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2012 Draft Prep: Kicker and DST strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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• Dave Richard's tiers and strategies: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end

Kickers and defenses are the ugly stepchildren of Fantasy Football. They're necessary but not popular. The summer months are spent researching and analyzing players at four other positions and not spent breaking down the trajectory of rookie placekickers field goal attempts or why a team's secondary depth is among the best in the league.

But you still have to draft kickers and defenses/special teams units (DSTs) and thus a strategy is necessary.

It's not a very complicated strategy, however. Assuming there isn't a wacky scoring nuance that makes kickers or DSTs valuable, both should be considered late round picks if not last two-round picks. I habitually take a kicker with my last pick except for rare situations where I'll spend a second-to-last round pick on one just because I want to get a guy I feel is a quality option before the people picking after me have a chance to get him. DSTs are a bit different and deserve more attention.

Down and dirty with DSTs

Assume you have two strategies when it comes to DSTs: Draft one you're willing to ride all season or draft one that will do well in Week 1 and then move on. I like to call this "DST Roulette."

Any DST in my Top 5 could be considered a must-start option from week to week regardless of the matchup. They're explosive, they create turnovers and they can help. It's never bad to have a top DST if only so you don't have to go to the trouble of finding one you feel confident enough to start on a weekly basis. The Top 5 DSTs will go first off draft boards starting as soon as four rounds before the end of the draft.

But I almost prefer to change my DSTs from week to week based on the matchup. Sure, the 49ers DST is considered tops in the league but if you can start a DST that has a good to great matchup from week to week, wouldn't you? That DST has not one name but multiple names and is made up of the free agent choices on waivers.

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
Lions (vs. STL, at SF, at TEN) Broncos (vs. PIT)
Saints (vs. WAS, at CAR, vs. KC) Falcons (at KC)
Vikings (vs. JAC, at IND, vs. SF) Seahawks (at ARI)

Finally, I'm occasionally asked if it's OK to carry more than one DST at a time. My answer is no except in the case when a red hot DST is on bye and you don't want to risk losing it to someone else on waivers. Don't draft two unless your league rules force you to. I'd rather pick a sleeper running back or a backup quarterback or a tight end than a second DST. If you only need one, draft one.

A leg up on the competition

Rarely is there significant space between the top-finishing kicker in Fantasy and the second-highest producer, but it happened last season. David Akers was worth more than 30 points higher than John Kasay, who was second-best. There were 13 kickers within 30 points of Kasay, providing the point that usually there isn't much separation between the best kickers in Fantasy and the near-best kickers. Kicker production is dependent primarily on accuracy and opportunities. Akers tried 52 field goals in 2011, making 44. No one else came close to that many chances and therefore Akers was a superstar. Billy Cundiff had the second-most attempts with 41, which happens to be the number of kicks the leaders in the space tried in 2010. If you're lucky your kicker will attempt between 33 and 37 kicks and make at least 28. That's a reasonable expectation.

Do powerful offenses mean lots of field goal attempts? Of the 11 kickers with at least 33 tries last season, eight were on teams ranked in the Top 16 in total offense, so that's a pretty good place to start.

Top 10 Fantasy kickers, last five years
Player, # of times Player, # of times
David Akers, 4 Robbie Gould, 2
Rob Bironas, 4 Sebastian Janikowski, 2
Mason Crosby, 4 Nate Kaeding, 2
Stephen Gostkowski, 4 John Kasay, 2
Matt Bryant, 2 Neil Rackers, 2

But attempts are not the end-all, be-all for kickers. For instance, if a kicker attempts 33 tries and makes just 21, a kicker who makes 24 of 28 field goals is better. Unless, of course, the kicker who makes fewer field goals makes more extra points to make up for the point differential. And all of these kicking chances are contingent on the offense, not the kicker himself. Heck, even if the offense scores a touchdown and goes for two the kicker gets nothing. Then what good does he (or the offense he plays on) do you?

Simply put, kickers are the ultimate Fantasy crapshoot. Yes, total offense is a pretty good baseline to get a read on which kickers to chase but it's not foolproof. Not only are kickers up-and-down, but they're a dime-a-dozen. If there's any kind of barometer in which to look for a kicker, find the ones who have finished as Top 10 options over the last several seasons. The most reliable legs stay in the NFL a long time and have good track records.

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. The kickers and DSTs will be there for you with your last picks.

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
Maikon Bonani is favorite for kicker job
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:32 am ET) The Titans will have a battle for the starting kicker job in training camp between Maikon Bonani and undrafted rookie Travis Coons

Bonani, according to the Tennessean, is the favorite to win the job.


