The Kicker - Fantasy Football's Evolutionary Appendix
Fantasy football has come a long way since emerging from the primordial soup of newspapers and box score scouring. In many ways, however, its evolution has remained stagnant. While it is certainly necessary to maintain a semblance of normalcy to cater to the masses, the fantasy football realm has done little to change the way the vast majority plays the game.
But there is one change that we should have made long ago.
Fantasy football leagues should remove kickers from the equation entirely. They are the Nokia flip phones of the fantasy realm—apologies to Andrew Luck—a relic of from the bygone days before smart phone ubiquity. Kickers should have been booted from the fantasy realm by now. We seek comfort in familiarity, which breeds stagnancy without action. As fantasy football germinated across the worldwide web, it should have lopped the kicker off our starting lineups. Much like human appendices, however, the kicker has survived the evolution of the game.
They persist. And we draft them, sometimes far too early. Is there any method you can employ to the madness?
Kickers garner reputations, even in fantasy football communities. You will still find someone willing to draft Sebastian Janikowski with something higher than a final-round pick or more than one dollar in auction leagues. That is despite the fact the Polish Powderkeg has finished in the top five twice and the top 10 thrice in fantasy scoring over the past decade. Granted, the past 10 years have not exactly been kind to Oakland offenses, but Janikowski is clearly just a name.
Beyond Seabass, is there any sort of consistency? David Akers blew away the competition by 30-plus fantasy points in 2011 only to see his accuracy fail him and his owners last year. He wound up 10th in fantasy scoring, having hit on just 69 percent of his kicks for the 49ers. John Kasay finished second to Akers in 2011 and was out of the league last year, though injuries had something to do with that. The word cloud at the top of this article is based on the top 10 fantasy-scoring kickers in each of the past 10 seasons. The list varies wildly, populated by 41 different names.
Suddenly we have an influx of young guns, their legs set to semi-automatic that can bring the boom. Greg Zuerlein made a name for himself quickly as Legatron in St. Louis last season, hammering home 50-yard field goals with astounding accuracy before fading a bit after three missed kicks in Miami. Fellow rookie Blair Walsh took up the rookie mantle, though, winding up with the most fantasy points in the league. Justin Tucker rounded out a fantastic rookie class, one seemingly poised to take over the fantasy landscape at the position.
But if you dig deeper, age has little to do with fantasy success.
That scatter chart seems random because it is random. There is no correlation between age and fantasy success here. Unlike at every other position, age has almost zero predictive qualities when it comes to forecasting fantasy scoring for kickers. Jason Hanson was fifth in the league in fantasy scoring last season at age 42. Akers was 37 when he led the league in 2011, and Walsh was at the opposite end of the spectrum at 22 last year.
A personal strategy has been to target an indoor kicker when making my selection at the position. After all, why not try to mitigate the impact of a few variables like wind and weather when choosing a kicker? Jeff Wilkins and Ryan Longwell were once perennial targets because of this goal. But does it matter?
*Scoring average based on the top 24 fantasy scorers in each season over the past 10 years.
Like everything else involved with kickers in the fantasy realm, the results are wildly unpredictable. On the one hand, indoor kickers outscored their outdoor counterparts in six of the past 10 years on average. On the other, outdoor kickers have scored 1.5 more points than their fair-weather friends on average during that time.
In other words, there is no discernible difference.
Kickers are the jokers in wildcard games of poker. There is a reason professional poker players don’t play with jokers—they increase the luck factor in games. The more variables you introduce into a game of poker, the easier it is to lose to chance. It removes some skill from the equation.
Fantasy football is already a game of chance. You craft your team with reasonable performance expectations, but you might wind up missing the playoffs because of unfortunate matchups in head-to-head leagues. There are an increasing number of leagues cropping up designed to minimize the luck factor—best ball and total points, to name a couple—but most of them still employ kickers. It is clear that kickers are a craps shoot.
Like the human appendix, kickers are vestigial players in the fantasy football realm. Their function is seemingly useless, so why not discard them? The evolutionary process has begun in this instance—there are no-kicker leagues out there—but it will be a laborious one until the major players catch on. Until then, you may as well throw a dart to make your draft selection.
Kickers are people, too. They just shouldn’t be fantasy people.