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2011 Draft Prep: Kicker and DST draft strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Dave Richard's Strategies & Tiers: QB | RB | WR | TE

Kickers miss field goals at the buzzer. Defenses go from bad to worse in the fourth quarter. The Giants punt to DeSean Jackson with 14 seconds left. Things happen, and they impact our Fantasy universe for better or worse because, for reasons I cannot explain with grace and civility, we have a need to use kickers and defense/special-teams units (DSTs).

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That's right. If it were up to me, we wouldn't have kickers getting us three points at a time or DSTs taking up the last spot of our active roster (we'd use individual defensive players). But since I'm not the Unquestioned Emperor of Fantasy Football, I respect the laws of everyone's leagues and will address kickers and DSTs.

Kickers and DSTs are late-round choices. I habitually take a kicker with my last pick except for rare situations where I'll spend a second-to-last round pick on a guy just because I want to get a guy I feel is a quality option before the people picking after me in Round 172 have a chance to get him. DSTs are a bit different and deserve more attention.

DST keys

There are two schools of thought to drafting a DST: Take one that you're willing to ride with all season (except for the bye), or take one that will get you off to a good start to the season and then play "DST Roulette."

You probably know all of the elite DSTs worth drafting already: The Steelers, Jets, Packers and Eagles top the list. Unless some nutball in your league is a fan of the hometown team, those four will be the first to go in every league. The recommendation here is to only reach for one of these DSTs if you're in Round 10 or later and you're really happy with your first nine picks. If you're not happy and would rather add depth, or if you just want to add depth, there is no obligation whatsoever to take a DST until your draft is almost over.

And that's the smart play, especially since there are some really good DSTs that should perform as well or better than the elite DSTs, and they'll go very late. No one is giving the Patriots, Chargers, Bears or Giants any respect. But they'll be good. And you can get them in or around Round 172.

But some would say that the smarter play would be to spend that 172nd-round pick on a DST that has easy matchups to begin the year. After all, Fantasy Football is about the matchups, right?

You might not draft any of these defenses because of their stout run D or impressive secondary, but you might draft them because of who they're playing.

Early-season matchups Just Week 1
Broncos (vs. OAK, vs. CIN, at TEN) 49ers (vs. SEA)
Cardinals (vs. CAR, at WAS, at SEA) Browns (vs. CIN)
Titans (at JAC, vs. BAL, vs. DEN, at CLE) Chiefs (vs. BUF)

Likewise, here are some DSTs that I have ranked highly but face tough matchups to begin the season -- maybe drafting them isn't such a good idea, though picking them up later on should be.

Bears (vs. ATL, at NO, vs. GB) Rams (vs. PHI, at NYG, vs. BAL)
Falcons (at CHI, vs. PHI, at TB) Saints (at GB, vs. CHI, vs. HOU)

The last point I'd like to drive home on DSTs: The only time when it's OK to carry more than one is if one is a top DST that's on a bye. Don't draft two unless mandated by your league's rules. You could ask me 100 times and I'll tell you 100 times that I'd rather spend a roster spot on a sleeper or a flier off waivers or a backup quarterback or a player that might help my opponent this week than a second DST.

Get your kicks

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Thinking about picking a kicker that will finish at the top of your league in Fantasy points? Good luck. The difference between last season's top Fantasy kicker, Sebastian Janikowski, and last season's 10th-best Fantasy kicker, Billy Cundiff, was 33 points. That's basically two points per week on average. And get this -- not many people drafted either kicker last year!

Kicker production is dependent primarily on the accuracy of a player and the opportunities that player gets. So, one could easily assume that kickers who have good career field-goal accuracy and play on teams with powerful offenses that create field goal chances are good. However, there's no guarantee from week to week that they'll have said opportunities, or kick accurately when they get on the field.

Would you believe that the Raiders and Dolphins led the league in field-goal attempts (41), with the Jets and Rams finishing behind them (39)? Would you call those offenses poweful? And, would you believe that only one of those teams hit on more than 80 percent of their field-goal attempts (the Rams)?

Obviously there's not much stability or consistency with kickers. Only one kicker -- David Akers -- has finished as a Top 10 Fantasy producer at his position in standard leagues over the last three seasons (second in '08, '09 and '10). So why not take a page out of our DST Strategy Playbook and play Kicker Roulette from week to week with free agents, starting in Week 1?

Using our trusty Interactive Defensive Matchup Tracker or my exclusive schedule analysis, we can find the teams with favorable early-season matchups and get the kickers from those teams. The Bengals, Browns, Chiefs, Giants and Patriots all start the season with mostly favorable slates (and the 49ers, Bears, Panthers, Raiders and Seahawks could struggle).

Or, you could just draft Akers, except even he's a wild card since he's now on the 49ers after the Eagles cut him loose for rookie Alex Henery.

