A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Fantasy Football Lister: Top kicker defense/special team risers and fallers for 2018 season

By Marc Hardin
NKyTribune contributor

This is the final installment in a series of position-by-position looks at 2018 fantasy football risers and fallers, and we hope you get a kick out of it. As shown with running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks and tight ends, it can be instructive to compare draft day player expectations with final season results before moving on to the fantasy offseason. Knowing who are risers and fallers at the various positions is a helpful exercise when it comes to player valuation. Kickers and defense/special teams are no exception.

One way to do this is compare draft day positional rankings with actual end-of-season rankings, figure the difference, then re-rank according to differential. For example, the Packers’ Mason Crosby was listed 14th in consensus draft-day kicker rankings. He finished the season ranked eighth in fantasy kick scoring, outperforming his draft-day rank by an impactful six slots. He’s a riser. The Eagles’ Jake Elliott started eighth and finished 16th. He’s a faller. It’s always good to get a leg up on the competition and today you’ll certainly get one. First up, the kickers. (Listed side-by-side at left of each entry is player’s consensus draft day ranking and final ranking; listed at far right is ranking differential. Players are ranked by greatest differential.)


32-4. Jason Myers, Jets 28
29-6. Aldrick Rosas, Giants 23
19-1. Ka’imi Fairbairn, Texans 18
26-10. Brett Maher, Cowboys 16
25-13. Sebastian Janikowski, Seahawks 12
24-17. Cody Parkey, Bears 7
14-8. Mason Crosby, Packers 6
10-5. Harrison Butker, Chiefs 5

Fairbairn, a fringe top-20 kicker on draft day, helped win many a fantasy league as he became the best booter. Those who were on to him early saw the hunch pay off handsomely with eight double-digit scoring games. Rosas, another big riser, tied for the most double-digit weeks with nine. Among the final top eight kickers, Myers and Butker put up the fewest 10-point weeks with five each.

The enigmatic Myers rose from ostensibly the worst rated starting kicker in the league heading into the season to the top five by year’s end and still wasn’t getting any love while being owned in less than 40 percent of leagues at the close of the regular season. It didn’t help the Jets ranked 23rd in the NFL in scoring but many prospective owners also viewed Myers suspiciously because he totaled 46 of his 148 fantasy points in two contests. He averaged 9.2 points per game on the season. Outside of those two big efforts (27 and 19 points), he averaged 7.2 per game, which put him on pace for a strictly mediocre ranking of 17th among kickers, still a big improvement over what was expected but hardly earth-shattering.


7-25. Chris Boswell, Steelers -18
12-28. Graham Gano, Panthers -16
4-19. Matt Bryant, Falcons -15
15-26. Daniel Carlson, Raiders -11
1-12. Greg Zuerlein, Rams -11
16-27. Josh Lambo, Jaguars -11
8-16. Jake Elliott, Eagles -8
3-9. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots -6
18-24. Dan Bailey, Vikings -6
13-18. Ryan Succop, Titans -5
11-14. Adam Vinatieri, Colts -3

Boswell’s fall was shocking. Tied to an explosive offense, he was widely predicted to score as many as 150 fantasy points. After all, he was coming off a career-best 142-point 2017 and was reliably making 90 percent of his field goal attempts. He nailed a career-high 92.1 percent in 2017, sixth in the league, on a hefty 38 attempts while going 4-for-4 on tries of 50 yards or more. The early thought was once Pittsburgh moved inside an opponent’s 35, which was expected to be often in 2018, Boswell was virtually guaranteed of getting points. He finished with a measly 86, registering just one game of 10 points or more, and ended the season on Injured Reserve.

Bryant was another disappointment tied to a high-scoring offense but at least he scored 107 points. Playing on the fourth-best offense in the league, Gostkowski had all of two games with at least 10 points. Zuerlein’s early injury woes, forcing missed time and a downturn in overall production, were forgiven once he starting scoring in double digits with regularity upon his Week 7 return. Zuerlein averaged 11.2 points per game in 11 games, compared to Fairbairn’s 10.2 average in 16 games. In that sense, Greg the Leg finished the season as he was pegged, at No. 1.


17-15. Dustin Hopkins, Redskins 2
5-3. Wil Lutz, Saints 2
2-2. Justin Tucker, Ravens 0
6-7. Robbie Gould, 49ers -1
9-11. Matt Prater, Lions -2

Outside of Hopkins, this group offered start-to-finish reliability and paid huge dividends with top-10-caliber production. Tucker kept pace with his draft day rank but outpaced his expected scoring clip by more than 15 points on the strength of nine double-digit games. With back-to-back high-scoring seasons for the revved-up Saints, Lutz might have joined Tucker in the who’s-best conversation. Gould remained fantasy relevant despite toiling for a 21st-ranked 49ers offense led by backup quarterbacks. Prater was quietly solid with seven double-digit games and nine points in another game.


