State of the Kickers
By Ted Carlson, Senior Editor
February 2, 2005 3:00 AM ET
Yes, I know how you all feel about kickers. I can practically hear the groans of indifference, and I'm feeling you, really. These guys are like the ug…umm…"not quite as attractive people" at the bar. You don't necessarily notice them until right before closing time, and all you really want them to do is score well. And if they don't do you right, it doesn't take much effort or emotion to cast one aside and find another.
However, despite the fact that most fantasy owners never think about kickers until the last round or two of their drafts, these specialists occupy a starting spot on every fantasy roster and deserve some contemplation. Not a lot of consideration, mind you, but some.
Think about it this way – how many Jets' fans will be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday and notice that the Patriots and Eagles feature two of the game's elite kickers? A few weeks ago, those Gang Green apologists might not have thought much about Doug Brien's deficiencies, but I guarantee they do now. Similarly, I ask you to cast aside the average person's disdain (or just plain apathy) towards the position and lend a few moments of attention to fantasy kickers as you read below.
For reference, feel free to use the following links to check my previous 2004 recap and 2005 preview articles on the fantasy quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
What Went Right in 2004
After hovering between 112 and 117 points the last three seasons, Adam Vinatieri leapt to the top of the kicking charts in 2004. He led all kickers in points (141), field goals (31), and field goal percentage (93.9). And just for good measure, Vinny also threw a touchdown in the week nine game against the Rams. The only knock on this postseason hero is that he failed to hit a 50-yarder for the second straight campaign.
David Akers not only put together his fifth straight solid season, but he likely top the charts in leagues that add on points for distance. The Eagle lefty set a new NFL record by nailing 17 field goals of over 40 yards, and had the Eagles not tanked the last two games, Akers would have finished with much more than 122 points.
Ho-hum. Another year, another solid campaign for Jason Elam. For the past 12 seasons, Elam has used the rarified air in Denver to supply fantasy owners with an abundance of points. He's averaged just over 120 points in those 12 campaigns, and this past year he finished second in both field goals (29) and points (129). And, yes, no Elam writeup is complete without using the phrase "rarefied air" at least twice.
As with Elam, fantasy owners enjoyed another good year out of Ryan Longwell. The Packer kicker knocked in exactly 120 points for the second straight season, and it's the sixth time he's reached that mark in his eight campaigns.
Apparently the offseason surgery to repair cartilage in his hip did wonders for Jeff Reed. Of course, a resurgent Steelers' defense and running game also helped. It all added up to 124 points and 28 field goals, both good for third in the NFL.
Sticking in the AFC North, fantasy owners enjoyed the once-a-decade services of a Bengals' kicker. Shayne Graham's 122 points eclipsed the almost-memorable Queen City Kitty campaigns of Doug Pelfrey (121 points in 1995) and Jim Breech (120 points in 1985).
Although he finished merely 10th in kicker scoring, I need to note Nate Kaeding in this section. Mostly due to how people felt about the Chargers, this rookie had very little fantasy value heading into the season, but he finished as a top-10 fantasy kicker in nearly every scoring format. Unfortunately, he's apt to be remembered for what happened in the playoff game against Jets. Laces out, Scifres!
What Went Sorta Right in 2004
Heading into this article, I was prepared to rip on Mike Vanderjagt. He was the first kicker taken in nearly all fantasy drafts and the only one of his ilk to command a three-dollar bid in one of my auctions. Vandy didn't hit more than one field goal in a game until week 11, but due to all his extra points, he still managed to be a top-seven scorer in all of my leagues. He was certainly nowhere near his 2004 level, but it wasn't a complete disaster.
Matt Stover hung out at the other end of the spectrum from Vandy. The Raven kicker was also coming off of a big season, but his 2004 was all threes and few ones. He tied for second in the league with 29 field goals but managed only 30 extra points. It all added up to a decent but somewhat disappointing campaign.
From week 11 through week 16, Rian Lindell was a fantasy stud, at least as far as kickers go. However, it took the Bills' offense over half the season to find their groove, and thus Lindell only gets partial credit for his fantasy contributions.
What Went Wrong in 2004
Easily the biggest kicker letdown of the season came out of St. Louis, where the reigning scoring champ fell hard. Jeff Wilkins led all kickers in points last season and was undoubtedly one of the top three or four kickers taken in you fantasy draft. He managed only 19 field goals and 24 extra points, and his 89 total points were just over half of what he accomplished in 2004 (163 points).
Sebastian Janikowski experienced a slight bounce back after his disappointing 2003 campaign, but his rebound wasn't as big as many predicted. The portly lefty knocked out a career-best 89.3 percent of his chances, but this is a former first-round pick who should be producing alongside Vinatieri, Elam, and Longwell on a yearly basis.
In week 13, John Kasay had one of the biggest kicking days of the season, splitting the uprights on six field goals and two extra points. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, that one outing was Kasay's only double-digit game of the season and accounted for 20 of his 84 points. He was a huge letdown after being a top-five kicker in 2004.
