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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
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III cleared for Saturday game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7:45 pm ET) Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is ready to roll for the third preseason game Saturday in Baltimore, per the Washington Post.

Griffin was diagnosed as symptom-free from the concussion he sustained last week against Detroit.


Report: Giants SS Nat Behre done for year with calf injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7:41 pm ET) Nat Berhe is apparently the latest Giants safety to have his season ended before it really began. He will have calf surgery Friday, sources have told per NJ.com.

Three other Giants safeties have already been lost for the year.

Behre played in all 16 games, but started none for the Giants as a rookie in 2014 and contributed to 14 tackles.


Timetable pushed back for Colts CB Greg Toler (neck)
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7:31 pm ET) Colts cornerback Greg Toler is no longer considered day-to-day with a neck injury. He's week-to-week, which causes concern that he will not be ready when the team opens its regular season on Sept. 13 in Buffalo, per ESPN.

Toler sustained the injury Saturday in a preseason game against Chicago.


Bucs WR Mike Evans (hamstring) targeting Week 1 return
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(4:08 pm ET) Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, who sustained a hamstring injury in the second preseason game against the Bengals, is targeting a Week 1 return.

Evans said if it were the regular season, he would play this week. However, he said resting is the way to go to make sure he is 100 percent by the Sept. 13 opener against the Titans.

"I think it’s smart," Evans said of sitting the final two preseason games, per ESPN.com. "There’s nothing to risk. I’ve already proved myself and I’m just trying to get back for Week 1."

One benefit of playing the last two games would be to get more work with rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. However, Evans said building rapport is not an issue.

"I’ve had enough," Evans said. "We’ll be ready for Week 1. We’re both professionals."

Evans had a pretty strong rookie campaign, totaling 68 catches for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns. However, he is expecting better things in 2015 because of Winston's arrival and his new role in coordinator Dirk Koetter's offense.

"I’m just so much more comfortable with this offense," Evans said. "There are a lot of plays to be made in this offense. I’m playing the X this year. I like it more and I’ll get more opportunities."


NFL suspends Packers DL Letroy Guion for three games
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:59 pm ET) Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion has been suspended for the first three games of the 2015 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the NFL announced Thursday. He will miss games against the Bears, Seahawks and Chiefs, and he is eligible to return Week 4 against the 49ers.

Broncos' Kubiak: Sanders could be a full participant in practice next week
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:38 pm ET) Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said Thursday wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders could be a full participant in practices next week. Sanders, who has missed the first two preseason games, has been sidelined since suffering a hamstring injury Aug. 6.

“He ran [Wednesday]," Kubiak said, per ESPN.com. "Everything was positive, good. I’m hoping [Friday] he gets some throwing in with Peyton (Manning). I think everything is on schedule for him to be a full-time participant next week."


Browns QB Johnny Manziel (elbow) out for rest of preseason
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:16 pm ET) Browns coach Mike Pettine said Thursday quarterback Johnny Manziel will not play during Saturday's preseason game against the Bucs due to a sore elbow and is also certain to miss the exhibition finale against Chicago.

The Browns signed quarterback Pat Devlin for quarterback depth with Manziel hurting. However, Pettine said Devlin probably wouldn't play Saturday, either.


Safety Will Hill inks two-year deal with Ravens
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:06 pm ET) The Ravens signed safety Will Hill to a two-year contract Thursday. Hill, who would have been eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, was slated to play the year under the $1.542 million restricted free agent tender.

Terms of his new deal were not immediately known.

"When I first signed and I sat down with [general manager Ozzie Newsome], I knew from that point that I didn’t want to go anywhere," Hill said, per The Baltimore Sun. "I wanted to be a Raven, and this extension, it just helped out and it gives me a lot of confidence on the playing field and it helps me see what the organization thinks of me."


Giants WR Victor Cruz won't play in Saturday's preseason game
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(2:56 pm ET) Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf) will not play in Saturday's preseason game against the Jets, coach Tom Coughlin said Thursday.

Coughlin said earlier in the week it was a possibility the veteran receiver would miss the entire preseason schedule. Cruz was progressing coming off a major knee injury he sustained last season before suffering a calf injury in training camp.


Falcons' Quinn: Tevin Coleman on track to make preseason debut Sat.
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:50 pm ET) Falcons rookie running back Tevin Coleman, who has been slowed by a hamstring injury, is set to make his preseason debut Saturday against the Dolphins, coach Dan Quinn said Thursday.

“At this point, Tevin is a little closer than Devonta (Freeman) just from the week of practice,” Quinn said, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “So, I’m certainly hoping that will be a break for him. He’s had a really good week.

"Unless there is some type of setback over the next couple of days. I anticipate him being ready to rock.”


 
 
 
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