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2013 Draft Prep: DST and kicker tiers and strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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No one gets excited about taking a kicker, no one fist-pumps after landing a 'steal' at DST. Just doesn't happen.

They are late-round picks for a reason: Most everyone is in a league with 14 teams or less and the NFL fields 32 teams with one kicker and one DST per. The supply grossly outweighs the demand. If you have one that you don't want to deal with, you send them packing and pick up someone else.

I wish it was that easy at running back.

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When it comes to DSTs and kickers, we're talking about late, late, late draft picks. Like your last two. I don't care if your league has special rules for DSTs or that kickers get 20 points per field goal. So long as everyone starts the same amount of kickers and DSTs, they're all relative, and there's plenty of them.

They're also fairly tough to predict. Many people will play the matchups for defenses and in many cases they'll be right for doing so but sometimes the underwhelming, uninspiring offense rises up to smack a stud D in the mouth. And kickers could be facing a chance at a multitude of field goal attempts in a matchup only to see his offense dominate in the red zone, leaving him with extra point tries.

I think stats can help paint a picture of what to do with kickers and DSTs, but it's not worth a heavy time investment.

Defensive driving

What I thought we'd do this year is see what the difference was between the first, 10th, 12th, 14th and 16th-best DSTs over the last five years (use the size of your league to get an idea of the variance -- e.g., if you're in a 10-team league consider the 10th-best kicker). That should measure just how much stronger the top unit is compared to the fair units and mediocre ones. The 16th-best DST is worth knowing if only because it's the last of the top-half options for a given season.

Top DST 10th best 12th best 14th best 16th best
2012: Bears (253) Falcons (167) Rams (158) Giants (153) Ravens (149)
2011: Ravens (226) Steelers (177) Bills (167) Titans (162) Dolphins (155)
2010: Steelers (238) Chiefs (172) Buccaneers (170) Browns (167) Rams (161)
2009: Packers (239) Panthers (179) Bills (176) Steelers (172) Patriots (169)
2008: Steelers (289) Colts (171) Jets (168) Redskins (162) Cardinals (159)

First, take note of the overall production of the top-ranked DST, delivering on average 14 Fantasy points per game. That's not bad at all. Even if a DST totals 200 points at the end of the season that's 12.5 per game. The goal of every Fantasy owner should be to get a DST that hits that average. But that's not easy. Over the last five years no more than six teams per season have hit that mark. It's a delicate combination of high sack totals, high turnover totals and of course touchdowns scored that push a DST over 200 points.

The next "scoring tier" of DSTs figures to be those that score between 180 and 199 points. But there aren't many of those either -- again, no more than six teams in each of the past five years have scored in that range. And not one of the DSTs that finished 10th in our study produced 180 Fantasy points (11.3 per week).

Start comparing the 10th-best DSTs with the 12th through 16th-best ones and there's no real difference. Maybe 20 points between the 10th and 16th best. Negligible stuff. They're all the same.

Let's boil this down to a really simple premise: You want a DST that puts up points and you know how they put up points. Nothing helps a defense out like a great pass rush -- follow the defenses with impressive pass rushers along with aggressive defensive coordinators and you should be fine. Remember, pressure on the quarterback leads to turnovers and turnovers lead to touchdowns.

What about special-teams play? Maybe you could factor them in if yardage comes into play but with all of the re-tooling the league has done with kickoffs and punt returns there just aren't as many touchdowns. Last year there were a total of 18 punt returns for touchdowns and 13 kickoff returns for touchdowns. That's over 512 games, people. Don't waste your time studying the special-teams units.

If you whiff on getting a DST with a very good pass rush, opt to play the matchups from week to week. It's a little more time consuming because you have to add DSTs to your waiver-wire to-do list every week, but it's kind of fun. Just look for DSTs with favorable matchups and put in a claim for one of them. Then start them. Then after the week's over, cut them if you don't want to use them again. Repeat as necessary until you achieve desired results.

Here are some non-obvious DSTs to get you on your way to begin the year.

Early-season matchups Just Week 1
Browns (vs. MIA, at BAL, at MIN) Buccaneers (at NYJ)
Colts (vs. OAK, vs. MIA, at SF) Chiefs (at JAC)

Kicked up

The difference between the best kicker and the 10th-best kicker from year to year has been an average of 34.6 points. That's just over two points per game, and it's basically the same difference between the top kicker and the 16th-best kicker too!

