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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
Report: Lions ready to make a change at kicker
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) The Lions are going to make a change at kicker, according to the Detroit Free Press. Detroit is planning to sign former Eagles kicker Alex Henery after kicker Nate Freese missed another field goal attempt Week 3.

Freese has converted just 43 percent of his field goal attempts (3 for 7) through three games. All four of his misses have come from 40-49 yards.


Niles Paul taking advantage of Jordan Reed's absence
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) Redskins tight end Niles Paul entered this season with 14 receptions through his first 44 NFL games, so his ascension to the top of the tight end ranks has been a huge surprise, to say the least. Can he keep it up?

Washington has thrown the ball around a ton this season, as the team's 121 passing attempts through three games ranks fifth in the NFL. 24 of those passes have gone Paul's way, and he has hauled in 18 of them for 253 yards, landing him squarely in the top-10 in receiving yards so far. Only Jimmy Graham has more yards than Paul, among tight ends.

Unfortunately, one player looms large with the potential to derail Paul's breakout season. Fellow tight end Jordan Reed has not played or practiced since leaving Week 1's game with a hamstring injury, but he was supposed to be the team's big breakout candidate this season. If he gets back to health, Paul's time in the spotlight could come to an end.

Fortunately for Paul's Fantasy owners, Reed's recovery from his injury has been extremely slow. Paul looks like a must-start Fantasy option, at least as long as Reed is out, so watch those practice reports. 


Coach confident DeMarco Murray will fix fumbling issue
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:13 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is off to a great start in 2014. He's rushed for more than 100 yards and has a rushing touchdown in each of the first three games.

However, it hasn't been all positives for Murray, who has also lost a fumble in each game this season.

"It’s very disappointing," Murray said of his fumbling issues, per ESPN. "I’m very disappointed in letting that one go. I’ve got to get it fixed and I will get it fixed."

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has the utmost confidence in Murray correcting his fumbling problems.

"We’re going to continue to give him the ball and he’s got to get it right," Garrett said. "He’s going to get it right."


How will the Chargers replace Danny Woodhead?
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:09 am ET) With do-everything running back Danny Woodhead reportedly out for an extensive period of time, the Chargers find themselves looking to plug some major holes in the backfield. Though Donald Brown did a serviceable Ryan Mathews impression while carrying a truly massive load in Week 3 against the Bills, Woodhead's absence leaves the team searching for another dimension.

Among the players on the depth chart, neither Brown nor reserve Branden Oliver seems likely to replicate Woodhead's skillset -- few players in the NFL can. Brown's career-high in receptions came a year ago, when he hauled in 27 passes for the Colts -- that's about four good games of work from Woodhead. Oiliver is likely to see a larger role than the three carries he received in Week 3, and he might be the nearest thing the team has to what Woodhead leaves behind. 

Oliver had just 25 receptions as a senior at the University of Buffalo, but was a much more productive receiver earlier in his career. He hauled in 38 passes for 365 yards as a sophomore in 2011, good for third on the team in both categories, so he has some skills as a receiver.

With just three carries and no receptions under his belt in his NFL career, Oliver is very much an unknown quantity at this point. You won't want to rush out and add him this week, but keep an eye on how the team utilizes him in Week 4 against the Jaguars, a matchup which could get him plenty of work.  


Cecil Shorts plays every snap in return from injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:06 am ET) Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts played all 60 snaps Sunday against the Colts after missing the first two games due to a hamstring injury. He was targeted 10 times, hauling in five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.

"I felt good," Shorts said, per ESPN. "I tell you what, our training staff and our strength staff does a great job. They got me back real fast. It felt good to be back out there with the guys." 


Report: Marcus Easley to miss 4-6 weeks due to knee injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:59 am ET) Bills wide receiver Marcus Easley is expected to miss 4-6 weeks due to an MCL sprain, a league source told ESPN. Easley primarily plays on special teams and has no catches through three games.

