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Fantasy Forecast: Defenses and Kickers

All veteran fantasy football general managers know the age-old maxim: never draft a kicker or defense until the last picks of your draft. With rare exception, this is an immutable law of fantasy football; but is it sound advice?

Getting Your Kicks

I researched the issue, so I instructed my trusted supercomputer, Mighty Max, to pull up the top 12 kickers, by season, since 2012. For this example, we’re using typical scoring for kickers:

KickersAndDefense-1

Looking at the results, we see some interesting trends:

  • Only three kickers have been in the top 12 for three seasons running: Stephen Gostkowski, Justin Tucker and Dan Bailey.
  • On average, the 12th-rated kicker can be expected to produce close to 78 percent of the top-rated kicker’s output.

The lesson: trying to determine the top-rated kicker from season to season is a crapshoot. Furthermore, unlike the other positional players, selecting a “top” kicker isn’t likely to result in a top performance. Think about it: we can debate whether Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte or Le’Veon Bell will be the top-rated runner, but we can likely agree that all three will be within the top 12 at their position. No such luck with the kickers.

Getting Defensive

Many of my readers know that I am a huge proponent of using individual defensive players (IDP) in fantasy leagues. But, realizing that many leagues have not seen the light of fantasy football salvation, I’ll try to provide some insight into the performance of defense/special teams selections.

Again, I imposed on Mighty Max to provide me with data on defense/special teams fantasy scoring since 2012. The results:

KickersAndDefense-2

Again, some interesting trends are presented by the results:

  • Only three teams finished in the top 12 three years running: St. Louis, New England and Arizona.
  • The 12th-rated defense/special teams could be expected to produce, on average, about 70 percent of the top-rated defense/special teams.
HC_Rex_Ryan_BUF_1
With Rex Ryan at the helm in Buffalo, a dominant defense is afoot.

These findings would indicate that selecting defensive teams might be a bit easier than kickers in that defensive teams seem to display a bit more consistency amongst the top performers; however, this is a positional consistency, that is, in the aggregate. Predicting which defense/special teams will actually place well in the scoring is still very hit-or-miss: look at the Chicago Bears (top defense/special teams in 2012, out of the money in 2013) or Philadelphia Eagles (top defense/special teams in 2014, came out of nowhere) as examples of boom-or-bust defensive selections.

The Payoff

OK, all this information is interesting, but does it support the theory that you should wait on kickers and defensive teams in your draft? In general, the closer the 12th-rated spot to the top-rated spot, the longer you can wait to draft that position. Given kickers and defense/special teams, the numbers indicate that there is reason to select a defense/special teams ahead of a kicker.

But what about when these two positions are compared to the other offensive positions? The same type of analysis indicates all four offensive positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end) shake out ahead of the kickers and defensive teams.

Sometimes, those old age-old maxims actually deserve to be age-old maxims!

About John Georgopoulos

John T. Georgopoulos is a 23-year veteran of fantasy sports journalism. John’s Fantasy Forecast series has won the prestigious Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for Best Series, and he’s been nominated as an FSWA Award finalist on nine occasions. You can also listen to his weekly, non-sports NSFW opinions at The Riot.