Something has possessed you to type “which kickers to draft in fantasy football” into your search engine. Now you’re here with me. Welcome to the party.
I love finding the small edges in fantasy football. Maximizing the impact of skill and minimizing the impact of luck is what the game is all about. This is possible even for the kicker position. I would know – I’m the guy out here calculating metrics like distance-adjusted field goal percentage over expected (FGOE) to tell you who are the most accurate kickers in football.
My try at an old @ScottBarrettDFB metric: DISTANCE-ADJUSTED field goal % over expected (FGOE).— Ryan Heath (@QBLRyan) May 18, 2023
- Tucker a bit above expectation, led in attempts
- Pineiro and Maher failed in memorable spots but were great overall
- 49ers were so tilted they drafted a kicker on Day 2 pic.twitter.com/gJ6SXIsFop
Since you found your way to this article, you may as well integrate my findings into your approach. Who are the best kickers? And which metrics are most predictive of kicker scoring?
How To Draft Kickers in Fantasy Football
Predictiveness of various metrics for kicker FPG:— Ryan Heath (@QBLRyan) May 17, 2023
- The team’s Points For and Win Total are best at projecting forward (best being VERY relative)
- 4th down aggressiveness has no measurable impact
- Implied total is still king for weekly streaming pic.twitter.com/ac3HT3DHUs
As can be seen in our chart to the left, the kicker position is largely volume-driven. Field goals made and attempted are by far the closest analogs to fantasy points within the same season. The team’s general offensive output follows behind kicker volume.
Efficiency metrics like field goal percentage and distance-adjusted FGOE come next, but we’re already getting to fairly weak correlations. The team’s aggressiveness on 4th down (measured multiple ways, including by neutral game script and expected gain in win probability) has virtually no impact on kicker scoring as a whole.
The middle chart shows which metrics are best at predicting a kicker’s fantasy points in the upcoming season – these are the things we should pay attention to when drafting or adding a kicker before the season. The number of points the kicker’s team scored last year and their team’s win total over/under in the preseason performed best. Therefore, target kickers on offenses that were good last year and on teams that have high win totals this year.
As a tiebreaker, simply go after the kickers who scored the most fantasy points last year. That’s more predictive than all of the remaining stats I tested. Even the extra point stats that trail just behind are likely only there due to multicollinearity with the team’s total points scored.
How To Stream Kickers in Fantasy Football
Kicker scoring is even tougher to predict from week-to-week than it is on a season-long basis. Kickers get few opportunities in each game, and each of those opportunities has an entirely binary outcome. One bad hold or unexpected wind gust blows out any loser who dares put a field goal attempt into a spreadsheet.
That said, given the minuscule gap between the fantasy production of most kickers, you should feel free to drop yours at any point – whether to open up an extra roster spot during the week or because you’re frustrated with your kicker’s performance. Kickers almost never have season-long upside – they appeared the least frequently of any position among the top 30 most common players on playoff rosters from 2017-2021. Streaming kickers is almost certainly optimal.
Since 2014, kickers on teams who are favored have averaged 8.0 FPG, while those on underdogs have averaged just 7.2 FPG. Target kickers on teams with high implied point totals who are heavy favorites, and you’ll gain an edge. By comparison, a kicker’s average FPG to that point in the season is not predictive of their single-week performance, displaying a .00 RSQ in the chart above, and just .01 after Week 8 – so you have permission to play just about anyone if the conditions are right. Kickers also perform better in domes and worse in games with high wind speeds.
Whether a kicker is playing at home may matter less than it used to. Since 2014, kickers have averaged only 0.2 more FPG at home. Home-field advantage virtually disappeared league-wide for a few years of our sample – but in fairness, one was the 2020 season that featured largely empty stadiums. But home teams didn’t fare much better in 2019 or 2021. For kicker streaming, this means I would not disqualify one based on where he’s playing if his implied total is high.
Which Kickers To Draft (And When)
In 2022, there was a difference of only 1.5 FPG between the K1 (Justin Tucker) and the K12 (Cameron Dicker) – about the same as the difference between Joshua Palmer and K.J. Osborn in a PPR league last year. And do you even know off the top of your head which of those WRs averaged more FPG?
