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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
Cowboys' Stephen Jones: Chris Johnson on team's 'short list'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/6/2015) Free-agent running back Chris Johnson recently said he'd love to join the Cowboys. Though the Cowboys aren't in any rush to add another running back, Johnson isn't too far off the team's radar. 

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones was asked about Johnson in a conference call with season-ticket holders. Via the team's website, Jones said the team has at least some interest in Johnson

“We haven’t visited with Chris, and we can’t talk about him because he’s a free agent. But right now we’re looking at the guys that we have on our roster,” Jones said. “He is somebody that is on a short list of ours that we think could ultimately come in and do some good things for us if we asked him to. But I wouldn’t say it’s a priority right now.”

After running for 2,006 yards in 2009, Johnson has been unable to live up to expectations since. With the Jets a year ago, Johnson only totald 663 yards and one touchdown while notching just one start. 

The Cowboys added Darren McFadden this offseason after DeMarco Murray left for Philadelphia. Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams are the other backs on the roster. 


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(5/6/2015) Free-agent linebacker Dane Fletcher visited the Patriots on Wednesday, according to a report from ESPN.com. 

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(5/6/2015) Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil underwent arthroscopic surgical procedures to both of his knees so far this offseason, according to a report from USA Today

Kalil also had injections to help manage joint pain. Both knees were scoped in January before having a Regenexx procedure performed on them in March. Kalil also had platelet-rich plasma therapy performed, too. 

Throughout the procedures, Kalil has been working out and rehabbing at the Vikings' team facility. 


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(5/6/2015) Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has long been talked about as a potential trading chip. 

However, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, who appeared on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN New York 98.7 FM, said that the organization isn't looking to try and trade Wilkerson at this time. 

"We're not actively shopping Mo," Maccagnan said, via ESPN.com. "It's not part of our plans. But, again, his name comes up periodically at times, but nothing active right now."

Wilkerson has been productive for the Jets but is entering the final year of his contract. The Jets also just drafted Leonard Williams, who figures to earn some immediate playing time. 

"Mo's a good player, he's part of this organization and he's currently under contract," Maccagnan said. "We'd like to keep him in this organization. We just have to go through a process with him to figure out, you know, if we can find a middle ground."


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(5/6/2015) A message criticizing Bengals team president Mike Brown was posted on left tackle Andrew Whitworth's personal Twitter account, according to ESPN.com. 

"Mike Brown told me I'm done here," the tweet read. "Said I can play this year and go home. So I told him I want a raise or I'll sit my a-- at home this …"

Moments after the tweet hit the social media site it was deleted. After deactivating his Twitter account, Whitworth logged back on but made his account private. 

Whitworth told ESPN that the tweet originated from his wife, who was trying to send a private message to a teammate for him. Whitworth said his wife is upset over the ordeal but downplayed the message as more of a joke. 

Whitworth is entering the final year of his contract. 


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(5/6/2015) The Eagles have announced that they have signed three of their draft picks. Included are second-rounder and cornerback Eric Rowe, sixth-rounder and cornerback Randall Evans and seventh-rounder and defensive end Brian Mihalik.

Cardinals announce move to Kareem Martin to OLB
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(5/6/2015) What was rumored is now official. The Cardinals are moving Kareem Martin from defensive end to outside linebacker despite his 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, per CBSSports.com NFL Insider Pat Kirwan.

Martin started two of the 11 games in which he played last season. He contributed eight tackles and one sack.


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(5/6/2015) It certainly didn't take long for cornerback Alfonzo Dennard to land a job. One day after his release from the Patriots, the Cardinals officially announced a waiver claim on him.

The three-year veteran fell off the charts in 2014 after two strong years with New England in which he played in 23 games and contributed to 75 tackles.


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(5/6/2015) Colts standout wideout T.Y. Hilton is talking like teammate and newcomer Phillip Dorsett is after his job rather than another wide receiver that can help his team.

But what Dorsett could prove to be is insurance in case Hilton leaves. The young veteran is approaching his contract year.

"There's nothing I can do about that," Hilton told the Indianapolis Star. "That's who they picked. That's cool with me." Hilton went on to talk about his "battle" and "competition" with Dorsett.

Dorsett is certainly no immediate threat to Hilton in regard to playing time. The latter racked up a career-high 1,345 yards in receiving a year ago with seven touchdowns.


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(5/6/2015) Broncos third-year defensive lineman Sylvester Williams has much to prove heading into the 2015 season. He must show he can play nose tackle and that he can fill the void left by the departure of Terrance Knighton.

Williams has been working toward accomplishing those goals. He stayed in the area during the offseason to better his game and remain in peak shape. He has emphasized diet and shedding body fat as well as film study in an attempt to learn of areas in his game that require improvement.

"I already went into this offseason with a lot of motivation from within," he told the Denver Post. "I put a lot on myself to get stronger this year and come back with a better year."

Williams started 13 games last year and contributed to 21 tackles.


 
 
 
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