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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
Bills QB EJ Manuel adds weight as way to improve
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(7:00 pm ET) Bills quarterback EJ Manuel is in the middle of a three-way competition for the starting job in Buffalo, but he's hoping that the weight he added during the offseason will help him get the starting nod, per The Buffalo News.

Manuel estimates he gained eight to 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason with the intention of staying healthy -- he missed six games as a rookie in 2013 due to injury.

“I feel a lot better this way,” Manuel siad. “I still feel like I’m quick and fast and able to move around. I think that’s just about being durable and obviously being able to take a full season.”

With Tyrod Taylor and Matt Cassel competing alongside him to become the starting quarterback this year, Manuel feels he has a great chance to come out the top guy.

"I feel like I’m right there in the mix, so I’ve just got to go out every day and get better," Manuel said.

Manuel threw for 838 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions in five games last season.


Jets G Willie Colon fighting to leave NFL on his own terms
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:12 pm ET) Willie Colon is very self-aware. He knows 32-year-old linemen, entering their 10th season in the league are often looked at as sparable. He wants to avoid that, per The New York Post.

Colon is working hard this offseason with the Jets, after signing a one-year deal to remain with the team. He knows that the extra work is the only thing that can keep him around.

“I never want to go home and sit on the couch and wonder, ‘Maybe I could have done this better. Maybe I could have prepared a little better;’ I never wanted that feeling,’’ Colon said. “I want to feel like if anything ever happens [getting cut], it wasn’t due to my play, it was a decision that the front office made. I always want to feel like I gave it all I got.’’

The veteran guard has started every game for the Jets the last two seasons.


Buccaneers RB Doug Martin: 'I would really love to be back here'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:06 pm ET) Buccaneers running back Doug Martin isn't ready for a change of scenery.

Martin, who is entering his fourth year in the league, doesn't want the Bucs' decision to not pick up his fifth-year option to mean he's done in Tampa, per The Tampa Tribune.

“I have my own house here now and I’m just now fixing up the backyard,’’ Martin said. “It’s almost finished, so I would really love to be back here. I love this place.’’

The move not to pick up the option was largely based off finances. Martin was slated to make $5.6 million during the fifth year, which was a hefty price-tag for a guy who has been injury riddled his last two seasons.

“It didn’t surprise me,’’ he said. “And I don’t want to say, you know, ‘Whatever,’ because it’s something that just comes along with the business end of things. It’s part of the game. Besides, if I do everything that’s under my control, everything will fall into place the way I want it to."

Martin has rushed for fewer than 500 yards in consecutive seasons after posting an astounding rookie season, when he rushed for 1,454 and 11 touchdowns.


Falcons cut rookie linebacker Derrick Malone
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:34 pm ET) The Falcons remained busy this week, waiving rookie linebacker Derrick Malone on Friday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Malone signed with the Falcons as an undrafted free agent out of Oregon earlier this month.


Broncos' Omar Bolden on kick return duties: 'That is my job'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:27 pm ET) Broncos strong safety Omar Bolden wants to be the team's kick returner and he just let the world know it.

"That is my job," Bolden said. "I want it."

Bolden returned 13 kicks for 429 yards and a 33-yard average last season.


Eagles LB Kiko Alonso is doing 'everything' at OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:12 pm ET) Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso has surprised everyone, himself included, by participating in organized team activities, per nfl.com.

Alonso, who tore his ACL in July, was participating without limitations at Eagles practice this week.

"I honestly didn't think I'd be doing this much," Alonso said. "I've just been going on how I feel, and it's feeling really good."

To put his recovery in perspective, Alonso tore his ACL two months prior to teammate Sam Bradford, who is still recovering and has been seen walking with a limp.


Seahawks DE Michael Bennett not at OTA's due to contract dispute
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:09 pm ET) Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has been noticeably absent from organized team activites this week, and now it's clear his absence is because he wants a new contract, per The Seattle Times.

Bennett is staying away from team activities because he hopes he can get a new deal from the Seahawks.

"Trying to get the contract right,’’ Bennett said. “I’ll be there shortly. I don’t know when I’ll be there. Depends on the team and stuff. See how it works out."

Bennett, who is in the second year of a four-year, $28.5 million deal, wants a contract that will pay him what the top seven players at his position earn. His current deal averages out to be 14th in salary among defensive ends in a 4-3 defense.

“Somewhere near the top seven at my position, top eight at my position,’’ Bennett said. “Not a lot of guys play inside and out (meaning both tackle and end). Not a lot of guys do what I do. So I feel like I should be somewhere near there.

“I just want to be in the realm of the guys that play like me,’’ he said. “There are only so many guys that do what I do, and I would love to be like somewhere in there where they are at.’’

Bennett recorded 38 tackles and seven sacks in 16 games last season.


Browns roster moves: Sign DL Christian Tupou, WR Josh Lenz
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:56 am ET) The Browns continue to keep busy this offseason by adding defensive lineman Christian Tupou and wide receiver Josh Lenz , per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.

Tupou was previously a member of the Browns' practice squad, while Lenz was released by the Colts earlier this month.


Report: Jets rework WR Brandon Marshall's contract
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:24 am ET) Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall is set to make more money after the team reworked his contract, per ESPN.com.

Marshall's contract, which was worth $24.3 million over the next three seasons, now has a maximum value of $26 million, including an additional $1.3 million in full guarantees.

Marshall was scheduled to earn up to $7.7 million this season, which included his base salary and a workout bonus. He will now earn $9 million.

Overall, Marshall's restructured deal allows him to earn $2.7 million more in the next two years, but he can potentially earn $1 million less in 2017 than he was previously scheduled.

Marshall signed with the Jets this offseason after catching 61 passes for 721 yards and eight touchdowns for the Bears last season.


QB Shuffle: Bills cut Jeff Tuel, claim Matt Simms off waivers
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:09 am ET) Bills coach Rex Ryan didn't pass up the chance to reunite with one of his former quarterbacks, by cutting Jeff Tuel and claiming the former Jets passer Matt Simms off waivers on Friday, per nfl.com.

Tuel was a favorite of former Bills coach Doug Marrone, but with Ryan now the head man in charge his fate was doomed.

Simms, who played in just four games while with the Jets, will still be a long-shot to make the team because of the three-man competition at the quarterback spot already brewing between Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel.


 
 
 
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