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STATS 2017 Fantasy Football Preview: Kickers and Defense

By: Andy Cooper

There isn’t really a need to touch on specific kickers, so I’d like to give some quick strategy tips instead. The kicker position itself is really tough to predict since their opportunities are largely out of their control. You obviously want a skilled, accurate kicker, but you also want one who’s part of an offense that will generate opportunities for them.

The kicker rankings below are based on my projections that include each of those factors. Having said that, I typically avoid drafting a kicker (and usually DEF as well) in order to select two extra backup RBs as potential lotto-scratcher preseason winners (i.e. starting RB gets hurt or benched).

I’ve found simply using the top-ranked available K on the waiver wire usually gives me the equivalent to the No. 3 kicker fantasy points for the season on average. This includes targeting a K who is usually a Vegas favorite, playing indoors or in good weather, in a game that has a high Vegas total, etc. It also keeps things fun having a new K every week!

Another game I like to play sometimes with K strategy is a silly one and really doesn’t have too much of a competitive edge, but can get into the mind of your opponent. That move is to (if possible) add the K of your opponent’s starting QB. I think of this as a way of feeling like you are going into the league settings and changing your opponent’s points for a Pass TD from ‘4’ to ‘3’.

In case you are a bit confused, I’m implying that, in theory, for every time your opponent’s QB throws for a TD, your K will get a PAT. This of course isn’t always the case as certain teams like the Steelers attempt a two-point conversion quite a bit, or the kicker flat-out stinks – *cough* Robert Aguayo *cough* – and an extra point is hardly a guarantee make. It’s decent insurance given that if your opponent’s QB throws for 4 TD (in standard), you essentially wipe out an entire TD from his total. It can help keep your opponent in check, and an added bonus is on the flip side. For instance, if your opponent’s QB has a poor game, it can either set up a ton of FGs for your K, or a really bad game simply makes your K personally not have a good week.

The latter is a correlated result that would actually increase your chances of winning that matchup since the QB is typically the highest scoring slot while the K is typically the lowest. Using the K to feed off of your opponents QB is like losing a pawn in chess to take down a higher rated piece.

Also, does anyone know what the previous Guiness Book World Record was for number of words discussing fantasy football kicker strategy? It might have just been shattered. And before you read even more words on the position, don’t forget to check out where I ranked quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.

Tier 1

Stephen Gostkowski – Patriots

Tier 2

Matt Bryant – Falcons
Justin Tucker – Ravens
Dan Bailey – Cowboys
Mason Crosby – Packers

Tier 3

Wil Lutz – Saints
Graham Gano – Panthers
Adam Vinatieri – Colts
Blair Walsh – Seahawks
Sebastian Janikowski – Raiders

Tier 4

Dustin Hopkins – Redskins
Chris Boswell – Steelers
Phil Dawson – Cardinals
Caleb Sturgis – Eagles
Josh Lambo – Chargers
Matt Prater – Lions
Cairo Santos – Chiefs

Tier 5

Brandon McManus – Broncos
Kai Forbath – Vikings
Jake Elliott – Bengals
Aldrick Rosas – Giants
Nick Novak – Texans
Steven Hauschka – Bills
Jason Myers – Jaguars
Ryan Succop – Titans

Tier 6

Chandler Catanzaro – Jets
Andrew Franks – Dolphins
Nick Folk – Buccaneers
Robbie Gould – 49ers
Connor Barth – Bears

Tier 7

Greg Zuerlein – Rams
Zane Gonzalez – Browns


Much like the kicker position, I don’t really find it necessary to target a “top” defense in the draft. They are still a bit prone to their opponent that week, even more so than other positions. I tend to play the waiver wire for my starting DEF week-to-week and end up with a top-5 DEF level of production overall once the season is done.

But, that doesn’t mean some of you won’t reach for one during the draft, so here’s the list I came up with.

Tier 1 

Denver Broncos
Houston Texans
Kansas City Chiefs
Minnesota Vikings

These are the top DEF to target if you want to be aggressive with the position. The Broncos have probably peaked as a defense and lost coordinator Wade Phillips to the Rams, so they promoted DB coach Joe Woods to take over. It remains to be seen if that has any impact, however, with players like Von Miller or Chris Harris Jr. it’s reasonable to think they have the talent alone to remain on top.

The remaining three teams are going to produce a lot of sacks, which is one of the most predictive DEF stats to project at the beginning of the season. If any of them get good turnover and/or defensive TD luck they will be a lock for the top-5 on the season. A full season of J.J. Watt would vault the Texans back to fantasy relevance, as well as KC getting a full season from Justin Houston.

Tier 2 

Seattle Seahawks
Arizona Cardinals
Carolina Panthers

Seattle is a bit overrated in fantasy just because they are arguably the best real-life defense. They typically underwhelm in turnover stats since they are much more a crippling defense that puts a strain on opposing team’s yardage and points scored. They are a bit more valuable in formats that weight those heavier. Arizona and Carolina are play-making defenses with top-notch talent. Luke Kuechly’s concussion history leaves me a bit concerned and the Panthers rely heavily on him, so that’s a bit of a red flag that makes me avoid having to draft a DEF in order to lock them up.

Tier 3 

Philadelphia Eagles
New York Giants
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New England Patriots
Pittsburgh Steelers
Jacksonville Jaguars
Los Angeles Rams
Baltimore Ravens
Los Angeles Chargers
Green Bay Packers

These are all very good defenses for fantasy that might be overlooked a bit. It’s worth just waiting to see which one of them will fall to you. For those of you who want to play waiver wire DEF with me but are required to select a defense at the draft, I would recommend the Steelers, who open up the season against the Browns … who will potentially have Brock Osweiler under center … throwing to Kenny Britt and Seth DeVale …

Tier 4 

Miami Dolphins
Oakland Raiders
Cincinnati Bengals
Atlanta Falcons
Buffalo Bills

The Raiders are a bit of a sneaky long-term play as their talent certainly exceeds their recent fantasy output. Khalil Mack just might be the game’s top defensive player. If he can have a teammate or two break out this year, it could pay huge dividends for them in fantasy with improved sack totals. They should also set up for positive game scripts that call on them to face a team trying to make a comeback by airing it out, creating more turnover opportunities. The Raiders currently have a 9.5 over/under win total in Vegas (oh, the irony) which shows how far they have come.

Tier 5 

Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins
Detroit Lions
Tennessee Titans
Indianapolis Colts

I was going to call all of these garbage until I realized these are the island of castaway DEFs that I will be relying on all year. None of them will put up great numbers long-term, but they’ll be of use on a week-to-week basis when provided above-average matchups.

Tier 6 

New York Jets
Chicago Bears
Cleveland Browns
San Francisco 49ers
New Orleans Saints

These are the bottom-feeding defenses for fantasy that you typically never want to rely on, even via weekly streaming. Most of these teams have all added highly graded rookies that could eventually turn these defenses into great ones long-term – it just won’t be this year.