The gap between the K1 and the K12 has been closer to 2.0 FPG in previous years, but this still means the odds of your fantasy matchup coming down to your and your opponent’s kickers are very slim. Additionally, we should have very low confidence in projecting who the top kickers will be in a given year – kicker scoring is incredibly random. Write that on your hand before your draft if needed. For these reasons, the value over replacement of selecting a top kicker is likely to be smaller than even DST.
I’ve never been one to turn away from a slight edge. We can and should take advantage of the above findings when selecting kickers. But it is worth remembering how tiny a kicker’s value over any waiver wire replacement is. This is why you should not draft a kicker in any league you aren’t explicitly required to, full stop. In fact, not drafting a kicker lets us exploit a different, bigger edge.
It is functionally impossible for a kicker to gain value between your draft and the moment you plug him in for his 7-8 fantasy points in Week 1. So why use one of your precious roster spots on the most replaceable position in fantasy football before it can give you fantasy points?
Instead, draft an RB (or WR, but probably an RB) who could fall into volume via a preseason injury in front of him on the depth chart with your final pick. In the event the player doesn’t gain any value by Week 1, you can simply drop him for a kicker. Jerome Ford, Jaylen Warren, Chris Rodriguez, and Justyn Ross are examples of players I would much rather hold through the offseason than any kicker. The names may be different by late August, but the rule still applies. If any RB with a pulse and a potential role (even in your wildest fantasies) is still on the board, do not draft a kicker.
That said, you probably came to this article in search of kicker rankings. Now that you understand why you should not spend draft capital on these players under any circumstances, here are my top-12. Updated ADP can be found here.
1. Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: K1)
2. Tyler Bass, Buffalo Bills (ADP: K4)
3. Harrison Butker, Kansas City Chiefs (ADP: K3)
4. Jake Elliott, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: K8)
5. Michael Badgley, Detroit Lions (ADP: K19)
6. Jason Myers, Seattle Seahawks (ADP: K6)
7. Evan McPherson, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: K5)
8. Graham Gano, New York Giants (ADP: K16)
9. Younghoe Koo, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: K13)
10. Daniel Carlson, Las Vegas Raiders (ADP: K2)
11. Cameron Dicker, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: K11)
12. Riley Patterson, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: K14)
These rankings are built from the most predictive year-over-year kicker metrics we have – their team’s total points and the kicker’s fantasy scoring from the previous year, as well as preseason win total over/under. Slight bumps were given to kickers who performed well in distance-adjusted FGOE over large, multi-year samples (see below). Justin Tucker’s dominance (four top-5 finishes since 2016) has likely resulted from his unique ability to do so – his accuracy is in a tier of its own.
We can filter out some noise with a larger sample. Here are the top kickers by FGOE since 2014:— Ryan Heath (@QBLRyan) May 18, 2023
[+min. 75 attempts]
- Justin Tucker by far the king 👑
- Koo and Gano’s teams should be better this year 👀
- Butker has been among the best, 2022 likely a fluke/injury driven pic.twitter.com/hs1dflUOFM
Harrison Butker should be over the ankle injury that sapped his accuracy last season, in which he finished 2nd-worst in distance-adjusted FGOE among kickers with 20+ attempts. The Chiefs’ league-leading win total and the league’s best offense should propel him back to high-end fantasy kicker status. If we knew who would be kicking for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers in 2023, they would slot in just behind Butker for me.
We can spin all the narratives we want about Jake Elliott losing opportunities to his team’s aggressiveness on 4th down. Aside from this metric holding no predictive value for kicker scoring, teams like the Lions and Bills declined to kick on fourth down more often last year – and their kickers both finished top-7. The Eagles are an offensive juggernaut. We should want their kicker.
Speaking of the Lions, I’m unsure why Michael Badgley apparently gets no love by early ADP. He was the K5 by FPG last season, and his team just finished 5th in points. Vegas has them pegged at a respectable 9.5 wins.
The people may scream about Daniel Carlson being ranked so low given his recent fantasy success, but kickers like Younghoe Koo and Graham Gano weren’t far off from his production last year and are now on teams with higher win totals. Koo and Gano also stick out as the next-closest players to Justin Tucker in terms of distance-adjusted FGOE since 2014.