The Kicker Resurrection

The Kicker Resurrection

Kickers create conflict. They create an opportunity to pass the blame from the fantasy manager to a random player. Kickers get dejected, mocked, and ridiculed simply because most fantasy managers ‘punt’ them. In reality, what the fantasy manager is doing is transferring blame from themself onto another object, something humans excel at. Every time that happens, fantasy managers lose an opportunity to grow their start and sit process. The question is, why do kickers receive the blame? Kickers are frequently the last two players picked in every seasonal league, which infers that people place very little importance and time into that position. This is why they are so easily blamed for a loss when in reality, it was the fifteen points left on the bench that lost the matchup. However, I am not here to dive into the psychology of the fantasy football gamer; though I do love to do it, I am here to show you that there is value at the kicker position; if for nothing at all but such few people put effort into them. 

Foundation Information

Prior to diving into this abyss, I wanted to highlight two articles that I thought did a wonderful job outlining some of the finer points of kickers, as well as the article that outlines why median points per game is a helpful metric to key into. 

The first article is by Jennifer Eakins, who broke down three metrics that better-directed managers at finding kickers they should draft can be found here.

This next article is done by Jacob Bourgie, who wrote an article on why kickers should no longer be active roster spots on your fantasy rosters can be found here.

The median article written by Seth Keller gives evidence why median over average is the future of fantasy football analysis; you can find the article here.

Armed with the information outlined above, I wanted to go out and see if I can add to the correlation side. With the information found above, you already have the upper hand on your opponents because you are deciding to care. This will give you an edge over the majority of your fantasy football league.

Diving Into The Data

*I choose median over average as my indicator as it is a metric that shows if a player is more likely to exceed their average point per game. By keying into factors that lead to an exceeding of the average, you find a higher likelihood in fantasy points.*I choose median over average as my indicator as it is a metric that shows if a player is more likely to exceed their average point per game. By keying into factors that lead to an exceeding of the average, you find a higher likelihood in fantasy points.

*I choose median over average as my indicator as it is a metric that shows if a player is more likely to exceed their average point per game. By keying into factors that lead to an exceeding of the average, you find a higher likelihood in fantasy points.

Win Percentage

Jennifer outlined the Vegas point total compared to points per game. I wanted to find any correlation between team win percentage and the kicker’s fantasy finish. After plugging data for the Top-12 kickers, I found that the average win percentage was 61.35-percent. Not a big surprise that teams that win more score more, which leads to more kicker points. I broke it down to the Top-6 and Top-3; this year, Koo and Carlson skewed the data a bit with their sub-50-percent win teams. However, what they did have on their side was that they were both Top-8 in total passing yards. According to Jennifer’s article, this is a good indicator for the likelihood of a high-scoring kicker. After my research into this area was complete, I wasn’t happy with win percentage as a way to predict fantasy-relevant kickers, so I kept looking.

Seasonal Median vs. Average Points Per Game

The next step was to weigh average points per game (APPG) against median points per game (MPPG). I split the Top-12 kickers point per game averages into five sections: season, home, away, wins, and losses. What I was looking for here was to see a correlation between MPPG  over APPG.

The season averages showed that four kickers had a median above their average, three had medians half a point below their average, three had a median within one point of their average, and two had a median less than one-half points their average. The median didn’t show any preference into what finish the kicker would have. 

The next step was for me to see if there was any historical evidence that an MPPG over APPG was predictive. I went all the way back to 2015 and proceeded to do some data analysis. I took the previous year’s Top-12 kickers and mapped out how each player finished with their median and average. I used a few controls to do my best not to skew any data. If a player played less than 15 games and didn’t place in the Top-12, I did not calculate those results as they would skew the data. I charted four variations: Top-12 hit with a median over average (hit m>a), Top-12 miss with a median over average (miss m>a), hit a Top-12 miss with an average over median (hit m<a), and a miss with a Top-12 hit with an average over median (Top-12 m<a). The table below shows the entire breakdown since 2015.

