2013 Draft Prep: DST and kicker tiers and strategies

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.

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 .

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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