2012 Draft Prep: Kicker and DST strategies

• 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 .

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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