There are a few things that I wanted to point out prior to diving into the median over average findings. The two biggest outliers were kickers on teams with top-tier or bottom-tier offensive production. This compliments what Jennifer was able to find relating to projected points per game and a higher kicker score. The majority of kickers that produced a median over average but missed the Top-12 were also on teams that were bottom-12 in team passing yards and/or scoring. Conversely, the kickers that made the Top-12 but had an average over median were on teams that were high-powered offenses. This category was pretty much dominated by Justin Tucker, Harrison Butker, Will Lutz, and Matt Prater. All teams that belong to high-scoring, historically pass-heavy offenses. This is helpful, especially after factoring in the fact that median over average isn’t a perfectly predictive measure. 

Since 2015, 67-percent of kickers that were in the Top-12 played a full set of games the following year and had a median over average points per game on average were in the Top-12 the following year. On the other hand, kickers who were in the Top-12 the following year with an average above-median repeated only 18-percent of the time, which is about two kickers a year. 

Home and Away Median vs. Average Points Per Game Split

Helping isolate what kickers have a good chance at finding the Top-12 was the initial goal. However, any projections cease to exist once the first NFL snap is made, which is where the third part of my research has led me. Once again looking into medians over average of points per game as my indicator for success. I broke the averages down into Top-3, Top-6, and Top-12. 

Top-3 showed no difference in home or away games as they all averaged a higher MPPG than APPG. Digging deeper, only Koo of the Top-3 had a higher median than average for home and away. Sanders and Koo both exceeded in their home games, while Carlson had a lower median on home and away. On average, both the Top-3 and Top-6 had a higher median over average for home games, but the Top-6 had a higher average over median for away games. The Top-12 as a whole showed a lower median on home and away games and a higher difference on points on away compared to home. I interpret this as the difference isn’t high enough to apply week in and week out, but it does help knowing that the kickers tend to perform better at home than away.

Win and Loss Median vs. Average Points Per Game Split

Similar to the home and away splits, I broke down the MPPG against APPG difference based on their team’s wins and losses. Kickers had a median over average in their wins that placed them in the Top-6 and up. When looking at the Top-12, the median slipped below the average, but the difference was -0.04 below the average, so just barely. This doesn’t necessarily go against the grain but what is important is that it is important to tune into Vegas totals. Locating teams projected to score more than 24 points, and teams favored to win have shown to have a kicker average 10 or more points while being more likely to exceed their average. 

Predictive Measures

The entire thesis of this article was to find metrics that would lead to more accurate indicators of a kicker’s success. The power of the MPPG against APPG is that it gives a couple of different insights. It showed to be predictive at projecting which kickers will be in the Top-12 the following year. It also showed what environment a kicker was more likely to exceed their average points per game. As with all things in life and fantasy football, metrics need context. 

Using the seasonal median over average, there were four kickers who had medians above their average: Younghoe Koo, Greg Zuerline, Rodrigo Blankenship, and Will Lutz. I am expecting one of these four kickers to miss the Top-12 next year, based on the averages from the last six years. This year’s two riskiest kickers are Younghoe Koo and Will Lutz, mostly due to the lack of clarity their team’s offenses have.

Younghoe Koo:

The Falcons have a new head coach, a new offensive system, lost Julio Jones, and gained Kyle Pitts. Contrary to what most predict, these factors don’t show favorably for a top-ranking offense which is the biggest concern I have about Koo. On the bright side, he will be playing in a dome at least eight games this year which is not something to ignore.

Will Lutz:

The Saints currently are playing roulette with their quarterback, which is a position that does not yield favorable results to the team’s offensive outlook. While we want Winston and Hill to be able to replicate the offense the Saints were with Brees, I am just not comfortable betting on that. However, Sean Payton is a wizard and of a very small group that has the ability to create a high-caliber offense with the weapons he currently has. 