Chris Johnson 'flying' in return to action
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:27 am ET) Jets running back Chris Johnson (knee) was medically cleared recently by Dr. James Andrews to participate in training camp, reports ESPN. And he was back on the field Wednesday.

Coach Rex Ryan said Johnson was "flying" in the mandatory conditioning run. The Jets practice Thursday for the first time.

Johnson had surgery this offseason to repair a torn meniscus. As a precaution, the Jets kept him on the sideline in the spring. 

"I'm pretty good," he said of his knee. "I'm ready to do whatever they ask me to do."


Cordarrelle Patterson to stay involved in return game
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:24 am ET) Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the team wants receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to touch the ball as often as possible, which includes continuing to return kicks, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"We want our best players to get their hands on the ball as much as possible. We're not going to keep him from returning kicks because he is such a dangerous weapon there," Zimmer said. "He's been a very hard worker, he has improved his route running since we've been here and things are going to change for these guys in training camp when we are able to start playing bump-and-run. For him to take the next step, we're going to have to see how he gets off a jam and the things that people will try to do to take him away."


Justin Blackmon arrested Wednesday
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:19 am ET) Suspended Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon was arrested for the possession of marijuana Wednesday night in Edmond, OK, reports KWTV, a CBS affiliate in Oklahoma.

According to the police report, Blackmon was stopped for a traffic violation. Officers said they could smell an odor of marijuana coming from inside the car.

After a search, police said they found marijuana and Blackmon was taken into custody. Blackmon was also issued a citation for the traffic violation. Edmond police did not say how much marijuana was discovered in the vehicle.

Blackmon is currently suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.


Giants see Adrien Robinson as a breakout player
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:15 am ET) The Newark Star-Ledger believes Giants general manager Jerry Reese insinuated that tight end Adrien Robinson would be a breakout candidate for the team this season. Reese didn't name Robinson specifically but did talk about him as part of the group of tight ends they're hoping to get some good production from this fall. 

"We still have some guys that have to prove some things. We have some young players with some dynamic skill sets that can get out there and do it," Reese said. "Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, and couple of young tight ends that we like. Those guys have to do out there and do it. I always refer to other people's roster. Julius Thomas only had one catch going into the season. Hopefully we could have a guy that can step out of the shadows and do that for us. They just have to get out there and do it."

Robinson has yet to catch a pass in his NFL career. He's played in just three games. 


Chad Greenway could start at middle linebacker
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:12 am ET) Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Chad Greenway is a realistic option to start at middle linebacker, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

" It's a possibility. We keep working him in there," Zimmer said. "We're just trying to find the best 11 players we can and then figure out where the rest of the guys are going to fit. It’s not out of the question, but time will tell a little bit more on that."

Zimmer was a strong-side linebacker last season for the Vikings.


Demaryius Thomas to miss start of camp for personal reasons
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:53 am ET) Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas has been excused from the first four days of training camp as he tends to a personal matter, the Denver Post reported. 

Report: Ray Rice's suspension will be two games
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:50 am ET) After Yahoo Sports reported Ray Rice would be suspended for two games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the two-game ban would be announced on Thursday

Rice struck his fiancée unconscious in February in an Atlantic City casino. He has since undergone counseling and had charges against him postponed. Bernard Pierce figures to start in Rice's place for the Ravens for however many games he's forced to sit out. 


Josh Gordon will appeal his one-year ban
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:34 am ET) Josh Gordon plans to appeal a one-year suspension with NFL officials on August 1, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. Gordon faces a year-long ban due to a failed drug test earlier this offseason. It's the third failed drug test he's had since entering the league in 2012.

Gordon was also arrested and charged with suspicion of DWI in North Carolina earlier this month. 

The Browns troubled receiver broke out in a major way in 2013, posting 87 catches for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns despite playing with a merry-go-round of mediocre quarterbacks. 


Gruden: Robert Griffin III won't run as much
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:26 am ET) Redskins coach Jay Gruden told NFL Network Thursday morning that quarterback Robert Griffin III won't have as many designed runs as he had in his first two years in the league, but that he does have the green light to scramble when necessary. 

"As far as him running in the pocket, quarterbacks make those decisions, not me," Gruden explained. "On game day, it's hard for me to tell them, 'Stay in the pocket -- don't scramble!' But we'll have some designed plays where we get him outside, let him use his legs, obviously it would be stupid not to."

Gruden did add that RG3 has made "some serious strides" this spring in knowing when to throw and when to bail out of a pass play and run. 


 
 
 
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