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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
Mychal Kendricks should be fine for Week 3
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:22 am ET) Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who left the Monday night win over the Colts with a calf injury, said afterward it was only a spasm and that he'll be fine for Sunday's game against the Redskins, reports the Philadephia Inquirer. Kendricks made seven tackles in the 30-27 victory.

Colts DST comes apart in second half
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:15 am ET) The Colts DST enjoyed a fine first half against the Eagles, allowing just a pair of field goals. But the unit fell apart in the second half of a 30-27 home loss.

Philly rolled up 458 total yards as running back Darren Sproles (152 receiving yards) shot through Indy's defense on screens and dumpoffs. The Colts finished with one turnover, cornerback Greg Toler's acrobatic interception, and no sacks.

The Colts DST has given up 61 points in two games against high-powered offenses. Indy should have more luck Week 3 when it visits the plodding Jaguars.


Adam Vinatieri nails two field goals
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:09 am ET) Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri nailed 46- and 27-yard field goals in the Week 2 loss to the Eagles. He added three PATs for a nine-point night.

Vinatieri visits the Jaguars in Week 3.


Hakeem Nicks goes for negative yardage
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:07 am ET) Colts receiver Hakeem Nicks had a chance for a first-quarter touchdown Monday night, but he could not come down with a fade from Andrew Luck. Nicks ended up catching one of his three targets for minus-4 yards. On the reception, Nicks caught the ball behind the line and was swarmed by Eagles defenders.

Nicks will try to bounce back Week 3 at Jacksonville.


Several Colts pitch in
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:04 am ET) The Colts got contributions from a variety of players in the Week 2 loss to the Eagles. Among them, tight end Jack Doyle caught two passes for 12 yards, including a 2-yard score that was his first NFL touchdown. Rookie wideout Donte Moncrief had a 16-yard grab.

Reggie Wayne quiet on MNF
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:57 am ET) Colts wideout Reggie Wayne caught three passes for 28 yards in the Monday night loss to the Eagles. Wayne was targeted seven times, second-most on the team, but took a big step back from his nine-catch, 98-yard performance Week 1.

Wayne visits the Jaguars in Week 3.


T.Y. Hilton draws another 11 targets
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:54 am ET) Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton drew 11 targets for the second straight game Monday night. Hilton caught six passes for 65 yards against the Eagles but failed to generate the big plays he's known for; Andrew Luck overthrew Hilton on one bomb.

Through two games, Hilton has 10 catches for 106 yards and no scores. He visits Jacksonville in Week 3.


Trent Richardson enjoys best game as a Colt
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:50 am ET) Colts running back Trent Richardson failed to surpass 64 rushing yards in any game last season. He ran for 79 yards on 21 carries (3.8 ypc) in Monday's loss to the Eagles, adding a 16-yard catch on his lone target.

Richardson got off to a great start and had 57 rushing yards in the first half. He displayed better burst and was hard to bring down. Predictably, Richardson bogged down after halftime, even coughing up a third-quarter fumble.

Still, Richardson will look to build off this performance Week 3 at Jacksonville.


Colts' tight ends nearly invisible Monday night
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:45 am ET) Colts tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen were barely involved in the passing game Week 2. Fleener caught his only target for 13 yards, while Allen was targeted once without a catch.

They'll visit Jacksonville in Week 3.


Ahmad Bradshaw shines in Monday night spotlight
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:44 am ET) Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw had three receiving touchdowns in his career entering Monday night's game against the Eagles. Bradshaw nearly matched that total, catching two scoring passes from Andrew Luck in the 30-27 loss.

Bradshaw scored on a 1-yard toss in the first quarter and a 7-yarder in the fourth quarter. He caught all five of his targets for 26 yards and rushed for 70 yards on 13 carries (5.4 ypc).

Bradshaw received 10 more touches Week 2 than he did Week 1. He's up to 10 catches this season and should maintain a prominent role going forward, assuming he avoids injury. He'll visit the Jaguars in Week 3.


 
 
 
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