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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.

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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
Patriots claim Don Jones off waivers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:08 pm ET) The Patriots have been awarded safety Don Jones on waivers from the Dolphins and waived offensive lineman Chris Barker in a corresponding move.

The Patriots will likely be looking for some extra insight on their Week 1 opponent after bringing the former Dolphin into the fold. The move leaves the Patriots with six safeties on the roster.


Jets release Ellis Lankster, re-sign A.J. Edds
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9:05 pm ET) The Jets released cornerback Ellis Lankster and re-signed inside linebacker A.J. Edds Monday.

Report: Chris Conte to start if medically cleared
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:58 pm ET) Bears safety Chris Conte will be the team's starting free safety in Sunday's season opener against the Bills, provided he's medically cleared to play, ESPN reports.

Conte has been locked in a position battle with rookie Brock Vereen, and despite suffering a concussion during the team's third preseason game, he's done enough to be named the starter. It wouldn't be surprising to see Vereen overtake Conte in the starting lineup, with the latter grading out as a below-average starter, according to ProFootballFocus.com, who particularly struggles in run support.


Report: Raiders going with Derek Carr over Matt Schaub
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:14 pm ET) Raiders players have been told the team will start rookie Derek Carr over veteran Matt Schaub at quarterback, reports Fox Sports. Carr threw three touchdown passes in last Thursday's preseason finale while Schaub has battled elbow problems.

Oakland opens the season Sunday at the Jets.


Emmanuel Sanders a strong flex option Week 1
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:09 pm ET) Assuming Wes Welker returns from his concussion and plays Week 1, teammate Emmanuel Sanders still will be a strong flex option. Colts-Broncos is a guaranteed shootout -- the over/under is a whopping 55, highest on the board -- and Peyton Manning can support three productive Fantasy receivers with ease.

Plus, Manning has taken a liking to Sanders. When Sanders debuted in the third preseason game, the duo hooked up for 67- and 29-yard touchdowns in the first half.

"You just throw it as far as you can, and it's hard to outthrow that guy," Manning told the team's website.

Sanders finished with five catches for 128 yards on eight first-half targets, doing most of that before Welker got concussed. Sanders was not 100 percent for that game; he had just come back from a quad injury.

Now Sanders, who started building chemistry with Manning at informal Duke University workouts, "looks ready for the big stage," the website said.

"Peyton puts it on the money," Sanders said. "He takes pride in throwing the perfect football. He takes pride in being perfect all around, in general. He makes my job easy."

Manning is going to help Sanders reach a level he has not hit before, starting Sunday night.

Redskins complete practice squad
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:40 pm ET) The Redskins filled out their 10-man practice squad by signing safety Akeem Davis and linebacker Chaz Sutton, reports the Washington Post.

Jets tweak roster
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:32 pm ET) The Jets signed free agent cornerback Phillip Adams and claimed receiver Walt Powell off waivers from the Cardinals. New York also waived receiver Quincy Enunwa, who likely will be placed on the practice squad.

Tough matchup not a concern for Julius Thomas
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:21 pm ET) Broncos tight end Julius Thomas opens the season with a difficult matchup: Indianapolis allowed the fewest Fantasy points to tight ends (5.33 per game) last year.

It's not a concern for Thomas, one of three tight ends to catch a touchdown against the Colts in 2013. In Week 7 at Indy, Thomas caught five of six targets for 41 yards and the score.

That was one of 12 touchdowns Thomas scored in his breakout season. The 26-year-old showed he's not satisfied by taking a diligent offseason approach, according to the Denver Post.

"He's going to be a very special player," former Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen said. "It was fun to watch him grow up last season. In this offseason, he really impressed me with his attitude and work ethic and how hungry he was."

Thomas drew 17 red-zone targets last year. With Eric Decker's departure, the 6-5, 250-pound Thomas should see a few more this season. He's a top-3 play Sunday night.


Allen Hurns secures No. 3 spot
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:51 pm ET) Jaguars undrafted rookie Allen Hurns, who led the team with 14 preseason catches for 232 yards, enters the season as the No. 3 wideout, reports ESPN.com. Veteran Cecil Shorts and rookie Marqise Lee are the projected starters.

Hurns took advantage of extra reps due to injuries and "worked his way into the top three spots," the report said.


Cowboys make roster moves
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:36 pm ET) The Cowboys waived defensive back Jemea Thomas and signed linebacker Korey Toomer.

 
 
 
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