53-31. Mike Badgley, Chargers 22
28-20. Randy Bullock, Bengals 8
31-23. Jason Sanders, Dolphins 8
21-21. Brandon McManus, Broncos 0
22-22. Stephen Hauschka, Bills 0
30-37. Phil Dawson, Cardinals -7
27-33. Zane Gonzalez, Browns/Cardinals -6
23-29. Chandler Catanzaro, Bucs/Panthers -6
20-34. Caleb Sturgis, Chargers -14

None of these kickers were expected to make a big impact and none did over a sustained stretch although Badgley was a nice Week 6-12 find and the Bengals’ Bullock was a surprise post-season difference-maker, averaging 9.2 points Weeks 14-17. Experts knew exactly what they were getting in McManus and Hauschka but to no great effect.


2018 proved once again it’s difficult to justify drafting a kicker with anything other than one of the last picks. Kickers remain dime a dozen and the most quickly replaceable commodity on the roster with very little dumper’s remorse simply because season-long differences in kickers are so minimal. Any kicker within 16 points of another kicker in final statistics averages just one point per game more or less than the next guy. Fairbairn was the fantasy leader with 165 points. The rest of the top 10 was within 2.1 points per game of his average, a difference that doesn’t sway too many fantasy football outcomes from week to week. Another statistical nugget: Of the 16 kickers ranked 17-32 on consensus draft day lists, four finished in the top 10. 

In fact, it’s getting more and more recommendable to draft a kicker with the very last pick, preferably a kicker with a late bye week so unnecessary roster moves don’t have to be made during early byes. If major problems arise the first month, you can always snag the best kicker available, ideally someone who’s getting opportunities but who also has a path to sustained production throughout the season. Those kinds of kickers are always there the second month plus there’s the added benefit of making a decision based on real games instead of preseason games. Such a move this season would have netted a monster like Fairbairn while getting rid of a royal pain like Boswell. The difference in their per-game scoring average was 4.9 points.


30-13. Indianapolis Colts 17
23-7. Buffalo Bills 16
13-1. Chicago Bears 12
14-8. Pittsburgh Steelers 6
6-2. Houston Texans 4

Once the Bears got all-world Khalil Mack in the Sept. 1 surprise trade with the Raiders, I was all in on the Bears’ defense in virtually every league, and I was not alone in reaping the benefits. Elsewhere, the Colts’ improvement slowly mattered as they scored in double digits four of the final seven weeks. Those who kept the faith with Buffalo and Pittsburgh were largely rewarded but the Steelers were a tough start in the fantasy playoffs. The Texans were rock solid with J.J. Watt back to full strength.


2-26. Philadelphia Eagles -24
11-23. Carolina Panthers -12
1-9. Jacksonville Jaguars -8
7-12. Los Angeles Chargers -5
16-21. Arizona Cardinals -5
10-14. New Orleans Saints -4

The Eagles were damaging to early believers after scoring 11 points Week 1. From Weeks 2-12, they averaged a woeful 2.8 points per game. Likewise, the Panthers emboldened early believers with 13 Week 1 points but didn’t hit double figures again while averaging just 3.1 points Weeks 6-13. The Jaguars returned a starter at every defensive position and were a supposed slam dunk in 2018 but fell to a barely relevant ninth in final stats with one double-digit game Weeks 2-12. Lack of slam put many Jags owners in a jam.


8-6. New England Patriots 2
18-16. Washington Redskins 2
12-11. Tennessee Titans 1
5-4. Baltimore Ravens 1
3-3. Los Angeles Rams 0
15-15. Seattle Seahawks 0
4-5. Minnesota Vikings -1
9-10. Denver Broncos -1
17-19. Detroit Lions -2

As expected, the Patriots, Ravens, Rams and Vikings were solid although the Pats and Vikes had to overcome shaky starts. The draft day consensus was 100 percent correct about the Rams and Seahawks and darn close about nine of 32 teams overall (28 percent).


28-20. Miami Dolphins 8
29-22. New York Jets 7
21-17. Kansas City Chiefs 4
20-18. Dallas Cowboys 2
31-30. San Francisco 49ers 1
25-25. Cleveland Browns 0
32-32. Oakland Raiders 0
26-27. New York Giants -1
22-24. Green Bay Packers -2
27-31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -4
24-29. Cincinnati Bengals -5
19-28. Atlanta Falcons -9

Defense/special teams historically are more predictable than kickers, which is why it’s clever to draft them ahead of kickers, but oh those crazy Jets. They put together six double-digit games on defense/special teams but also had four games in the negative and five games with four points or fewer. Some owners took the early bait when the men in green were averaging nearly 10 points per game after the first six weeks. Those with hooks in their mouths received a grand total of minus-3 points over the next five games. Other than that and the occasional Cowboys uprising, nothing to see here.


Like kickers, it’s nearly always a good idea to draft defense/special teams late, but not too late, and never with the last pick. In 10- or 12-team leagues with 16 slots on a team, the preference here is making a defense/special teams selection with the 14th pick, reducing the odds of getting stuck with an ineffective one. For what it’s worth, seven of the preseason top 10 finished in the top 10 but just two teams ranked 11-22 made it into the top 10 in 2018. The Bills were the only defense/special teams ranked 15-32 on draft day that cracked the top 10.

Next week, we hand out season-ending awards in the final fantasy football column of the season.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment