Salary Cap Football Kickoff – Why Rookie Kickers Are Relevant

It’s not often that you get to read a fantasy football article advocating the use of rookie kickers.  The majority of fantasy experts never waste a minute writing about kickers before the regular season starts.  Most of what you’ll find are basic discussions on the benefits of waiting as long as humanly possible before drafting your fantasy kicker.

Before we go any further I want to say that I agree 100% with this advice when it comes to your fantasy football draft strategy for standard scoring leagues.  However when you formulate your game plan for Yahoo! Fantasy Sports Salary Cap Football you need to begin with the end in mind, and by the end I mean your kicker.

The way the game is structured, the average salary cap owner will be paying close to $11 for a kicker that is expected produce a little over 8 points per game.  This is actually great value when you consider there were 7 running backs and only 3 wide receivers (Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, & Wes Welker) that scored more than 130 total points last year.  In contrast there were 15 active kickers that broke this mark.

Believe it or not, adding tight ends into the mix technically adds only one name to this list of elite receiving targets, but we’ll include both Rob Gronkowski (174.45) and Jimmy Graham with 129.50 total points.  While we’re rounding up I’ll add Victor Cruz (128.50) to the discussion.  Basically that leaves us with only 6 receiving threats that outscored the average kicker in 2011.

Of the 6 names that we came up with, I would argue that only 3 were expected to produce these types of numbers for salary cap owners in 2011 (Megatron, Welker, & Graham).  I have been generous so far, so I will give you credit if you said Gronk too.

I am not here to debate where these four should be ranked for standard league drafts, but I will say that I only expect 3 of these players to break the 130 point mark this year in Yahoo! Fantasy Sports Salary Cap Football.

Calvin Johnson ($16.12), Rob Gronkowski ($15.18), and Jimmy Graham ($12.02) don’t come cheap, but each is virtually guaranteed to score more fantasy points than the average kicker priced around $11.00.  If you are dead set on owning any of these elite receiving options you are going to have to create some serious cap space.

So rather than backing your way into a kicker after you have selected the rest of your roster, I am recommending that you make the selection of your kicker your top priority in salary cap formats. With that being said, I don’t think spending $11.00 on a kicker (although they can be reliable for scoring 130+ points) is really an option.  You have to be selectively aggressive.

You should never use additional funds on a more expensive kicker that may only net you 15 to 30 points over the course of a 17 week NFL schedule. There is little to no difference in long-term value the lower you go down the kicker rankings.  Essentially this is a variation of the argument used to justify taking your kicker in the last round of standard league drafts.  It is also the reason you should try to identify rookie kickers to fill this critical salary cap roster spot.

Last year Alex Henry (PHI) proved that a rookie kicker on a high-powered offense can be a salary cap owner’s dream come true.  He was 24-of-27 with 46 extra points.  This year I am keeping my eye on Randy Bullock out of Texas A&M.  The Texans drafted him in the 5th Round of this year’s draft even though Shane Graham was averaging 9.33 fantasy points per game to close out the 2011 season.

Randy Bullock connected on 29-of-33 FG attempts and converted 55 extra points at Texas A&M last season. Photograph: Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle

I can’t see Houston using this high of a pick on Bullock if they weren’t planning on starting him from day one.  Bullock is currently valued at $6.96.  Alex Henry was priced similarly to start the 2011 season and netted 124 total points, only 5.50 shy of what Jimmy Graham produced.

It’s easy to overlook the value of rookie kickers in fantasy football, especially when you start from the top of the rankings and work your way down.   Let’s assume you saw what the Top 5 produced last year and you’re determined to get 150 points from your kicker.  The sweet spot in this scenario is a player like Stephen Gostkowski (NE).  He produced 154 total points in 2011 and many fantasy football experts agree the Patriots are setup to score more often in 2012.  If you buy now you are locked in at $12.12.

Let’s say Gostkowski ends up with 160 points at the end of the year.  Let’s also assume Henry will reach 124 total points again this season.  That’s a difference of 36 fantasy points over 17 weeks (16 games) for an added cost of $2.30.  On the surface there appears to be a tremendous difference in value when you when you compare Stephen Gostkowski to Alex Henry (currently $9.82) when you consider that you are getting 15.65 more fantasy points per salary cap dollar.

It seems like a no brainer to go with Gostkowski and then find a cheap WR3, TE, or RB2.  Heck, Trent Richardson (RB – CLE) is only $5.32!  This thought process is fine but the real value, and better long-term strategy, is finding a rookie kicker to free up huge chunks of salary cap space for other elite position players.

For example, let’s assume Randy Bullock is capable of earning (at a minimum) the same 124 fantasy points Alex Henry did in his rookie year.  Our increase of 15.65 points per dollar drops drastically to only 6.58 pts/$.

In this case, the $5.16 you pick up in salary cap space can more than make up for the 36 points you may lose from going with a rookie kicker.  It’s the difference between having Wes Welker or Calvin Johnson at WR, or Owen Daniels vs. Jimmy Graham at TE.

The bottom line…

Identifying rookies at each position is critical for your long-term salary cap success and there’s no better spot to gamble on a low-cost sleeper than your kicker.  You can realistically expect 120 points from this position without having to spend more than $9. If you find a solid rookie to go with, you’re starting the season with a kicker under $7.

Remember to begin with the end in mind.  Start by locking yourself into the lowest cost solution at kicker so that you can capitalize on value at every other position.

BTW:  The St. Louis Rams are expected to start rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein ($6.96) this season.

Still not sold on rookie kickers?

Then consider these 3 comeback candidates under $9:

1. Nate Kaeding (SD) $8.32 – Kaeding was injured on the opening kickoff of 2011.  Nick Novack filled the void for the Chargers with an average of 9.20 fantasy points per game.  Kaeding should easily regain his role in San Diego’s special teams where he made 82-of-95 field goals from 2008-10.

2. Matt Prater (DEN) $8.76 – Prater wasn’t injured last year, but he did start in 9 games last year where he had no more than one FG attempt. Prater should be able to produce more than 6.00 points per game for his salary cap owners in an offense being led by Peyton Manning.  Keep in mind this guy nailed a 59 yarder against the Bears in Week 14 last year.

3. Garrett Hartley (NO) $7.94 – Keep your eye on Hartley who nailed 42-of-49 field goal attempts for the Saints from 2008-10.  He missed 2011 due to an injured hip. I saw John Kasay attempting all the field goals in the Hall of Fame game last Thursday night, but if the kicking situation changes in New Orleans I would seriously consider adding Hartley to my roster.

If you want a more in-depth look at the Top 20 Kickers for 2012, check out this article from Jay Clemons over at Bleacher Report.

Looking for more ways to improve your game? 

Check out my article on avoiding the 6 Pitfalls of the Salary Cap Football Trader.  You can get more salary cap football advice by following me on Google+ or Twitter @GoProFS24.