So thanks to the extra point being pushed back, the kicker has been pushed back into relevancy again. It is costing a few kickers jobs but man they are at least important again. So many games this year were lost because kickers miss an extra point, even the Patriots in the Superbowl had a usually automatic Steven Gostowski miss an extra point and it could have legitimately cost them the game. What was once a standard part of the game now has meaning and mistakes can cost games and even seasons – see Blair Walsh.
So for both these units, I am not going to say if they will get better, get worse or stay the same. The reasons being are as follows:
A kicker’s success is a by product of their offense. It is no surprise that the top ranked kicker is on the top ranked offense. With this in mind, when considering a kicker for next year, I would advise thinking about accuracy and consistency first and then use the offenses potential to narrow it down. Normally you get a good kicker as your 14th or 15th pick but if you want a top 3 guy, they are probably being overdrafted by the time you get to the last 2 rounds.
For the defenses there are a few more elements to consider. A, so much will happen between now and September, B, defenses are 11 players playing in unison and it is not like you can gauge all 11 players who will be on the field accurately for a prediction next year and C, you can viably stream a different unit each week based on favourable matchups (i.e. anyone playing the Browns or 49ers) so even taking a D in your draft is not that crucial.
Few side notes, the top 4 kickers in 2016 scored more points than the top ranked tight end (Travis Kelce) and Matt Bryant scored more points than Todd Gurley, DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller, Amari Cooper, Dez Bryant and Allen Robinson. Finally, this is the first time in the last 6 seasons that Stephen Gostkowski did not finish in the top 2. His average draft position (round 9) had him picked ahead of guys like Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Frank Gore.
Points listing as follows: PAT (extra points)made/attempted, FG made/FG attempted, FGS scored 0-49 yards and FGS scored 50+ yards
1, Matt Bryant 170 points – 56/57 PAT, 34/37 FGS, 28 0-49 yards and 6 50+ yards
Highest scoring kicker on the best offense – easy season for him to be honest. He had 8 games with 10+ points and he never scored less than 6 in any game. The 41 year old was the model of consistency and it helps that he plays in a dome at least 8 weeks of the year. I would expect slight regression with all the changes going on in ATL but he is a top 5 guy no matter what.
2, Justin Tucker 161 points – 27/27 PAT, 38/39 FGS, 28 0-49 yards and 10 50+ yards
THE best kicker in the league. He has well earned his fat contract with the Ravens. Now more than ever, NFL teams need their kickers to be accurate and Tucker is the golden boy all teams want. His 38 field goals made in 2016 are the 5th most made in NFL history and his 97.44% accuracy is even more impressive when considering he didn’t miss a single attempt over 40 yards. He had 9 games of 10+ points and 5 of those came in straight weeks so he was as valuable as a your RB1 or WR1 during that stretch. Add to that, he scored 30 less PATs compared to Bryant and was only 10 points short from top spot. In my opinion, if you take one guy in your draft, take Tucker.
3, Duskin Hopkins 144 points – 36/39 PAT, 34/42 FGS, 31 0-49 yards and 3 50+ yards
Of Hopkins 16 games, he scored 6 or more points in 12 and 7 of those were 10 points or higher. Slight accuracy drop off with both extra points and field goals but the volume is there at least. Worryingly though, 4 of his 8 misses were from 50+ yards so his breakdown is 31/35 (88%) less than 49 yards and 3/7 from 50+ (43%). If the Washington offense continues it’s good form from 2016 then he should be a top 10 guy but the accuracy issues from longer distances does raise flags for me.
4 , Caleb Sturgis 143 points – 30/31 PAT, 35/41 FGS, 31 0-49 yards and 4 50+ yards
Sturgis was more accurate with his extra points and overall more accurate with his FGS (85%) than Hopkins (81%) but the slightly fewer touchdowns by the Eagles cost him 3rd place. His accuracy from 0-39 yards was automatic nailing all 24 of his kicks but was only 65% in distances further than 40 yards. He racked up 8 games of 10 or more points and other than a pair of stinkers, he scored over 6 points in 14 of 16 games so very consistent despite the relative struggles of the Eagles offense.
5, Wil Lutz 139 points – 49/50 PAT, 28/34 FGS, 25 0-49 yards and 3 50+ yards
Wil Lutz had an eventful rookie season. Great accuracy with his extra points and good success with his field goals converting at 82% rate. However, 2 of those missed field goals were blocked and returned for scores, one costing them a game but that is obviously not on Lutz’s shoulders. Like Matt Bryant for the number 1 ranked offense, Lutz was on the second ranked Saints offense so his numbers were equally consistent scoring 7 or more points in 13 of his 16 games and 6 of those 13 games went for 10 points or more. He will need to improve his accuracy from 50+ (3/7) but other than that the rookie showed consistency and accuracy and as long as Drew Brees is the Saints QB, he figures to have plenty of looks next year.
6, Adam Vinatieri 139 points – 44/44 PAT, 27/31 FGS, 20 0-49 yards and 7 50+ yards
Vinatieri’s 87% was good for 6th in the league and he hit all his extra points which as I have noted, is somehow invaluable now since the rule change. Equally as important he was 7/9 from 50+ yards so he is money from that distance. He is 43 but kickers (and Tom Brady) can play into their 40’s and maintain production. The sure fire HOF’er Vinatieri scored 82 points in the first 7 weeks, which is ridiculous in itself let alone for a kicker. For the rest of the season he only hit double digits twice but he did remain consistent around the 5/6 points mark in the other games. I would put Vinatieri in that handful of kickers that you could rely on and give you solid production each week. With Andrew Luck at QB, points are always on the cards as shown by his 44 extra points which was tied 5th.
7, Matt Prater 138 points – 31/33 PAT, 31/36 FGS, 24 0-49 yards and 7 50+ yards
The relative inefficiencies (and injuries) of the Lions offense restricted Praters output but at least he was consistent with his own output. He only had 5 games above 10 points but the rest of his games are around the 6-8 point mark. So consistent was Prater that he only scored less than 6 points once (week 16) which is very impressive. He nailed 7 FGs (he want 7/7 actually) of more than 50 yards which is tied 2nd along with Vinatieri and Jason Myers from the Jags. A few more TDs from the offense and Prater leaps to 5th place so he is right up there.
8, Dan Bailey 133 points – 46/46 PAT, 27/32 FGS, 24 0-49 yards and 3 50+ yards
The Cowboys offense were superb this year, grinding out wins with their two super rookies Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott. This shows in Bailey coming in at 3rd in PAT’s made and was only beaten out by the powerhouse offenses of the Falcons, Saints and Patriots. As with Prater above, the big scoring games start to drop off now as Bailey only had 5 10+ point games but again was remarkably consistent scoring 5 points or more in 14 of his 16 games. The offense controlled more time of possession compared to the other high ranked offenses which is why I think he had the high extra point totals but the somewhat lack of FG’s. I think that Dak Prescott is likely to get more chances to throw for big scores and Elliott will get his big numbers as well so there should be more work for Bailey next year. If you can lock him up with your 14th or 15th pick then I think you would be happy with that.
9, Nick Novak 133 points – 22/25 PAT, 35/41 FGS, 32 0-49 yards and 3 50+ yards
Now Novak’s numbers actually surprise me. Going deeper into his weekly output, his week to week average is better than Bailey, Prater and Vinatieri. Other than a 1 and 0 point stinker, he actually scored 7 or more points in 12 of the other 14 games so ridiculously consistent. That being said, the Texans offense were awful. Just awful and thankfully for the Texans, his production was not affected at all. In the 5 double digit games he did hit, they won all 5 games and he was automatic from 39 yards or less so a good guy to look out for and let’s be honest, the Texans offense genuinely cannot get much worse.
10, Cairo Santos 133 points – 36/39 PAT, 31/35 FGS, 29 0-49 yards and 2 50+ yards
Santos had 5 games of 10 or more points and 5 more with 8 or 9 points and kept himself in the top 10 of kickers for the second straight year. He made his 2 kicks of 50+ yards which knocked him down a bit in the points total but he is very accurate (88%) and is well worth a pick at the back end of your draft. One thing to note will be what happens in the offseason. They have a few key players in contract years on defence and they relied heavily on their defense to create turnovers so if the D struggles, the Chiefs become less successful and have a .500 record rather than winning their division. Santos is accurate and if opportunites drop, he will still make all his kicks and as he made 29 of his 31 kicks under 49 yards, he is likely to stay accurate and stay in the top 10 next year.
12, Steven Hauschka 130 points – Just outside the top 10 kicking at 89% of his FGs and despite a struggling Seahawks offense. His PAT numbers aren’t great as he missed 6 attempts but his is accurate and consistent and had 5 games of 10+ points.
16, Mason Crosby 124 points – Only 1 FG over 50 yards as he generally wasn’t called upon as the Packers just kept scoring touchdowns (44 PAT made) and was tied 5th for extra points made. The Green Bay offense didn’t catch fire till later on in the season so if Green Bay keep their core players on offense and make a few upgrades on defence. Crosby should push in to the top 10.
11, Stephen Gostkowski 131 points – okay so 11th and 131 total points is not necessarily a disappointment but playing for the dynamic Patriots offense you would have expected more. He made just 84% of his FGs and missed 3 PAT’s after not missing any since 2007. His ADP was round 9 so as I mentioned, he was 1st kicker taken in most, if not all, drafts so to land at 11 is disappointing.
1, Kansas City Chiefs 166 points – 28 sacks, 18 INT, 15 FUM, 1 SAF, 5 TD, 1 2PT RET, 3 Return TD, 19.4 PPG
As units go, and the stats obviously don’t lie, these guys are pretty good! Finishing in the top 2 in 3 of the last 4 years backs that up. A great front line with devastating edge rushers and a secondary that catches more balls than most offenses. Ranking 2nd in total INT, 1st in fumbles recovered and tied with a few teams with 5 defensive TD’s. Their total points allowed had them 7th overall but they did have some weakness. Their yards allowed per game were not great, 20th in the league, and their 3rd down conversion rate was actually 27th. Their style relied massively on turnovers, which they got plenty of as they led the league in total turnovers so luckily for them that superseded the lack of containment. Points wise, they amassed and incredible 11 games of 10 or more points including the 35 points against the Jets in week 3. They only failed to sack the QB at least once in 3 games and had at least 1 INT or fumble recovery in 13 games. Great production, great unit. The same coaching staff is coming back and unless they get the injury bug, I would expect more of the same next year.
2, Minnesota Vikings 156 points – 41 sacks, 14 INT, 13 FUM, 1 SAF, 4 TD, 3 Return TD, 19.2 PPG
The Vikings were the semi-surprise unit of 2016. No one doubted the talent that they had but I doubt many would have thought they would be THIS good. Frightening fast and full of heavy hitters, even at CB, they terrorised most NFL offenses. The only setback that they had, and the only real reason they weren’t No 1 is that their offense was so horrendous that they had to play way more than they should have and the unit was stretched and exploited at times. Yards allowed (3rd) points allowed (6th) and sacks (5th) show how impressive they were but even with that the numbers don’t quite do them justice. From a points perspective, they had 4 games of over 20 points, 5 games of 8-16 points but the other 7 games were all 5 or less. Not quite as consistent as the Chiefs were, which ultimately cost them the top spot but there are signs for improvement which for the number 2 ranked unit, is quite scary.
3, Denver Broncos 151 points – 42 sacks, 14 INT, 13 FUM, 4 TD, 1 2PT RET, 18.6 PPG
Last years’ top ranked fantasy unit fell to the 3rd in 2016. Their secondary was the best in the league allowing just 185 yards a game but their leaky run D failed them allowing 130 a game leaving them 28th. They still have Von Miller who racked up 13.5 sacks and his supporting cast had good returns too but they just could not stop the run allowing 4.3 yards per attempt which saw them 18th.Similarly to the Vikings, their lack of an offense that could control games deeply hurt them and once teams found out they could run on the Bronco’s they found success. Don’t get me wrong, they still harassed teams ranking third in sacks, tied 12th in INT and tied 4th in forced fumbles but nothing like 2015 when they racked up 175 total points. Game by game, they were a little more consistent than the Vikings but didn’t have as many games with big points. 6 games they went over 10 points and the remaining 10 averaged out at about 5. They had multiple sacks in all but 4 games and recorded at least 1 turnover in 12. The games where they failed to cause a turnover were all losses. Massive changes potentially lie ahead with a new HC in Vance Joseph but he is a defensive guy at least. Losing Wade Phillips however to the Rams, will be a massive blow.
4, Arizona Cardinals 144 points – 48 sacks, 14 INT, 14 FUM, 2 SAF, 3 TD, 22.6 PPG
Like the Chiefs and Broncos, they have been around the top ranked units over the last few years. This years team are no exception leading the league in sacks, tied 2nd in fumble recoveries and tied alongside the Broncos at 12th for interceptions. After starting relatively strong scoring 10+ points in 3 of the first 6 weeks, they failed to top 10 points until the last week of the season when they battered the Jared Goff led Rams which was embarrassingly easy. Without that game however they would have dropped out the top 10 but their consistency, scoring between 6-8 points in 8 games helped keep them around the top ranked teams. There are slight signs of regression but this is more than likely linked to their success in the win column. As the losses mounted up, so did their production as a unit. Looking ahead, they will still play the Rams and 49ers each year so that’s positive and they always have success against the Seahawks so there at least 6 games where they should score better than average points. Barring a catastrophic set of circumstances, the Cards should remain in the top 10 like they have since 2012.
