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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
Ravens' Victor Hampton arrested for DWI
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(4:57 pm ET) Ravens defensive back Victor Hampton was arrested for DWI, in Charlotte, Saturday night, according to WSOC TV

Hampton was pulled over after going 100 mph in a 55-mph zone. He faces DWI, speeding, reckless driving and open container charges. Passengers in the car were arrested on marijuana and concealed weapons charges. 

Hampton was on the Bengals offseason roster and Giants practice squad last year. He signed with the Ravens in January. 


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That could change in 2015.

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“Yes, I have the ability to run the whole [route] tree,” Thomas said. “That’s what I’ve been working on this offseason. I’m running all those routes in the sand [during beach workouts]. And once the time comes to come on the grass, I feel like it’s going to be a lot easier because I’ve prepared myself.”

Thomas ran for 113 yards and totaled 156 receiving yards in a reserve role. He made a big impact in the return game, combinging for 833 punt and kickoff return yards with a touchdown. 
With Thomas transitioning into being more of a receiver first, he's modeling him game after Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. Both are shorter targets, making the comparison fitting for Thomas. Thomas is listed at 5-feet-8, 176 pounds and Brown is 5-feet-10, 186 pounds. 
Brown had a career season in 2014, totaling 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

“I’m very impressed with Antonio Brown,” Thomas said. “He’s a great player, and I feel like I have the same ability to make the same plays like him and help the team and be that [kind of impact] player.”



 


Report: Dolphins eyeing CBs Brandon Flowers, Kareem Jackson
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(2:39 pm ET) Looking to upgrade at cornerback, the Dolphins are interested in bringing on Brandon Flowers or Kareem Jackson during free agency, according to a report from the Miami Herald

The Dolphins don't appear sold on cornerback Cortland Finnegan for future seasons with the organization discussing alternative options. 

In 2014, Flowers totaled 52 tackles and three interceptions after signing a one-year deal with the Chargers. Jackson recorded 57 tackles and three interceptions in his fifth season for the Texans. 


Report: Vincent Jackson to return to Buccaneers at full salary
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(2:23 pm ET) WR Vincent Jackson will return to the Buccaneers next season, at full salary, according to a report by Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times

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Jackson will be paid $9.777 million in 2015, with a cap hit of $12 million. 


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(2:23 pm ET) Former Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans is looking to continue his NFL career in 2015, according to a report from Pro Football Talk

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Herremans was a fourth-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft and spent his entire career up to this point with Philadelphia. 


Stephen Tulloch unsure of future with Lions
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Tulloch is scheduled to make $4.8 million in 2015, and the Lions could save $3.2 million against the cap by releasing him. 

So far, this offsesason, the team has not communicated its plans to Tulloch. ""I haven't heard anything about what's going on, my agent hasn't heard anything," Tulloch told Sirius XM radio. "We're just preparing to report, April 20th, accordingly to the mail we've received for the offseason program. It's out of my control.

Tulloch has recovered from the ACL tear that ended his season three weeks in. "I'm way ahead of schedule and I feel great," Tulloch said. "I was telling a friend of mine yesterday, it's crazy how you feel stronger than you did previously, before the surgery." 


Jonas Gray hopes to return to Patriots' plans
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(12:44 pm ET) Jonas Gray burst on the scene for the Patriots last season, rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a Sunday night game. Just as quickly, he was gone. 

Gray overslept and was late for practice, and coach Bill Belichick didn't give him another chance to showcase his skills. Gray was inactive for the Super Bowl. 

Gray learned his lesson. "The tough part for me was to watch it, and not participate in a matter I thought I should," he told Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. "But it's motivation going into the offseason. I just know I need to work harder, so I'll never get myself in that position again." 

Still on the Patriots, Gray believes he'll get a clean slate next season, and he's spending the offseason preparing himself for the opportunity. 

I tell them, I'm going to have a Jerry Rice/Walter Payton mentality where whatever you do isn't enough," Gray said. "I'm going to have a work ethic where I know, in my heart of hearts, I'm going to outwork everybody. That's what I hope to achieve


Ravens' Justin Forsett wants to build on 2014
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(12:27 pm ET) Ravens RB Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, nearly matching his career totals for his six previous seasons in the NFL. 

Forsett is scheduled to be a free agent on March 10, but he hopes to remain with the Ravens, saying he's "praying that everything works out." 

“I want to build upon it,” Forsett told the Baltimore Sun. “I want to be great. I didn’t come in this league to be a one-year wonder."


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(11:00 am ET) Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from ACL surgery, reports FOXSports.com.

Tulloch said he was way ahead of schedule and feeling stronger since undergoing the surgery. Tulloch tore his ACL during a post-play celebration in September.


 
 
 
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