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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
Ron Rivera: QB Cam Newton 'on target' to start Sunday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:45 pm ET) Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters that quarterback Cam Newton did every drill in Thursday's practice and is "on target" to start Sunday against the Browns. Rivera indicated Newton probably will start but said he did not want to get ahead of himself and noted there's still a lot of time until kickoff.

Newton sustained two small fractures in his back when he was involved in a car crash nine days ago. On Wednesday he split reps with Derek Anderson, and on Thursday, Newton handled the bulk of the first-team snaps.

Newton has accounted for 19 touchdowns and 16 turnovers in 12 games. With Newton now fully expected to play, the Panthers have been installed as 3-point favorites at most Vegas sportsbooks.


Philip Rivers practices, expected to play Saturday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:27 pm ET) Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (back, chest) returned to a full practice Thursday and is expected to play Saturday against the 49ers, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Rivers "didn't do cartwheels out there," the paper said, but he stood in the pocket and made throws.

Rivers has thrown one or zero touchdowns in five of his past six games. The Chargers are 1-point underdogs at San Francisco.


Ravens DE Canty gets thumbs-down again Thursday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:23 pm ET) An ankle problem sidelined Ravens defensive end Chris Canty for the second straight practice Thursday. He has started each of the last six games, but it remains to be seen if he's available Sunday at Houston.

Canty has contributed to 30 tackles and has just a half-sack this year.


Chargers RB Ryan Mathews could miss last two games
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:13 pm ET) Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) missed his second straight practice Thursday ahead of Saturday's visit to San Francisco. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, it's unclear if Mathews will return during the regular season.

Running backs Branden Oliver and Donald Brown will carry the load against the 49ers, assuming Mathews sits out. Mathews has played in just six games this year.


Cam Newton: 'I'm fine either way it goes'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:03 pm ET) Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said he's experienced no pain while practicing the past two days, but wouldn't say whether he expects to start Sunday against the Browns, reports the Associated Press. "I'm fine either way it goes," he said. "I don't want to be a distraction."

Newton suffered two small fractures in his lower back in a car crash nine days ago. He took most of the first-team reps Thursday, ahead of Derek Anderson. The Panthers likely won't announce a starter until Friday at the earliest.

"The truth of the matter is, whoever gets the start, the team is going to back 100 percent," Newton said.


Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray practices, but how much?
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:51 pm ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray participated in the early part of practice for the second straight day Thursday, but it wasn't yet clear if he joined team drills after watching those Wednesday, reports the Dallas Morning News. Murray's left hand was wrapped.

He had surgery Monday to fix a broken bone in his hand. If Murray can't play Sunday against the Colts, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar would share backfield duties.

The Cowboys are 3-point favorites over the AFC South champs.


Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman returns Thursday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:50 pm ET) Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman was back at practice Thursday after missing the last five games with a foot injury. He looked good running pass routes early in the session, per ESPN.

It remains to be seen if Hillman is healthy enough to play Monday night at Cincinnati.


Cam Newton dominates first-team reps Thursday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:33 pm ET) After splitting reps with Derek Anderson on Wednesday, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton dominated the first-team snaps at practice Thursday, reports NFL.com. The Associated Press said Newton "did not appear to have any problems throwing the ball and moved around well."

A car accident nine days ago left Newton with two fractures in his lower back. He sat out Week 15 and watched Anderson throw for 277 yards and a touchdown in a win over Tampa Bay.

Newton will address the media later on Thursday. Coach Ron Rivera has said he hopes to name a starter Friday for Sunday's game against Cleveland.


Peyton Manning leaves practice to get treatment on thigh
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:18 pm ET) Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning stretched with the team Thursday, then left practice to get treatment on his injured thigh, reports the Denver Post. Manning had to leave the Week 15 win at San Diego due to the thigh injury but returned quickly and finished the game.

The paper said Manning went in for "normal treatment" and did not suffer a setback. "No reason for concern yet," the paper said, adding Manning is expected to practice Friday. ESPN.com called Manning's absence a "planned rest day."

Manning gets an extra day to prepare for Week 16 as Denver visits Cincinnati on Monday night. He has one touchdown pass over his past two games.

The Broncos are laying 3 or 3.5 points at Vegas sportsbooks.


Broncos elevate TE Dominique Jones
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:04 pm ET) The Broncos promoted tight end Dominique Jones to the active roster. He's played in 13 career games, catching three passes for 42 yards.

 
 
 
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