Fantasy Football Analysis: K and D/ST



The last positions up for analysis this summer are the kickers and defense/special teams. There’s not a whole lot to say about either one, which is why I grouped them together. Does it even matter which kicker or defense/special teams you draft? Read on to find out! I checked stats at and and as always, this analysis assumes an ESPN standard 10-team league. So read on after the jump for more!


Some people would probably advocate just throwing a dart at a list of kicker names when trying to choose one to draft. And in some cases, that might be the best option. Check out this analysis by AJ Mass over at ESPN, because it certainly is interesting. He tries to create a formula to generate an "opportunity rating" for each kicker. That’s all well and good, except that it depends on a combination of several team stats that are impossible to know at draft day like, "1st down percentage", "average yards per game", etc. I give him credit for attempting to project 2012 stats, but let’s face it, even using 2011 as a guide; this analysis is probably stretching it and would be only marginally better than throwing a dart. He did run 2011 stats through the formula, and it’s a pretty close correlation. However, this preview by Chris Harris (also at ESPN) is a little more realistic:

In general, trying to get the bootsmen from the best offenses seemed to make vaguely good sense in 2011, but perhaps it's even better to find a squad that plays well between the 20s, but then bogs down in the red zone. Of course, I don't exactly know how you predict something like that.

Well, he’s right, it’s impossible to predict 2012 stats. But, we can look at 2011 stats from and see if he’s right about there being a correlation. So, taking that little blurb and running with it, let’s look at the top 15 Offenses from 2011 (in yards per game), and then sort them by red zone efficiency (with worst efficiency at the top) and show that information side by side with the top 15 Kickers from 2011 based on fantasy points per game (includes kickers with 8 or more games).

Top 15 Offenses

RZ %


Top 15 Kickers


1. Houston Texans



1. David Akers SF


2. Dallas Cowboys



2. John Kasay NO


3. Baltimore Ravens



3. Stephen Gostowski NE


4. Pittsburgh Steelers



4. Mason Crosby GB


5. Oakland Raiders



5. Sebastian Janikowski OAK


6. Philadelphia Eagles



t6. Dan Bailey DAL


7. Atlanta Falcons



t6. Neil Rackers HOU


8. Buffalo Bills



8. Mike Nugent CIN


9. San Diego Chargers



t9. Matt Bryant ATL


10. New York Giants



t9. Ryan Lindell BUF


11. Carolina Panthers



t11. Dan Carpenter MIA


12. New Orleans Saints



t11 Nick Novak SD


13. New England Patriots



13. Jason Hanson DET


14. Green Bay Packers



14. Billy Cundiff BAL


15. Detroit Lions



15. Rob Bironas TEN


Obviously, there isn’t a direct correlation between the two lists (so, Mr. Harris, isn’t really right in his statement), but if you look closely, you’ll see that 11 of the 15 teams are at least on both lists. As it turns out, red zone percentage doesn’t seem to matter as much as total offense does. So, in my opinion, if you target teams with potent offenses, you’ll likely end up with a kicker that has greater odds to land in the top 10. Red Zone efficiency doesn’t have much to do with it, even though it seems like it should. Keep in mind, kickers score more points kicking longer field goals OUT of the red zone, so that probably explains the reason. And teams with terrible red zone efficiency likely have a crappier offense anyway, which means they might struggle to get their kicker into field goal range to begin with. So, go for kickers on teams with good offenses.

But anyway, look a little closer at the kicker ranking itself. The difference between 1st place and 15th place is negligible. It’s a difference of 2.5 fantasy points per game and the standard deviation all the way down the list of kickers is very small. Consider that Connor Barth (who would have placed 20th) averaged 6.6 points per game, which is still only 3.3 fantasy points per game behind the first place guy. So, the difference between one kicker and another is pretty insignificant. Sure, every now and then that extra 1 or 2 points per game can make the difference in a close matchup, but don’t waste your time trying to get those extra few points out of the kicker position.

Defense/Special Teams

So, what about a defense/special teams unit? Well, there are so many ways for a defense/special teams unit to score fantasy points that it’s almost worthless to even attempt an analysis. They score points for sacks, fumble recoveries, interceptions, safeties, points allowed, yards allowed (new to ESPN standard leagues last year), and even TDs count. Just because a defense is top 10 in real life (based on the yards allowed metric), doesn’t mean that translates into fantasy success. Take the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens defenses. Both are considered great defenses in real life in yards allowed per game, and the Steelers even had the #1 ranked defense during the regular season last year. But how are they in fantasy? Last year, the Steelers ranked 31st in fantasy points per game. They were awful in fantasy. Baltimore however, (ranked 3rd in real life) ranked a respectable 7th in fantasy. Can you even name the top scoring fantasy defense from 2011? It was the Detroit Lions who ranked 23rd in real life. So, on field success for a defense, doesn’t necessarily translate into fantasy success, unfortunately. And it’s because of all those other stats that earn points (see above).