5, New York Giants 139 points – 35 sacks, 17 INT, 8 FUM, 4 TD, 17.8 PPG.
In the first 6 weeks of the season, the very expensive Giants D scored 1, 12, 3, 0, 4 and 2 fantasy points. Pretty terrible. 2 of those games came without a turnover or sack and they allowed an average of over 20 points a game. From week 7 onwards, they had 3 20 point games, had on average between 6-13 points each week and only had one stinker in week 16 (3 points) in a loss against the Eagles. From that week 7 21 point outing, they averaged 2.9 sacks, 1.5 INT, 0.7 FUM and 14.5 points a game. Pretty impressive as well as allowing the third least rushing yards (88.6rpg) and overall second in points allowed. Unfortunately those 6 weeks were what they needed to really settle in as a unit which makes sense with so many new players coming in playing a new system. Following the trend of a few of these top fantasy units, their offense was generally terrible so they were having to do way more than they should otherwise their numbers could have been better. Likelihood is that with star safety Landon Collins leading the way, this Giant’s unit will look to improve on their success in the second half of the season and carry it over to next year.
6, Philadelphia Eagles 137 points – 34 sacks, 16 INT, 10 FUM, 1 SAF, 3 TDs, 2 RETURN TD, 20.7 PPG
In almost the exact flip of the Giants, the Eagles flew (see what I did there) out of the gate scoring double digit points in 5 of their first 6 games. The following 6 weeks were quite different as they failed to score more than 5 points in any of those games. Funnily enough, this ALSO coincided with the Eagles offense stuttering and struggling with rookie Carson Wentz slowing down after his hot start. They closed out the year strong and scored 10+ points in 3 of the last 4 weeks. Looking at their numbers, they were pretty consistent with their sack and INT numbers getting a couple of sacks or a turnover or so each game. What hurt them was their points allowed, through weeks 5-15 they allowed over 24 points 9 of 11 games. Saving grace however and a big chunk of their points was that they were 1 of only 10 teams to record a kick/punt return for a TD so those points can help tilt your weekly matchups your way. Hard to gauge though which is why I hate having return TD’s added to your defense rather than the individual players.
7, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 133 points – 38 sacks, 17 INT, 12 FUM, 1 SAF, 4 TDs, 22.1 PPG
Tampa, much like the Giants, came together once the season began finishing top 10 in all major fantasy categories except points per game. In their first 8 games, they scored under 10 points in 6 and had 2 zero point outings against Arizona (week 2) and Atlanta (week 9). Those 8 games amassed 40 points. The following 8 games, including a 24 point rout of the Chicago Bears and they doubled their output hitting 93 points. They hit 10 points or more in 5 of those 8 and all those 5 games were wins. They recorded 11 multiple sack games and 9 games with 2 or more turnovers. Needless to say they finally got some bite which helped them push for the playoffs but ultimately come up short. They are young, they are fast and they can improve providing they don’t lose any key players like Kwon Alexander or Gerald McCoy.
8, New England Patriots 123 points – 34 sacks, 13 INT, 10 FUM, 3 SAF, 15.6 PPG
New England were not the flashy option at defense this year but they ground down their opponents to a league best 15.6 PPG. Assisting this was the leagues 4th ranked rush defense so that generally helps wear teams down. Only thing that this team doesn’t have as much of is the turnovers and sacks. They were still very good and up there but not elite in my opinion. However, when you have 4 games holding your opponent to 3 or less points you get 10 points right away which obviously helps. Making up for the lack of turnovers is their consistency, their scoring in games is as follows 0-3 points 5 games, 5-10 points 6 games, 10+ points, 5 games. Very nice and consistent and if you watched any of their games you heard the word ‘fundamentals’ about a 100 times but it just means that they do all the small things well and don’t make mistakes. Bill Belichick is the supreme master of game planning and so there is no reason to see the Pat’s out the top 10 next year either.
