failure, but also make sure that you are right more than you are wrong. If kickers are truly a valid dynasty asset and not a product of blind luck, you should be able to predict which kickers will have big years and which ones won’t.

In order to put this predictability to the test, I took down the rankings from three big national organizations: ESPN, CBS sports, and Yahoo. These were their composite rankings that were published during the last week of the 2012 preseason. If we have any hope of predicting kickers in a dynasty sense, these guys need to be able to accurately predict kickers for just one year. I’m not saying that these guys are better than anyone else, just that for one reason or another they are fortunate enough to make a living off of fantasy sports. That means they can devote more time to fantasy that most of us have the luxury of doing.

Let’s start with ESPN and see how their composite rankings panned out. The number in the parenthesis is the actually ranking of the kicker. Any player finishing outside of the top 20 is missing a number.

1) Stephen Gostkowski (1)
2) Mason Crosby (18)
3) David Akers (9)
4) Sebastian Janikowski (12)
5) Garrett Hartley (19)
6) Dan Bailey (10)
7) Alex Henery (17)
8) Matt Prater (7)
9) Rob Bironas (20)
10) Robbie Gould (-)
11) Matt Bryant (3)
12) Mike Nugent  (-)

As you can see, ESPN only managed to only get a third of the top 3 picked correctly in the top 3. In fact, they only had one of the top 7 picked correctly in the top 7 group. Overall, their top 12 only had 2 of the top 5 kickers and 5 of the top 10. When you add in the fact that they had half of their predicted top 12 kickers finish in the bottom half of the league (#17 or lower), you can see they didn’t have a whole lot of success.

Yahoo didn’t fare much better:

1) Mason Crosby (18)
2) Sebastian Janikowski (12)
3) David Akers (9)
4) Stephen Gostkowski (1)
5) Dan Bailey  (10)
6) Jason Hanson (6)
7) Nate Kaeding (-)
8) Matt Prater (7)
9) Robbie Gould (-)
10) Alex Henery (17)
11) Rob Bironas (20)
12) Matt Bryant (3)

Yahoo struck out when it comes to the top three since they didn’t hit on any of them. They did get two of the top 7 picked correctly though, which is one better than ESPN. On the flip side, they had two kickers at 7 and 9 that didn’t even place in the top 20. While their misses were ranked much higher, they did have one fewer of them than ESPN. They were still far from accurate though with only 2 of the top 5, which they ranked at #4 and #12.

Let’s give it one more chance by looking at CBS sports:

1) David Akers (9)
2) Sebastian Janikowski (12)
3) Stephen Gostkowski (1)
4) Mason Crosby (18)
5) Garrett Hartley (19)
6) Alex Henery (17)
7) Dan Bailey (10)
8) Jason Hanson (6)
9) Matt Bryant  (3)
10) Matt Prater (7)
11) Nate Kaeding (-)
12) Shayne Graham (5)

Like ESPN, CBS managed to get one of the top three in that group correctly, but also just one of the top 7 named. They did manage to place eight of the top twelve kickers in their top 12 predictions though, which means they had the best success rate by naming two thirds of the group, though the other third were in the bottom half of the league. Not only that, but their order was extremely off with half of their top six finishing in the bottom half of the league.

In all cases, you would have had a higher chance of success randomly choosing a kicker from the top 12 rankings than you would have had picking one of the top three kickers that were ranked. That doesn’t say much at all for being able to predict which kickers will have a quality season even if you wait until the week before the season starts. If these paid “experts” can’t do better than this for a single year, how are we supposed to be able to do it not just for one year but forecast for several years to come?

The bottom line is that predicting the success of a kicker is an extremely difficult proposition. Not only is it difficult, but the payoff for doing so correctly is almost non-existent. Remember from the original article that having the top ranked kicker only gets you roughly one more point a week over the average kicker. You might as well just draw a name from a hat and save yourself a lot of wasted time.

Kickers just aren’t predictable, which means it all comes down to luck. If you’re on DLF reading this article, then luck isn’t exactly what you are all about. You are spending your free time to gain insight and an edge. In other words, you are making sure that you eliminate the luck so you can make quality choices. Why would you want to keep an element of the game that you (or anyone else for that matter) can’t accurately predict? Not only are kickers nearly impossible to forecast, but they just aren’t consistent at all, year-to-year or week-to-week – that is the focus of part two, so stay tuned for tomorrow’s article.

Join the movement –  convince your league to Kick the Kicker!

jacob feldman