Greg Zuerline:

Crafting a narrative in which ‘Greg the Leg’ doesn’t land Top-12 is tough. In the last three years, he has averaged a MPPG over APPG and has been Top-12. Unless the Cowboys catastrophically implode or Zuerline gets injured, I feel comfortable saying he will be a Top-12 kicker in 2021. 

Rodrigo Blankenship:

Rodrigo Blankenship is bound to be a fun kicker for years to come. Being a rookie last year, it is tough to say I expect him to be Top-12 based off of his past finishes or his median over average. He is going to be directly tied to Carson Wentz; if Wentz falters, Blankenship will follow. The Colts are a very good team holistically, but their offense raises more than a few concerns. 

I also wanted to point out a few kickers who I think have a good shot at the Top-12 because of their high-profile offenses. As outlined, you can expect two kickers that will place Top-12 after having an APPG over MPPG. I broke them into tiers for you to get a little bit better feel. 

Tier 1:

Harrison Butker, Justin Tucker, Ryan Succop

Three kickers, three teams that are locked into the playoffs. This is the easy tier, and these kickers don’t need to have a median over average because their teams score so many points each season. I don’t view this as any different moving forward. 

Tier 2: 

Jason Sanders, Daniel Carlson, Tyler Bass

This tier gets much less appealing and loses the likelihood of hitting Top-12. Sanders benefited last year mostly on the back of Fitzpatrick, who is now gone, and Tua is here to stay. I am a Tua fan and believe he can make the next step, but that isn’t a guarantee this year. Sanders needs the offense to take a big step this year and to change the course of the last three years to have a MPPG over APPG.

Carlson is one of my favorites in this group. The Raiders have a putrid defense, but they do have Waller and the projected improvements from Bryan Edwards and Henry Riggs III. The concern with Carlson is that the offense is unable to sustain drives with their paper-mâché offensive line. 

Bass should be in the first tier, but he had a horrendous APPG over MPPG, having a median nearly 2 points below his average. The hope for him is similar to the tier 1 group, having an offense so productive it doesn’t really matter how likely he is to exceed his average because it will be high on the back of Josh Allen. 

Tier 3

Cairo Santos, Brandon McManus 

This grouping here is not likely to have success and needs a bit of a fairy tale-esque outcome to land in the Top-12. Santos seems to be fighting an uphill battle here solely based on the fact of depending on a rookie to lead the offense to be a top tier in passing yardage is a stale bet. However, Justin Fields is more than equipped to bring that possibility into reality. McManus has been around for a while, and while he is a kicker that has been able to land in the Top-12, it’s going to be difficult on the back of two quarterbacks who aren’t expected to be in the top half of passing yards. However, the Denver Broncos are one of the few teams genuinely ready to contend if they can get a top-tier NFL quarterback. 

Armed and Dangerous 

Now that I know who and what I am looking for in-season, it’s time to break into some strategy for the Scott Fish Bowl. The top-tier kickers seem to be taken around the 12th and 13th rounds. Ironically they’re also mostly the kickers who didn’t have a MPPG over APPG. Here are the current ADP’s of kickers that were Top-12 last year. 

Sanders: 192.2 (16th round)

Koo: 156.8 (13th round)

Carlson: 221 (18th round)

Bass: 189.4 (15th round)

Zuerline: 179.5 (14th round)

Blankenship: 200.1 (16th round)

Succop: 208.1 (17th round)

Tucker: 169.7 (14th round)

Butker: 171 (14th round)

Santos: 235.8 (19th round)

McManus: 212.2 (17th round)

Lutz: 214.6 (17th round)

As you can see, they’re spread out throughout rounds 13-19. Some values I see from the current ADPs are Zuerline, Blankenship, Succop, Lutz, Sanders, and Carlson. That is more of a personal preference, but I don’t think I would take any kicker before the 15th round. The only kicker that I would go for is Zuerline. 

These new metrics can help find stability in a misnomered unstable position. Once your redraft leagues begin to set draft dates and streaming kickers begin, don’t forget what you want to look for. Good luck, and I hope this article reframed how you view kickers. 

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