Top kicker 10th best 12th best 14th best 16th best
2012: B. Walsh (161) C. Barth (135) D. Bailey (130) A. Vinatieri (123) S. Suisham (120)
2011: D. Akers (186) R. Bironas (133) M. Bryant (130) G. Gano (126) A. Henery (120)
2010: S. Janikowski (150) B. Cundiff (117) R. Gould (116) J. Feely (111) J. Scobee (111)
2009: N. Kaeding (152) J. Reed (122) K. Brown (110) R. Gould (109) S. Janikowski (107)
2008: S. Gostkowski (150) R. Bironas (129) R. Lindell (126) M. Prater (124) M. Stover (122)

Kickers are even more random than defenses. Their kicking chances depend on the efficiency of the offenses they play with. The offense can't be so good that they score all the time because it means fewer field goal tries. Only when the coach calls for a field goal does the kicker have the power in his hands, er, feet.

Opportunities are obviously important, relatively more important than a kicker's accuracy in fact. A kicker could make 90 percent of his field goals but what good does that do you when he only attempts 25 tries?

Over the last five years there have been only 29 instances where a kicker makes 30-plus field goals. Only once has a kicker nailed even 40 -- David Akers, 44 made in 2011. Akers also happens to be the only kicker to hit 30-plus field goals four times in the last five years. That's all well and good but he's on a new team this season. Sebastian Janikowski has the second-most 30-plus field goals made season with three.

We could dig in and see just how frequently coaches called on the field goal unit. One problem: Exactly half the head coaches in the league have been at this for four-plus seasons. Nine are entering their second or third seasons and seven coaches are making their NFL debuts in 2013. It's not fair to only research half the league and draw conclusions over which coaches kick the most often. It's also not fair to research which teams kick the most often because of all the mitigating factors that go into kicking.

Finding a foolproof way to draft elite kickers will have to wait. For now, just aim for the big legs on the best offenses. And do it with your last pick (or second-to-last pick if you pick late in the second-to-last round of your draft).

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 .

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Player News
Report: NFL will review Dominic Raiola's ankle stomp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:51 am ET) The NFL will review Lions center Dominic Raiola's action during the third quarter of Detroit's 20-14 victory over Chicago, according to ESPN.

After walking away from a pile, Raiola was caught on camera stepping on Chicago defensive lineman Ego Ferguson's ankle. Following the game, he told reporters his actions were "not intentional."

"It was totally unintentional," Raiola said. "I remember I was stumbling out. I didn't see the end of it. I apologized at the end of the game, told him it was unintentional and we shook hands and that was it."

Raiola got slapped with a $10,000 fine for cut block in the final minute of a Week 12 loss to New England and could be in line for a heftier fine this time around. The league will likely make an announcement before Detroit's Week 17 showdown at Green Bay.


Browns' Johnny Manziel: 'I want to be the guy' next season
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:03 am ET) Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel could be in danger of missing Sunday's season finale against Baltimore, reports Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.

Manziel completed 3 of 8 passes for 32 yards before exiting the second quarter of Sunday's 17-13 loss to the Panthers with a hamstring injury. Following the game, Manziel began making a case for the starting job next season during the postgame press conference.

"I want to be the guy," Manziel said. "That's what I want to do and that's what I want to be for this organization, so for me, if anything, this has motivated me more to head into this offseason."

Manziel has only led his team to two scoring drives out of 15 tries this season. Coach Mike Pettine will likely reveal the severity of his injury on Monday. If Manziel is unable to play, Brian Hoyer will get the start against the Ravens.

Cleveland is currently a 7-point underdog at Baltimore.


Falcons S William Moore slated for MRI on injured shoulder
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:44 am ET) Falcons safety William Moore will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of his injured shoulder, reports ESPN. Moore separated his shoulder in Week 4 and appear to have aggravated the injury after playing 41 snaps against New Orleans on Sunday.

At this point his status remains uncertain for the regular-season finale against Carolina. Atlanta is currently a 3 1/2-point home favorite against Carolina, according to Vegas Insider. The winner will advance to the postseason.


Report: Quad injury won't keep Falcons' Steven Jackson out Week 17
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:21 am ET) The quad injury Falcons running back Steven Jackson suffered in Sunday's 30-14 victory over the Saints in Week 16 is not believed to be serious, reports Vaughn McClure of ESPN.

Jackson left the game in the second quarter and was ruled out early in the third. He finished with four carries for 9 yards and one catch for 14 yards. Although coach Mike Smith didn't share many details on Jackson's injury, McClure reports that the veteran back will return to the starting lineup come Week 17 against Carolina.

Atlanta is currently a 3 1/2-point home favorite against Carolina, according to Vegas Insider. The winner will advance to the postseason.


QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


 
 
 
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