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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
Lions re-sign long snapper Don Muhlbach to one-year deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:48 pm ET) The Lions have re-signed long snapper Don Muhlbach to a one-year contract, the team announced Friday.

Muhlbach made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and has spent his entire 12-year career with the Lions. 


Saints TE Orson Charles pleads guilty in road rage incident
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:44 pm ET) Saints tight end Orson Charles will enter a diversion program after pleading guilty to wanton endangerment in a road rage incident, according to CBS affiliate WKYT.

Last April, Charles was accused of pointing a firearm at another driver on a Madison County, Ky. road. As part of the diversion program, Charles must check in with a parole officer once a month via telephone. If he has no other run-ins with the law, this charge will be dropped from his record. 

Charles spent most of the 2014 season on the Saints' practice squad.

Charles was a former fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft by the Bengals. A standout tight end in college at Georgia, Charles was moved to fullback in Cincinnati before being released prior to the 2014 season. 


Cardinals release defensive tackle Darnell Dockett
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:14 pm ET) The Cardinals are set to move on from defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, the team announced Friday.

Dockett has played his entire 11-year career with the Cardinals, totaling 459 tackles and 40 1/2 sacks. He missed the entire 2014 season after tearing his ACL in the preseason.

Dockett was entering the final year of his contract and saves Arizona $6.8 million in cap space. He also may return to the team wit ha pay cut.

"We have been very clear about our feelings for Darnell and our desire to have him back," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said of the announcement.


Dolphins release wide receiver Brandon Gibson
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:46 pm ET) The Dolphins have released wide receiver Brandon Gibson, the team announced Friday. Gibson was entering the final year of his three-year contract, but played in just 21 of a possible 32 games for Miami. He totaled 59 catches for 621 yards and four touchdowns.

The Dolphins will save $3.2 million in cap space for 2015 by cutting Gibson, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.


Broncos defensive lineman Mitch Unrein hopeful to remain with team
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:28 pm ET) Broncos defensive lineman Mitch Unrein is set to become a free agent this offseason, but he is hopeful to re-sign with the club, according to the team's website.

"Hopefully I can be back in Denver because this is the place I want to be and the only place I want to be," Unrein said. "Only time will tell, but it's been a good offseason. It hasn't snowed too much—it's snowing tonight, obviously, but it's just good to be in Colorado, no matter what it's doing outside."

Unrein has spent all five seasons in the league with the Broncos, totaling 49 tackles in 54 games. He only played eight games in 2014.

"I had Kubiak my rookie year when I was down in Houston—great guy, great motivator," he said. "Unfortunately, I wasn't good enough my rookie year to stick on that team but hopefully I'm good enough this time to stick on this team. The D-line coach, Bill Kollar, great motivator. He gets anyone to work for him. Blood, sweat and tears, as they say, for that guy. So I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully be here in Denver next year."


Report: Ravens, Christo Bilukidi reach agreement on two-year deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:24 pm ET) The Ravens and defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi have an agreement in principle on a two-year deal, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Bilukidi played just four games with Baltimore in 2014 because of injuries, totaling three tackles. In his four seasons in the league, Bilukidi has played a 24 of a possible 64 games.


Redskins announce pair of roster moves Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:12 pm ET) The Redskins announced Friday the release of defensive end Stephen Bowen and the re-signing of tackle Tom Compton.

Bowen played eight games in 2014, totaling 11 tackles. In four seasons with the Redskins, he totaled 96 tackles with seven sacks. By releasing Bowen, the Redskins will save $5.52 million in cap space, according to the Washington Post.

Compton has spent all three years with Washington, starting nine of 16 games in 2014.


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by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:53 pm ET) If Adrian Peterson were to be traded by the Vikings this offseason, his father, Nelson Peterson, may have an idea of his potential landing spots.

"I've heard rumors, Arizona," Nelson said in a phone interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I've also heard the rumors of Indianapolis and the Colts, going there with a quarterback the caliber of (Andrew) Luck. I've also heard the Cowboys, coming back home with the Cowboys, behind that offensive line that they have.

"If a blockbuster deal opens and a team wants to gave them something they can't turn down, they're going to have to take a look at it," his father said.

Peterson ad been suspended by the NFL until April 15 and upheld by an arbitrator. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Doty overturned the arbitrator's decision, sending the case back down to go through the CBA. The NFL has removed the suspension, for now, while moving Peterson back to the Commissioner's Exempt list.

According to the report, the Vikings at this point aren't inclined to trade Peterson, though that may depend on his playing status for next season. The 30-year-old is set to make $12.75 million in 2015. Following Thursday's ruling, the team released the following statement:

"Adrian Peterson is an important member of the Minnesota Vikings, and our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization."


Falcons cut offensive guard Justin Blalock Friday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2:04 pm ET) The Falcons released offensive guard Justin Blalock, the team announced Friday. Blalock has played with Atlanta for the entirety of his eight-year career in the league, missing just three games in total.

The move saves the Falcons $3.79 million against the cap, according to ESPN. He had two years remaining on his deal.


Vikings cut ties with offensive lineman Charlie Johnson
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:57 pm ET) The Vikings have released offensive lineman Charlie Johnson, the team announced Friday. Johnson has spent the last four seasons with Minnesota after coming over from the Colts in 2011. 

The veteran only missed three games in his four seasons with the Vikings. He was due $2.45 million in base salary and has a $2.5 million cap hit for 2015. There is no dead money associated with the transaction.


 
 
 
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