Owen Daniels to step into larger role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) With Dennis Pitta going down with another hip injury, Ravens tight end Owen Daniels is likely to be thrust into a larger role than he has had the first three games, and it is one he should be well-suited to fill.

It is easy to forget, but Daniels was considered a borderline No. 1 tight end last season, before he suffering through a season of Matt Schaub's quarterbacking and a fractured fibula. In 2012, he finished 8th among tight ends in Fantasy scoring -- just two points behind Pitta. Daniels caught 60.2 percent of passes thrown his way to finish the season with 62 receptions for 716 yards that season, and could put up similar numbers the rest of the way.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco likes to throw to his tight ends, as Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark and Pitta combined for 128 targets a year ago. With Daniels the best receiving option left among the team's tight ends, expect most of the looks to go his way, and he already showed in Week 2 he can be a solid red-zone target for Flacco.

Daniels is still unowned in three-quarters of CBSSports.com leagues, but should be worth targeting if you lost Pitta or are otherwise looking for help this week. 


Could Bortles time make Allen Hurns more effective?
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:25 am ET) Generally speaking, rookies are tough to rely on in Fantasy. They tend to produce inconsistent numbers while learning the game, making them incredibly tough to rely on from a week-to-week perspective. That has certainly been the case for Jaguars rookie Allen Hurns, who has sandwiched two double-digit Fantasy efforts around a near no-show in Week 2. Now that he has a rookie in Blake Bortles throwing it to him, why should we expect Hurns to be any more reliable moving forward?

Hurns has shown an impressive ability, thus far, to get open down the field. Even during his 2-catch, 13-yard stinker against Washington, he was open downfield and dropped a sure-fire long touchdown. Chad Henne might have lost faith in Hurns after that, as he failed to target him once in Week 3, but newly appointed starter Bortles looked Hurns way three times in the second half of Sunday's game, with the duo eventually hooking up for a 63-yard score.

The long touchdown is starting to become Hurns' signature play, and he will have real home-run potential for Fantasy. He will also likely certainly be wildly inconsistent, as both he and Bortles feel their way through their first weeks together in the NFL. Still, he has a chance to be one of the top rookie wideouts in the league this season, and is worth taking a chance on in waivers this week -- he is owned in just 41 percent of CBSSports.com leagues.  


Randall Cobb frustrated with play after three weeks
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb was not happy following his team's 19-7 loss Sunday against the Lions. Cobb totaled only three catches for 29 yards, and the entire offense struggled against a Lions defense that was decimated by injury.

"Our defense played their butts off tonight," Cobb said, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We did nothing for them. It was kind of embarrassing as an offense, embarrassing myself the way I played."

Although Cobb had two touchdowns Week 2 and three on the season, he has just 14 catches for 126 yards through three games. He also has just one catch of 20-plus yards.

"I have to do more, I have to give this team more," he said. "I have to look in the mirror first and see where it is that I can do more to help this team out."


John Brown unlikely to be a reliable source of scores
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Arizona rookie wide receiver John Brown is sure to be one of the hottest names on the waiver wire ahead of Week 4, but Fantasy owners might be searching for fool's gold if they are looking to bolster their receiving corps with the young Cardinals wide out.

Through the first three weeks of his career, Brown looks like a bonafide red-zone monster, having hauled in three touchdowns, including two in Sunday's win over the 49ers. However, he also had just 52 receiving yards in the game, with almost all of his value coming from those two scores. Unfortunately, an early proclivity for scoring doesn't necessarily mean a player has a nose for the end zone.

Over the past five seasons, 14 rookies have caught two touchdowns in a game while failing to top 55 yards in that same game, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com's play index. And though some of them -- Jimmy Graham, Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski -- went on to stardom, the collective isn't particularly impressive as a whole. Over their next two games played, the 14 players accounted for 10 total touchdowns but just 149 Fantasy points overall, an average of just 5.3 points per game.

Brown has been the best Fantasy option in the Cardinals' receiving corps so far, but he won't be much use if -- when -- the touchdowns run dry. He is just third on the team in targets and could be a big-time disappointment moving forward. 


 
 
 
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