<
>

2016 kicker fantasy preview: Wait until the final round (still)

Stephen Gostkowski has led all kickers in fantasy points each of the past three seasons, but it doesn't mean you should aim to be the first to draft a kicker. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Let's preview the kicker position for fantasy football.

Don't take one until your final pick, and be prepared to drop him at a moment's notice.

There, is that good? Are we done?

No? Fine.

Since 2001, among kickers to play 20 or more games, 10 have averaged eight or more fantasy points per game, and none more than 9.2. That 9.2 is predictably Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots, but his margin over the field is narrow. This is nothing like tight end, where the Patriot leading the field is pulling away like Usain Bolt racing against participants at your local 5K charity race.

Last season, Gostkowski finished first in points per game, narrowly defeating Chris Boswell and Graham Gano. You may or may not remember that virtually no one was drafting either of those players; even our cheat sheet with the top 16 kickers didn't include either name.

So with that, let's start with the kickers you may like -- the top 10 according to our staff -- but still shouldn't draft until the final round, which in many leagues means you won't get most of them, because your leaguemates simply can't help themselves.

Sorting through the ranks

Gostkowski and Steven Hauschka are almost certainly going to be drafted far higher than they should, and they will be on 0 percent of my teams in 2016. Dan Bailey, Adam Vinatieri, Justin Tucker and Mason Crosby are all proven veterans and reliable kickers, but you'll likely play in leagues where they're gone prior to the last round.

Josh Brown, Graham Gano, Matt Prater and Matt Bryant round out the top 10, and these are the first options that might just fall to you if you have one of the early picks in the final round. If you need a tiebreaker, I would prefer Prater and Bryant, as they play home games indoors, and Bryant has the added benefit of playing road games in the warm-weather stadiums of the NFC South.

Chandler Catanzaro, Roberto Aguayo and Blair Walsh are all just outside the top 10, and they should be fine picks in any format. Catanazaro and Walsh finished among the top eight last season, while Aguayo is a rookie with one of the most accurate legs in recent college football history, earning the distinction of being traded up for in the second round by the Buccaneers.

But honestly, just look at Week 1's schedule and pick a kicker on a team you think will score the most points. The Falcons host the Buccaneers; that's a good spot to take either kicker (both mentioned above) if they fall to you in the final round. The Raiders and Saints are likely to score a decent amount of points in the Big Easy, and the tilt between the Packers and Jaguars could also net a healthy amount of scoring. Any kickers from those games are fine selections at the end of your draft.

So why, again, do I not care at all about kickers? Consider the options. Last season, the top kicker scored 10.5 fantasy points per game, and the 10th scored 8.7. That's not a huge margin from "elite" to replacement level. And then when you take into account the presence of unheralded, undrafted players finishing second and third last season, it doesn't make sense to chase big kicker points when you might pass up on a solid bench option with breakout potential elsewhere.

Continuing further down the list, there were 25 kickers who scored seven or more points per game in a season of eight or more starts. That's 3.5 points off of the leader. At running back, there weren't even 10 players that close to Devonta Freeman, the top scorer at the position in a standard league.

The difference between replacement level and the top option is smaller at kicker than it is at any other position. So don't take one earlier than you have to, and absolutely never hold a backup kicker on your roster. Is your starter on a bye week? Cut him. You won't miss him.

Kickers are a part of football and will likely remain a part of fantasy football for years to come (although you do have the option to exclude them in custom leagues, of course). But don't let that fool you into investing heavily in the position. Imagine if last season, you spent an 11th- or 12th-round pick on a kicker. That pick could have been Freeman, David Johnson, Allen Hurns or a number of other useful position players who could have helped you win your league.

So do me a favor and don't take a kicker earlier than the final round, please? It's just not worth it.