But whatever you do, don't sweat kickers and DSTs. Put that energy toward the important players in Fantasy Football -- the ones that will be the catalysts for success in 2011.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Eagles coach Chip Kelly: Mark Sanchez is our quarterback Week 17
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:32 am ET) Eagles coach Chip Kelly said on Sportsradio 94WIP in Philadelphia that he'll start Mark Sanchez against the Giants in Week 17, per Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

Sanchez has been picked off 10 times since taking over as the starter in Week 9. He threw a costly interception at the end of Saturday's 27-24 defeat to Washington that ruined Philadelphia's postseason hopes. The Eagles won't rush Nick Foles back from a collarbone injury now that Philadelphia was officially eliminated following Dallas' win over Indianapolis on Sunday.

"Mark's our quarterback, and I thought Mark played a really good game [Saturday]," Kelly said. "He goes 37 of 50, he was 36 of 49 before that last pass.

"I'm sure he wants that pass back, everybody wants that pass back, but I think Mark played a good game and we'll continue to go with Mark."

Philadelphia is a 4-point favorite at N.Y. Giants.


Report: Cardinals won't release WR Fitzgerald
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will not be cut, as some expect due to the team's salary cap issues, a source has told Pro Football Talk.

Fitzgerald has a cap number of $23.6 million for 2015. He could be traded or have his deal restructured. He could also decide to negotiate an extension.

Few non-quarterbacks have cap numbers anywhere near $20 million. Committing that much to a fading Fitzgerald, who hasn't totaled more than 34 yards receiving in his last four games, could prove disastrous. But the Cardinals are apparently willing to take that chance.

Fitzgerald has also been victimized this year and in recent seasons by inconsistent quarterback play.


Lions RB Joique Bell was benched for 'violation of team rules'
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:12 am ET) Lions coach Jim Caldwell told reporters that running back Joique Bell was suspended for the first quarter of Sunday's 20-14 victory over Chicago for what he deemed "violation of team rules," reports ESPN.

Bell took a backseat to Reggie Bush early on before emerging late in the second half. After logging only three carries in the first half, Bell finished the game with 74 yards on 13 attempts and a 17-yard score midway through the fourth quarter that gave Detroit the lead to stay. 

Detroit is a 7 1/2-point underdog at Green Bay in Week 17. The Lions have a 22-game losing streak at Lambeau Field, an NFL record for most consecutive road losses against a single opponent. The winner will clinch the NFC North title.


Bears K Robbie Gould shuts down for season finale
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(11:03 am ET) Bears kicker Robbie Gould told WSCR 670 AM radio in Chicago he'll sit out the final game of the season because of a nagging right quadriceps injury, reports the Chicago Tribune. Gould converted 9 of 12 field goal attempts, adding 28 extra points. Jay Feely will take over as the starter for the fourth consecutive game.

Report: NFL will review Dominic Raiola's ankle stomp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:51 am ET) The NFL will review Lions center Dominic Raiola's action during the third quarter of Detroit's 20-14 victory over Chicago, according to ESPN.

After walking away from a pile, Raiola was caught on camera stepping on Chicago defensive lineman Ego Ferguson's ankle. Following the game, he told reporters his actions were "not intentional."

"It was totally unintentional," Raiola said. "I remember I was stumbling out. I didn't see the end of it. I apologized at the end of the game, told him it was unintentional and we shook hands and that was it."

Raiola got slapped with a $10,000 fine for cut block in the final minute of a Week 12 loss to New England and could be in line for a heftier fine this time around. The league will likely make an announcement before Detroit's Week 17 showdown at Green Bay.


Browns' Johnny Manziel: 'I want to be the guy' next season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:03 am ET) Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel could be in danger of missing Sunday's season finale against Baltimore, reports Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.

Manziel completed 3 of 8 passes for 32 yards before exiting the second quarter of Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Panthers with a hamstring injury. Following the game, Manziel began making a case for the starting job next season during the postgame press conference.

"I want to be the guy," Manziel said. "That's what I want to do and that's what I want to be for this organization, so for me, if anything, this has motivated me more to head into this offseason."

Manziel has only led his team to two scoring drives out of 15 tries this season. Coach Mike Pettine will likely reveal the severity of his injury on Monday. If Manziel is unable to play, Brian Hoyer will get the start against the Ravens.

Cleveland is currently a 7-point underdog at Baltimore.


Falcons S William Moore slated for MRI on injured shoulder
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:44 am ET) Falcons safety William Moore will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of his injured shoulder, reports ESPN. Moore separated his shoulder in Week 4 and appear to have aggravated the injury after playing 41 snaps against New Orleans on Sunday.

At this point his status remains uncertain for the regular-season finale against Carolina. Atlanta is currently a 3 1/2-point home favorite against Carolina, according to Vegas Insider. The winner will advance to the postseason.


Report: Quad injury won't keep Falcons' Steven Jackson out Week 17
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:21 am ET) The quad injury Falcons running back Steven Jackson suffered in Sunday's 30-14 victory over the Saints in Week 16 is not believed to be serious, reports Vaughn McClure of ESPN.

Jackson left the game in the second quarter and was ruled out early in the third. He finished with four carries for 9 yards and one catch for 14 yards. Although coach Mike Smith didn't share many details on Jackson's injury, McClure reports that the veteran back will return to the starting lineup come Week 17 against Carolina.

Atlanta is currently a 3 1/2-point home favorite against Carolina, according to Vegas Insider. The winner will advance to the postseason.


QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


 
 
 
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