Usually when a team has the league's best running game and a solid defense, that squad also owns a very good fantasy kicker. Usually. Then there is the case of Jay Feely. He managed only 18 field goals, with just three of those coming from 40 yards and beyond.
Martin Gramatica. Poor little guy. Tiny Dancer followed up a horrendous 2003 campaign with an even worse 2004 season. The Bucs kicked Martin to the curb after he missed three field goals in a 21-14 loss to the Panthers on November 28, and he later joined the Colts as a kickoff specialist. Life turned really bad when a Colt teammate painted green clovers, yellow moons, and pink hearts next to the horseshoe on Gramatica's helmet, and the children of Indianapolis chased Martin around town asking him for cereal and gold.
Looking Ahead to 2005
I know most fantasy owners are absolutely dying to think about the 2005 slate of kickers, and I won't delay my thoughts much longer than this very sentence. Here's one man's look at next season's fantasy kicker rankings:
1. David Akers, Eagles: Akers and the Eagles are going to be just as strong next season.
2. Mike Vanderjagt, Colts: Manning will be a little more human in 2005, and Vandy will see more FGs.
3. Jason Elam, Broncos: Elam is a proven lock for 120 kicking points.
4. Ryan Longwell, Packers: So is Longwell, unless Favre retires.
5. Adam Vinatieri, Patriots: No kicker has repeated as scoring champ since 1979-80. Then again, it's pretty touhg to doubt Vinny in any situation.
6. Jeff Wilkins, Rams: Bad in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004. Awesome in 1999, 2001, 2003. See the pattern?
7. Matt Stover, Ravens: If the Ravens get more out of Jamal, Stove Top is an easy top-10 pick.
8. Shayne Graham, Bengals: Sugar Shayne has had back-to-back solid seasons, and this offense is improving.
9. Jeff Reed, Steelers: No Plax? No Bettis? He's in limbo.
10. Nate Kaeding, Chargers: This ranking assumes Brees stays.
11. Rian Lindell, Bills: Solid running game and outstanding defense, but I worry about the Bledsoe-Losman situation.
12. Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders: If Norv Turner can get a running game in place, Seabass could cruise up the rankings.
13. John Carney, Saints: He's been consistently decent in New Orleans. A safe pick without much upside.
14. Josh Brown, Seahawks: See below.
15. Lawrence Tynes, Chiefs: All the extra points make him fairly stable, but I'd like to see Larry be just a wee bit more accurate on field goals.
Bust: Josh Brown, Seahawks: Don't get me wrong, I think Josh is a fine kicker. His teammates are a problem, though. The Seahawks have serious free agency issues, and who knows if Koren Robinson will ever help this offense again. There are a lot of questions at this point.
Sleeper: KTBD, Vikings: Of the top 11 NFL teams (in terms of scoring), only the Vikings owned a kicker that scored fewer than 109 points, as Morten Andersen tallied a pathetic 99. If the Purple obtain a halfway decent leg this offseason, he'll have a chance to be a top-10 fantasy kicker.
2005 Overall Top-50
Since this is the final article in this series, I figured it would be a good place to combine my rankings and show an overall top-50. Coincidentally, the list happens to be kicker-free:
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
2. Priest Holmes, Chiefs
3. Shaun Alexander, Seahawks/FA
4. Edgerrin James, Colts/FA
5. Willis McGahee, Bills
6. Corey Dillon, Patriots
7. Randy Moss, Vikings
8. Peyton Manning, Colts
9. Daunte Culpepper, Vikings
10. Domanick Davis, Texans
11. Terrell Owens, Eagles
12. Donovan McNabb, Eagles
13. Jamal Lewis, Ravens
14. Marvin Harrison, Colts
15. Tiki Barber, Giants
16. Clinton Portis, Redskins
17. Ahman Green, Packers
18. Deuce McAllister, Saint
19. Rudi Johnson, Bengals/FA
20. Torry Holt, Rams
21. Chad Johnson, Bengals
22. Javon Walker, Packers
23. Curtis Martin, Jets
24. Kevin Jones, Lions
25. Julius Jones, Cowboys
26. Joe Horn, Saints
27. Antonio Gates, Chargers
28. Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs
29. Brett Favre, Packers
30. Trent Green, Chiefs
31. Darrell Jackson, Seahawks
32. Andre Johnson, Texans
33. Marc Bulger, Rams
34. Derrick Mason, Titans
35. Chris Brown, Titans
36. Reggie Wayne, Colts
37. Tom Brady, Patriots
38. Tatum Bell, Broncos
39. Roy Williams, Lions
40. Hines Ward, Steelers
41. Ashley Lelie, Broncos
42. Fred Taylor, Jaguars
43. Thomas Jones, Bears
44. Brian Westbrook, Eagles/FA
45. Steve Smith, Panthers
46. Donald Driver, Packers
47. Kevan Barlow, 49ers
48. Steven Jackson, Rams
49. Michael Clayton, Buccaneers
50. Jerry Porter, Raiders/FA
Kicker articles/rankings are one small notch above worthless, but at least an Overall Top-50 list was included. I still think Tatum Bell as high as #38 is downright silly.