So, are there any defense/special teams that consistently do well in fantasy year after year? Well, no. With the exception of the Green Bay Packers (who have been in the top 5 since 2008), for the past 4 years in a row, the Top 5 fantasy defenses have all been different teams from one year to the next (49ers were top 5 in 2011 and 2009 and they were only other team to appear in the top 5 more than once in the past 4 years). Here is the 2011 Top 10 ranking for Defense/Special teams sorted by average fantasy points per game:

1. Detroit Lions, 9.6
2. Chicago Bears, 9.4
3. Green Bay Packers, 9.2
4. San Francisco 49ers, 8.6
5. Buffalo Bills, 8.4
6. New England Patriots, 8.3
7. Baltimore Ravens, 8.1
8. Philadelphia Eagles, 7.8
t9. New York Jets, 7.6
t9. Seattle Seahawks, 7.6

So, how is it that terrible defenses like those of the Patriots and Packers end up scoring so highly in fantasy football? One stat stands out for these two specific teams: interceptions. The Packers tallied the most INTs and the Patriots collected the 3rd best interceptions. The Patriots also had a healthy number of sacks, while the Packers had a decent number of defensive TDs. So, while their two defenses allowed a ton of yards and were 31st and 32nd in the league in terms of yards per game during the regular season, they both had opportunistic defenses that, for the purposes of fantasy football, do quite well. Contrast that with a team like the Steelers, who had the top rated defense during the regular season in yards per game. They tallied almost a 1/3 the number of INTs as Green Bay and had only one defensive TD during the whole year, hence they ranked 31st in points per game for fantasy. The Steelers are a great real life defense that doesn’t allow a lot of yards, but (last year anyway) they weren’t able to "make plays" like interceptions, sacks, fumble recoveries and the like with great frequency.

This is all well and good, but are there any trends to notice to help us pick a defense/special teams unit? Well, like Kickers, the standard deviation from one team to the next is pretty insignificant. The #1 defense/special teams is only averaging 2 fantasy points per game more than the #10 defense, and less than 3 fantasy points more than the #20 defense. So, it’s not going to make a huge impact which defense you draft. And considering what I noted above about a "changing of the guard" every year with the top 5 defenses, really, there isn’t a noticeable trend. Generally speaking though, you have to consider defenses that do more than just prevent yards. Teams that aren’t able to generate much pass rush, or that don’t have ball hawking secondaries are probably defenses to shy away from in fantasy football. And if the Packers and Patriots have anything in common, it’s that their offenses are so effective. Sometimes, picking a defense that has a potent, complementary offense isn’t a bad strategy, because that defense will be facing passing situations more frequently, which increases their odds for more sacks and interceptions. If your defense is always up against an offense that is playing from behind and has to throw a lot (like the Packers and Patriots defenses) that can actually be a good thing for fantasy football. But at the end of the day, don’t waste too much time analyzing and thinking about a defense/special teams unit, because you’ll want to look to other positions to maximize point totals.

So, what about IDP (Individual Defensive Player) Leagues? Well, I don’t have a ton of insight there as I’ve only participated in one IDP league last season. But, generally speaking, IDP leagues score points based on tackles, sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, passes defended and touchdowns. Some leagues only require 1 or 2 players (at any position) and others specify some number of D-Lineman, Linebackers and Defensive Backs. There really isn’t much of a standard for IDP Leagues, so be sure to check out the specific scoring conventions of your league in question. For D-Lineman, generally go with defensive ends, as they will collect the most tackles and sacks. Jared Allen and Jason Pierre-Paul led all lineman in fantasy thanks to their high sack totals and decent tackle totals. For Linebackers, it doesn’t really matter which position you go with, but Middle Linebackers tend to have a bit more opportunity for tackles. D’Qwell Jackson and London Fletcher led all linebackers last year in fantasy thanks to their high tackle total. But just getting a lot of tackles isn’t enough, you want play-making LB that are able to get a few INT, sacks and passes defended. With defensive backs, you want to focus (again) on tackles. INTs help, but those backs that are able to tally a lot of tackles will do well in fantasy. Charles Tillman and Charles Woodson topped the list of defensive backs in fantasy last year and it was largely due to a combination of a high tackle total and some other category (INTs or fumble recoveries). Lastly, many of the "famous" defenders, like James Harrison, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, etc don’t actually do very well in fantasy football. So, let the newbs go after the name brands. Check out some of the stats from last year and pay attention to more than just tackle total when selecting your IDP guys.

So, the moral of the story here is, Kickers and Defense/Special Teams just don’t matter that much in fantasy fooball, so don’t stress out too much about who to draft at these two positions. And speaking of the draft, my next write-up will cover draft strategy, so stay tuned.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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