9, Carolina Panthers 122 points – 47 sacks, 17 INT, 10 FUM, 1 SAF, 3 TDs, 25.1 PPG
So you see much better sack numbers and interceptions compared to the Patriots but the real story, and REAL football here, is that Carolina would generally bad and they lost 10 games. Number 2 in sacks and top 10 pretty much everywhere else but losing puts a massive caveat in the Panthers defensive numbers. Breaking down their games, they were relatively consistent but just not quite as productive as previous years. Of the 5 games where they scored 10+ points, 4 of those were wins. The other two wins were against the Saints and Redskins, both with 8 fantasy points. 10 of their 16 games they allowed over 20 points and 3 of those allowed over 40. The sacks were always there, recording multiple sacks in 13 of 16 and only failed to force a turnover in 2 games. Losing though, like I said, fudges the numbers and leaves a bit of a bad taste in the collective mouths of Carolina players. Still a top 10 unit though despite having to play the Falcons (number 1 offense in scoring, 2nd yards), Saints (number 2 scoring offense, 1st yards) and Bucs (18th ranked offense) a total of 6 times a year. Key for them next year is their offense, if they get better and push out more wins, the D will benefit as a result.
10, Baltimore Ravens 121 points – 31 sacks, 18 INT, 10 FUM, 2 TDS, 1 2PT RET, 20.1 PPG
The Ravens really should have been higher on this list. 7 of their first 12 games all recorded 10+ points and virtually all of them with multiple sacks and/or turnovers. Sadly, their last 4 weeks were dismal where they scored 6, 3, 3 and 1 points respectively. Young team, with great potential. Star linebacker Zach Orr suffered a serious neck injury and has been forced to retire at just 24 years old which is a massive setback for this unit. Thankfully for fans there aren’t many teams better with their personnel moves than the Ravens so something tells me they will be okay. Taking out those last 4 weeks they averaged 2.3 sacks, 1 INT and 0.6 FUM and just under 10 fantasy points a week. Average that over 16 weeks and they rank 1 or 2 in the league. Their only duds were against good competition like the Raiders and Cowboys which is fair enough but like at least 5 of the top 10 teams, they need epic improvements on offense to help balance out their games. One final note, there is an element of overachievement with this Ravens unit, they are coached extremely well and again they draft well but in a division with the dominant Steelers and likely-to-improve Bengals, it is hard to gauge where they land next year.
11, San Diego Chargers 120 points – Tied first in both INT (18) and return TD (5) in the league, this unit has stud Joey Bosa screaming towards QBs at a JJ Watt like level. With him terrorising offensive lines for many years to come and a ball hawking secondary, new DC Gus Bradley must be licking his chops. This is the same Gus Bradley who, despite flaming out with the Jaguars as a HC, led the feared ‘Legion of Boom’ in Seattle during its rise and mainstay as one of the league’s most feared position groups. Keep an eye on them and thank me later.
22, Oakland Raiders 92 points – a laughable start to the season had the Raiders D right at the bottom of the defensive statistics but they came together and finished strong. 16 INT and 14 FUM has them towards the top of those respective categories but their sack numbers and points allowed were towards the lower end of the league so much to work on. They have some decent players and we all know what they have on the other side of the ball so success next year is likely. Maybe not top 10 but with those turnover numbers they would be a viable streaming option.
12, Seattle Seahawks 113 points – They had 42 sacks but they inability to cause turnovers this year knocked them way down the fantasy D pecking order. Just 11 INT and 8 FUM is not going to cut it and keep them as the feared unit we know them to be. Injuries to key players like Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor all but ruined their shot of making a Superbowl run but injuries weren’t their only issue. Sideline fighting and squabbling were present at multiple games this year. Is it competitive drive or dissension? Hard to gauge as a fan but all things do not look rosy in Seattle at the moment. As always though once players get healthy and a good draft I would expect Seattle back in the top 5.
18, Houston Texans 95 points – The Texans are here for one reason. No JJ Watt. Presuming 2 points for a sack, Watts numbers on his own give the Texans D 30-40 points a year. Add his fumble recoveries and all the other things that he can do, it is a huge drop off. The unit in itself is decent but no Watt has them drop off in a big way. They need more picks and fumbles but having Watt and Jadeveon Clowney as potentially the best 1-2 punch in the NFL active and on the field, they should jump back in to the top 10 at least.
28, Jacksonville 69 points – This was the year that the Jags made it to the big time. Stop me if you have heard this at all this season but their offense was so damn miserable that it overshadowed an actually promising team. They don’t have the numbers (33 sacks, 7 INT and 6 FUM) but with Jalen Ramsey in the secondary and Myles Jack more than likely starting next year it will take some time but it could be a decent unit in a year or so.
Last one next week, the wide receiver and then on to draft season!