Dr. Z's Fantasy Football Rule #5

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a series of recommendations for your Fantasy Football 2010 draft.    The series will run until the NFL kicks off on September 9th. Rule #5: KAGNOF. An acronym I am stealing from one of my favorite, and funniest, fantasy baseball blogs, Razzball.com, KAGNOF is similar to Razzball’s term SAGNOF: “Saves Ain’t Got NO Face” (and also “Steals Ain’t Got NO Face,” but the latter is more common). In this case, my term is Kickers Ain’t Got NO Face (I know, I’m very creative and original. What can I say?).

KAGNOF simply means that all kickers are pretty much the same. They are valuable only in that they are the ones chosen by their NFL team to go out and kick an oblong ball between two uprights, spaced 18 feet and 6 inches apart, and 10 feet off the ground.

I tried to find a single statistic that could determined the fantasy success of a kicker. Many “experts” advise drafting kickers on a strong offensive team that moves the ball and racks up yards. The logic follows that teams that can move the ball downfield will get the ball in the kicker’s range more often, leading to more field goal attempts. More field goal attempts will result in a higher number of successful conversions and higher fantasy points. If the team moves the ball into the end zone for a TD, than the kicker will get one point for the extra point. Either way, the kicker scores fantasy points. The main problem with this theory is that it does not account for teams with strong defenses that force turnovers and put their team in good field position. Since good field position, by definition, means fewer yards for the offense to travel to the end zone, these teams often don’t rank very high in yards per game. But on these teams, the ball is in the kicker’s range more often (because of the good field position) leading to a higher number of attempts. And, just like before, a higher number of attempts results in a higher number of successfully converted field goals.

New York Jets and their kicker Jay Feely are a perfect case of my point. The Jets ranked 20th among all offenses, averaging 321 yards per game, compared to the top-ranked New Orleans Saints, who compiled on average 403.8 yards/game. The Jets defense however, was tops in the league, allowing a stingy 252.3 yards/game and 14.8 points per game, both stats leading the league in their respective category. Feely meanwhile, finished 5th among fantasy kickers, only 26 points behind the top scorer, which comes out to a difference of 1.7 points per week. Not much. Seems like this theory is as consistently correct as Martin Gramatica’s ability to safely celebrate after a successful field goal conversion.

Another idea that floats out there wildly, like a Mike Vanderjagt field goal attempt during the playoffs, is that kickers on teams that score more points per game, instead of just racking up meaningless yards, benefit from the high scoring, which transfers over to fantasy points. Either the kicker contributes by kicking field goals or extra points. It would seem to follow that kickers that kick more extra points, and are therefore on high octane offenses, would also translate to fantasy success. But fantasy games are usually not won on extra points, which are only worth one point each, but instead by long field goals of 50-plus yards, or multiple, shorter, field goals. But teams that score touchdowns are more likely to lead in the scoring category without giving their kicker a chance to score tons of fantasy points. In fact, last year, four of the top ten fantasy kickers were on teams that were ranked outside of the top ten in points per game. Three of the four, Rob Bironas of the Tennessee Titans, Jay Feely of the New York Jets, and Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos, were ranked 16th or worse (16th, 17th, and 19th respectively). Bironas scored the 4th highest fantasy points among kickers while Prater and Bironas were tied for 5th. Similarly, In 11 games, temporary New Orleans Saints place kicker John Carney had as many point afters as fantasy leading kicker, Nate Kaeding, of the San Diego Chargers, had in all 16 games. In those eleven weeks, Carney scored a total of 87 fantasy points, an average of 7.9 points per week. An average that, extrapolated out to cover a full season, would give him roughly 126 points, good enough for 9th among fantasy kickers. Carney was eventually replaced by the 22 years-younger Garret Hartley, who finished with very similar statistics as Carney. Hartley scored 32 fantasy points in his five games. If you add Hartley’s points in 5 games, and Carney’s points in 11 games, to make a full, 16 game, season, the Saints kickers’ fantasy total comes out to 122 points, tied with Pittsburgh Steelers’ Jeff Reed for 10th. Not great for the team that lead the league in TDs and extra point attempts (the Saints also did not attempt a single 2 point conversion in the 2009 regular season). Like Vanderjagt’s attempt, this idea didn’t have much of a chance from the moment it left the ground.

But it really doesn’t matter that I was not able to find a reliable stat to predict the success of fantasy kickers. Last season, the #1 fantasy kicker, Nate Kaeding, finished with 155 points. The worst starting kicker, or the #10 fantasy kicker, was Jeff Reed, who scored 122 points. The difference between the two is 33 points. Last year the difference between the best and 10th best was an even smaller 25 points. In 2007 and 2006, just 37 and 31 points respectively. This is even smaller than the difference in Defenses and Special Teams (D/ST), which I wrote about in Rule #4.

The only reliable indicator of fantasy kicking success is that the kickers that had the highest number of successful field goals tended to be ranked among the top fantasy kickers. A real surprise! Right? There are just too many variables at play to find a reliable predictor for the following season. How can you predict which team will give their kicker the opportunities to successfully kick more field goals? We ruled out teams with strong offenses, both in yardage and scoring. Perhaps strong defenses, like the Jets? Nope. That was one of the least reliable indicators I examined.

But not only do you have to predict a statistic for a team, you also have to factor in the value of each tier of kick. In ESPN standard leagues, a kick under 39 yards is 3 points, a kick between 40 and 49 yards is worth 4 points, and a kick over 50 yards is worth 5 points. And it’s not rare to see those values vary. Additionally, a field goal missed, at any distance, is -1 points. With all that in mind, it’s practically impossible to correctly predict kickers’ fantasy numbers.

Therefore, the top 10 kickers (you, or anyone else in your league, would be crazy to draft more than one kicker, or maybe just unprepared and unknowledgeable like this guy), are almost equivalent, so why waste a pick by taking a kicker before the last round? I don’t care what your buddy says about how many times the Minnesota Vikings are going to get into the Red Zone with the gun-slinger back in purple and leading them down the field. KAGNOF! Draft them with your last pick. Always. Or if you’ve made a mistake earlier in the draft and see a steal, don’t draft a kicker at all: grab the “steal” and pick up the booter in free agency before week one. In case you still doubt me, I’m not alone.

Contact: If you have a fantasy football question, comment, insult, or compliment for Dr. Z, send it to Nightcapkspc@gmail.com or call in to The Nightcap on KSPC Mondays 8-10 PM at (909) 626-KSPC. No inquiry is too big or small. It might even be featured in Dr. Z’s next column! Please include your first name and from which city you are writing.

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