Kickers are random.
You might think it's mandatory to rush out and grab the kickers associated with the offenses you expect to be of the "high-octane" variety this season. Tell that to the Green Bay Packers' Mason Crosby, who played for the NFL's third-highest-scoring team, but finished ninth in fantasy points among kickers in 2009.
Conversely, you might think you should stay away from kickers who play for humdrum offenses. Tell that to Rob Bironas, whose Tennessee Titans managed just the 16th-most NFL points. He finished 2009 as the No. 4 fantasy kicker.
And that's not the only problem with this position. There's very little spread between the "good" guys and the "bad" ones. In 2009, Bironas averaged about one more fantasy point per game than Sebastian Janikowski, who finished as the No. 12 kicker.
In other words: Don't stress about your kicker. Don't take one before the last round. Don't be afraid to dump a guy who was "supposed" to be good. That's all I can really say about these much-revered big toes.
I'm about to make some generalizations about several kickers' prospects heading into training camp, but the truth is it's all stuff and nonsense. We can try to read the tea leaves about who'll wind up with a lot of attempts, and that's what I'll do.
Just remember three words: Kickers. Are. Random.
Nate Kaeding led all kickers in points scored in '09, posting the third-best accuracy on his kicks among full-time bootsmen. The San Diego Chargers haven't really been an elite red-zone offense for a couple seasons now, and if that continues, expect the steady Kaeding to be near the top of the rolls once again in '10. Stephen Gostkowski has a leg big enough to nail 50-yarders, and he is affiliated with an offense that, in theory, gives him quite a lot of PATs. He's accurate, he's young and he's been among the league leaders for three straight seasons. As with so many other Minnesota Vikings, Ryan Longwell's fantasy value is highly contingent upon Brett Favre's return. Assuming the gray-bearded one is back, you should be able to rely on a lot of PATs, and Longwell was 10-of-11 from 40 yards out last season. In the past two seasons combined, nobody has more attempts from 40 yards and beyond than Bironas. He also made 5-of-6 from outside 50 yards last year. It's tough to rely on any kicker nailing bombs like that from week to week, but it's nice to know that his big leg is there when the Titans (and you) need it. David Akers has finished second among fantasy kickers for two straight seasons, which is only odd until you remember how badly the Philadelphia Eagles tend to struggle in the red zone. If those problems persist, Akers should be fantasy money. Crosby didn't kick particularly well in '09, especially from longer distances. But he makes up for it in volume. Provided the Packers' passing machine keeps rolling, Crosby is as decent a bet as any to be near the NFL's lead in attempts.
Don't fall for name recognition when it comes to guys like John Kasay or Adam Vinatieri. In Kasay's case, I'm very worried about the Carolina Panthers offense this season with either Matt Moore or Jimmy Clausen under center. Frankly, Kasay's production has been pretty poor anyway; he's eclipsed the 100-point mark just once in the past four seasons. With Vinatieri, you have to worry about health as well as accuracy. He's had trouble with each during his time with the Indianapolis Colts. Indy signed rookie Brett Swenson to serve as camp competition for Vinatieri. The New York Jets lost Jay Feely to the Arizona Cardinals, which means they'll be looking for a starting kicker all summer. Right now, the leader is Nick Folk, who not too long ago was fantasy's consensus No. 1 overall kicker when he booted for the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, Folk got the yips last year with Dallas and found himself without a job. With the kind of offensive line the Jets field, there's potential fantasy value in this kicking job. We're just not sure that Folk can realize it. New York will almost certainly bring in competition.
The Houston Texans haven't permanently ditched Kris Brown after he blew potential game-tying field goals in consecutive weeks in '09, but they're getting close. Houston signed Neil Rackers from the Cardinals, and all things being equal, they would probably rather have Rackers win the job. There's a chance Brown catches on somewhere else if and when that happens. Shayne Graham left the Cincinnati Bengals and signed with the Baltimore Ravens this spring. While he'll nominally have to beat out Billy Cundiff, Graham should be the starter by Week 1. The Cowboys' lack of effective field-goal kicking was one of their biggest problems of '09. This season they'll try to hand the job to kickoff specialist David Buehler. Buehler has a cannon attached to his leg, but his accuracy is an issue. Plus he's nowhere close to NFL battle tested. Connor Hughes will fight him in camp. The Bengals have an emerging offensive line and an intimidating running game, but having lost Graham, they're scrambling for a field goal kicker. Dave Rayner is the early favorite to hold down that job, but his lifetime field goal conversion rate is just 71.2 percent. Mike Nugent, formerly of the Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will try to beat out Rayner.
If the Atlanta Falcons' offense rebounds from a relatively disappointing '09, perhaps Matt Bryant will establish himself as a top-10 fantasy kicker. He doesn't have great long range but is relatively steady inside the 40. He stabilized an awful situation left behind by Jason Elam last year. The Miami Dolphins don't seem like they have enough oomph on offense to generate tons of field goal chances, yet Dan Carpenter finished a respectable 11th in fantasy scoring last year. He's been extremely accurate in his two seasons, which helps make up for the lack of opportunities. And he has a big enough leg to make 40- and 50-plus-yarders. It was just two years ago that Joe Nedney looked like a guy on his way up, having made all 19 of his kicks inside the 40 to finish with 121 points on the season. Then '09 rolled around, and he had 12 fewer attempts (and scored 84 points). See how random kicking can be? If the San Francisco 49ers offer up lots of close-but-no-cigar drives, Nedney can take advantage.
Don't waste brain cells thinking about kickers. If your draft features a run on kickers before the last couple rounds, chuckle to yourself, take another flyer on a possible surprise running back or wide receiver and wait. There will never be very much difference between the top kicker and the 12th kicker, plus it's tough to predict which guys will occupy those spots on a weekly basis. Take your kicker in the last round. Never take a second kicker. Ever. You'll work out your bye-week issues later.
It doesn't matter when in your auction you get your kicker. Just make sure you don't pay more than $1 for him. If somebody wants to bump up one of the "elites" at this position to more money than that, nod graciously and bow out. There's absolutely no reason to leech away any more of your budget to the kicker position.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.