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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
Report: Lions DT Nick Fairley limping Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:14 pm ET) Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley walked with a noticeable limp in the locker room Wednesday and declined to answer questions from the media, per the Detroit News.

Fairley has played through a biceps ailment in recent week, but there has been nothing to indicate any problems with his legs. He did manage his first sack of the season Sunday against the Jets.


Mike Glennon could put up numbers vs. Saints
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:14 pm ET) Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon put together a solid performance in leading his team to a surprise win over the Steelers in Week 4, and now faces a solid matchup in his encore in Week 5 against the Saints.

Glennon had accuracy issues against the Steelers, but still put up 300-plus yards and two touchdowns. He might find some success this Sunday, against a Saints defense that has struggled to slow down opposing quarterbacks. Only four teams have allowed more Fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than the Saints, who have been tagged for 22.5 per game, including 30-plus twice.

Glennon is tough to rely on, given his lack of track record, but there is a chance for him to put up some numbers here. The Saints are likely to go up early Sunday, so Glennon could be forced to pass often. In a two-QB league, Glennon has some upside in Week 5. 


Brian Quick facing a great matchup
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:12 pm ET) Rams wide receiver Brian Quick has emerged as the team's top option in the passing game, and he has a good chance to put together another solid performance with the Eagles on the schedule in Week 5.

Quick leads the team in targets with 22 through three games, and could be set to turn in a big performance Sunday. The Eagles allow the fifth-most Fantasy points per game to opposing wide receiver, with six touchdowns and 173.5 yards per game allowed.

The quarterback situation in St. Louis is worrisome, but Quick has found success in spit of it so far. He is not a slam dunk by any means, but Quick has some upside for Fantasy purposes in Week 5, given the matchup. 


LB Desmond Bishop back with Cardinals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:08 pm ET) Less than a month after waiving linebacker Desmond Bishop, the Cardinals have re-signed him. He had been let go on Sept. 6.

Bishop was a prolific contributor to the Green Bay defense in 2010 and 2011 with 218 total tackles in those seasons combined. But he had just four tackles and one assist with Minnesota a year ago.


Colts LB Jerrell Freeman returns to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:02 pm ET) Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who has not played since the opener due to a hamstring injury, returned to practice Wednesday. Indy is preparing to host the Ravens on Sunday.

DE Osi Umenyiora admits he could be doing more for Falcons
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Falcons defensive end Osi Umenyiora conceded Wednesday that he needs to contribute more to what has been a failing defense in 2014. Atlanta is yielded 28.3 points per game this season and surrendered 41 Sunday at Minnesota.

"Do I feel like I could be helping more? Yes," he told the New York Daily News. He added that he will continue to do whatever the team asks of him.

Umenyiora has yet to start in four games and has registered just six tackles and no sacks.


Zac Stacy could find success through the air
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:57 am ET) Rams running back Zac Stacy is looking for his big breakout performance, and could have a chance to find it in Week 5 against the Eagles.

The Eagles have struggled mightily against opposing running backs this season, allowing 21.0 Fantasy points per game. That number is even higher since going up against the hapless Jaguars in Week 1, as the team's last three opponents have all put up 24-plus points against the Eagles out of the backfield.

The Eagles have actually held their own in the running game, with opposing backs averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. However, they have struggled to keep track of backs in the passing game, where they have allowed four touchdowns over the last three games. Stacy has not made a big impact as a receiver, but this could be his best chance to do so, especially if the Rams end up in a shootout.

Stacy has been splitting work more than we expected, but he should get a healthy role in Week 5. Keep him active. 


Stay the course with Greg Olsen
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(11:51 am ET) Even though Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin continues to emerge as quarterback Cam Newton's favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen should remain a big enough part of the passing game to start across the board in Fantasy.

So what if he was shut down Week 4 at Baltimore? The Ravens have allowed the fewest Fantasy points per game to tight ends this season. It was par for the course. He was the No. 6 tight end in standard CBSSports.com leagues prior to that game, ranking ahead of notables Niles Paul, Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce.

Olsen isn't going to score a touchdown every game, but a tight end who consistently contributes five catches for 60 yards (except when he's facing the Ravens) is going to score enough that you won't be able to justify sitting him in Fantasy unless you just have an embarrassment of riches at the position.

And in that case, make a trade.


Cowboys resting QB Tony Romo on Wednesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) Cowboys sizzling quarterback Tony Romo, who has been dealing with a back issue, is not practicing Wednesday. He has earned a day off.

Romo doesn't seem to need the work, at least based on his performance in Week 4. He buried the Saints with three touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 137.4. He has completed 40 of 52 passes in the last two games combined.


Calvin Johnson feeling better this week
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(11:50 am ET) Lions receiver Calvin Johnson told reporters his sprained ankle is feeling better now than it did at this point last week. Johnson was used mainly as a decoy Week 4, catching two passes for 12 yards.

He'll take on the Bills at home Sunday.


 
 
 
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