Kicker or Defense/Special Teams first?

So in most standard leagues, we end up having to draft a kicker and a defense/special teams. Which do you draft first, and where?

If there is one thing I have learned over the years, they are both kind of a crap shoot. Inevitably, it seems no matter who I draft in these positions, I frequently end up streaming somebody better. Even if you get a kicker or DST that seems like a sure thing, there’s always something that can impede performance. For kickers, it is a stalling offense. For DST’s, it’s injuries usually, although a stalling offense can affect them too.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean get the kickers and DST’s with the best offense. The Chiefs offense rarely stalls, but their defense hasn’t been exceptional either. Also, exceptional offenses like the Chiefs tend to produce more XP’s than FG’s.

For kickers, the key is an offense that moves great between the 20’s, and then stalls. FG time! The Falcons were masters of this last year, and Younghoe Koo was gold for his owners. Will they be that way this year? Possibly, but the key for Koo was the fact he took advantage of most of the opportunities he got, including the long kicks. But having said all that, “past performance is no guaranty of future returns”. This year, the Falcons could suddenly turn into a touchdown machine, and Koo could be relegated to XP duty. Or Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley could get serious injuries, and the Falcons offense turns into Adam Gase’s dream team! Either way, the key is a good, but not TOO good, offense, and a kicker who can take advantage of it.

For DST’s, you can ignore the “ST” part of the equation. Special teams is a nice bonus, but it is more of a lottery ticket than something on which you can rely. The defense part is the bread and butter, and specifically turnovers and sacks. The top 5 defenses last year (depending on your scoring system): Rams, Steelers, Colts, Dolphins, and Ravens. There isn’t a “secret stat” that made those 5 tops. The Rams and Colts were tops in TD’s, but the Colts were all the way down at 10th in points against. The Steelers and Rams were tops in sacks, but the next one of the top 5 was the Dolphins at 10th. The Steelers and Dolphins were tied for the lead in interceptions, with the next highest being the Colts tied at 7th. The Ravens were at 3rd place in fumble recoveries, while the Dolphins were tied for 4th, and the Colts were tied at 8th. But can you predict how the loose ball will bounce?

DST is the old adage about preparation and skill meeting opportunity. Any of those top 5 teams could be there again, or not. DST is about doing a lot of things well, and then having opportunities. Good luck predicting that. Not to mention, all it takes is a few well-placed injuries, and your all-pro defense suddenly becomes a sieve.

But this isn’t about which kicker or DST you should draft, as much as it is about WHERE to draft them, and you should wait for your last 4 picks. A better backup TE is more predictable than a top-rated kicker or DST. Consider: There is roughly a 40 point difference in the top 10 DST’s, whereas kickers have a 34 point difference in the top 10. That sounds big, until you spread it out over a season: 2.5 ppg for DST’s, versus 2.125 for kickers. But the first place DST versus the 10th place kicker: 13 points total, or 0.8125 ppg. In the opposite direction, the first place kicker over the 10th place DST gets a 61 point advantage, or 3.8125 ppg.

Admittedly, this is an exercise in splitting hairs, but when you reach the end of the draft, the point differentials are not league winning. You mainly want players who won’t give you goose eggs. Kickers in general produce more points than DST’s, but neither produces enough to win you most weeks. So it makes more sense to draft kickers before DST’s, but at the very end of most drafts.

It feels like your opinions are predicated on drafting a DST and K and then sitting on them for the whole season. In my opinion, that is a recipe for failure. I think it is much more fruitful to go into the year with the notion that you will stream these positions, especially DST.

DST success correlates most closely with poor opponent output. A good defense against an explosive offense is still likely to have a bad fantasy day, while conversely a mediocre defense against a bad offense is likely to have a pretty good fantasy day. If you play your DSTs for the whole season, you are likely to be disappointed half the weeks or more, unless you happen to luck into one of the truly elite fantasy DSTs of all time (like the 2012 Bears).

So for DSTs, I look at the week 1 opponent, and that’s it. I’ll let my league mates draft a DST in the 9th round based on last year’s stats, and I’ll happily come in in the 14th round and grab the team who is playing against the rookie QB in his first ever NFL game.

As for Ks, the biggest reason to wait is that there simply is not that much difference between the K4 you take in the 12th round and the K10 you take in the 16th round. It’s generally pretty predictable which kickers are going to get 4-5 kicks on a given week, and then you just have to hope that more of those kicks are FGs than XPs. But you generally aren’t gaining much selecting a K before the second to last round of your draft.

And that is another reason why I will almost always select my DST before my K. The range of outcomes for DSTs on a given week is generally much broader than the range of outcomes for Ks, so making sure you get the DST you want is worth the risk of losing the K you want - much more so than the other way around.

It’s a weekly game. Nowhere is that adage more true than when selecting DSTs, and to a lesser degree, Ks. Don’t waste Opportunity Cost by selecting DSTs and Ks too early - use those rounds to get much needed depth, handcuffs, and upside dart throws, then take your DSTs and Ks based on their week 1 outlook. And then be ready to stream those positions.

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I mostly agree with you. These are positions to be streamed. In fact, I have come to the conclusion to wait until the last 2 rounds of the draft to pick them, and not even bother with backups.

Your points about DST’s were spot on, but I think kickers are somewhat more consistent from week to week. A kicker’s production is more closely related to his offense’s production. If the offense moves well between the 20’s and stalls often in FG range (see Atlanta last season), the kicker gets more FG opportunities. That’s a good kicker to have most weeks.

If you’re in a deeper league, where the streaming options are limited, it might be a good idea to keep an extra kicker or DST on your roster, just because the bottom-fishing doesn’t always present good opportunities each week. But that is a league-specific issue. In most leagues, these positions can be streamed as needed.

I think there are so many different directions and ways you could look at this, so I won’t even bother going into detail on all that (mainly because you’ve already touched on several of the factors). One thing I will say, though: it is much easier to root for a defense than a kicker.

When Sunday at 1:00 p.m. strikes, it will be much more enjoyable and interesting to hope for a Xavien Howard pick-six than a Tyler Bass 55-yard field goal.

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You haven’t lived until you’ve chanted “KOOOOOOO!” with your 81 year old father during a Falcons field goal attempt!