Justin Tucker came perilously close to ending fantasy football on a Monday night last December.
It was on that Monday night, against a Lions squad desperately clawing for a playoff spot, that Tucker went absolutely radioactive nuclear, making six field goals — two of which sailed more than 50 yards through the uprights.
Tucker, in many leagues, scored well over 20 fantasy points, deciding innumerable fantasy championships and semifinal matchups along the way. Tucker outscored Dez Bryant. He outscored Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. He more than doubled LeSean McCoy‘s Week 15 output.
Mass hysteria ensued on fantasy football Twitter. Hardcore fantasy gamers threatened to quit, faced with an existential moment that made them question why they had poured so much time and effort into a game decided by the lowliest of humans: a kicker.
Beyond the gnashing and teeth and proclamations that this was the end of the fantasy football as we knew it, there were those who wagged a judgmental figure as Tucker single-handedly won fantasy trophies. This is why the kicker should be eliminated, they said. You got exactly what you deserved, they said.
As someone who pens a weekly streaming kicker column — a task that has made me question my stability — I had to ask: is kicker production truly impossible to predict?
Last season I examined a few parts of the kicker puzzle, including which defenses gave up the fewest red zone touchdowns and 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed — a tool that offers an apples-to-apples look at fantasy points against.
It seemed like solid process.
Then Chris Raybon, a 4for4 daily fantasy maven, went and changed the fantasy kicker game. He showed which efficiency metrics best correlated to kicker fantasy points — a critical step in identifying the week’s best kicking options.
Beyond field goals made — an obvious correlation — there were two metrics that stuck out: field goals attempted — something we tried to find by looking at red zone touchdown rates — and passing yards per attempt. In other words, as Raybon points out, we want kicker whose quarterbacks will predictably matriculate the offense down the field. It makes sense.
I’m going to work these metrics into my weekly kicker picks, and as the season wears on, these selections will become easier. Below are three kickers to target in Week 1, listed in order of my preference.
Dan Bailey (DAL) vs. San Francisco 49ers
Bailey gets the best of all worlds in this one: his team is playing an injury-and-suspension riddled defense that likely won’t stop them in their tracks, Vegas expects this one to have plenty of scoring, and the 49ers had the sixth best red zone stop rate just one season ago.
Bailey, fantasy’s No. 9 kicker in 2013, made all of his preseason attempts, for whatever that’s worth. I like him a lot this week.
Robbie Gould (CHI) vs. Buffalo Bills
Gould, like Bailey, is attached to an offense that could very well put up considerable yards and points in Week 1. He also plays a Bills’ defense that was eighth best in stopping opponents in the red zone last year.
Gould’s accuracy percentage has waned in recent seasons, but as Raybon’s research has shown, that metric shouldn’t be central to our weekly kicker selections. Gould will get his chances against Buffalo. That’s all we can ask for.
Josh Brown (NYG) at Detroit Lions
Until the Lions show that they aren’t dominant in stopping opposing offenses in the red zone, I think we need to target matchups with Detroit in this space. Twenty-seven kickers scored more fantasy points than Brown in 2013 — a product of being attached to one of the worst offenses in recent history.
Big Blue’s offense will likely be much improved — at least much less prone to turnovers — under new offensive boss man Ben McAdoo. That makes Brown a fairly good option for the season’s opening week.