Last year, Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh might as well have been called "Little Caesar" because it doesn't get more "Hot n' Ready" than a kicker who goes 10-for-10 on field goals over 50 yards. Walsh, a rookie sixth round pick out of Georgia, put together one of the finest seasons you will ever see from a kicker:
35-of-38, perfect over 50 yards, 7-of-9 from 40-49, first team All-Pro.
Hell, in his first career game, Walsh kicked three fourth quarter field goals against the Jaguars (20 yards, 42 yards, 55 yards) to send it to overtime, and then hit from 38 to give the Vikings a crucial win that they would later need to make the playoffs. If you had him on your fantasy team (and unless you are a die-hard Vikings fan, you likely didn't even need to draft him) you were more golden than McDonald's french fries and a 20-piece McNuggets, with Walsh providing the hot mustard.
All of which leads you to the logical conclusion that you must be the first person to draft a kicker in your fantasy league in order to ensure yourself the honor of having the league's best kicker plus the 20-point bombs he drops on your unsuspecting uncle Walter in the "Griffin Family Fun League" right?
No, idiot. Didn't you read the headline of the article? Only fools draft kickers before the final round. Stupid, silly, fools.
The kickers in the 2012 Pro Bowl were David Akers and Sebastian Janikowksi. While Janikowski is a solid, steady option that has averaged 32 field goals and 6 field goals over 50 yards per year over the last three seasons, this is also a guy whose career-high in field goals made before 2010 was 26.
Janikowski made 89.3% of his attempts in 2004, and then 66.7% of his attempts in 2005. Then 72%, then 71.9%, then 80%, then 89.7%, then 80.5%. The "consistency" that you imagine in kickers is an illusion and Janikowski is just as likely to kick 35 field goals on 85% this year as he is to kick 25 field goals on 75%.
Akers is a six-time Pro Bowl kicker that also made just 77.8% of his kicks between 2005 and 2008 and is a perfect example of how reliable 50+ yard field goals are: In 2011 with the 49ers he made 44 field goals while going 7-for-9 past 50. In 2012, he made 29 field goals and went 2-for-6 past 50.
The 2011 Pro Bowl kickers were Billy Cundiff and Akers. Cundiff was a decent kicker from 2002 to 2004 for the Cowboys. He was released in 2005. He was released in 2006 by the Saints. He couldn't make a team in 2007 or 2008. He was released by the Browns in 2009. He played for the Ravens in 2010 and 2011. He missed a game-tying playoff field goal against the Patriots and was released the following August. He was released by the Redskins. He was signed by the 49ers to compete against a struggling AKERS. He is currently trying to make the Jets. Cundiff was an All Pro in 2010.
The 2010 Pro Bowl kickers were Nate Kaeding and Akers (before the Eagles let him go.) Kaeding was one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, but he suffered an unfortunate injury and retired earlier this year. While he was accurate. Kaeding was only 10-of-17 beyond 50 yards in his career.
The 2009 Pro Bowl featured Stephen Gostkowski and John Carney of the Giants. Carney enjoyed a breakthrough season in 1994 with the Chargers (he was 30, having started his career in 1988 with the Buccaneers) when he made 34 of 38 field goals. He didn't make that many field goals again until 2008. His two Pro Bowl appearances were separated by 14 years.
Gostkowski went 36-of-40 on field goals in 2008. Since then, in an average healthy year (he missed eight games in 2010), Gostkowski is good for about 28 field goals. He has seven career kicks over 50 yards.
We could go on like this forever. Really, we could. Some regard Adam Vinatieri as the GOAT kicker because of his clutchiness in the playoffs. The same Vinatieri that has made the Pro Bowl twice in 17 years and who once went five straight years without making a field goal over 50 yards. But perhaps my favorite example is Neil Rackers. Probably because that man made me (and many others) look like foolish fools.
Rackers racked up a career that had no notes to be worthy of (that is, an unworthy career) over his first four years in the league with the Bengals and Cardinals, but things got a little interesting in 2004 when he went 5-for-9 past 50 yards. The next year he went HAM on FGs like a BAD MOFO: 40-of-42 (fore-tee-of-fore-tee-two!) and 6-of-7 past 50 yards. The I-Rack Attack went 16-of-16 on field goals... IN HIS FIRST FOUR GAMES OF THE YEAR!
He was a machine that was quite literally carrying fantasy teams to perfect starts.
Why wouldn't you draft Rackers early and give yourself 100-percent certainty of a 100-percent kicker when he's so clearly going to continue to be the best kicker imaginable? Kicking is kicking so why should it be, that Neil Rackers would ever kick it awfully?
The next year Rackers went 28-for-37 (dropping from 95.2% to 75.7%) and just 1-for-7 past 50 yards. He made 70% of his field goal tries the year after that and 3-for-9 past 50. In the four years following his 6-for-7 effort, Rackers went 5-for-18 past 50 yards.
In one season, Rackers was one of the best kickers we have ever seen. In every other season, he was mostly ordinary.
Per Football Outsiders, field-goal percentage is entirely random from season-to-season and according to the evidence, they show almost no correlation year-to-year that says "This guy is going to be the best kicker in the world again."
Great kickers can be found on the waiver wire every year
Case in point: Blair Walsh.
Of course, kicking in a dome has been very helpful for both of those players. There is a reason to perhaps draft one of those guys ahead of someone else. But only a fool would do it before the last round. Why?
The value isn't there
It is true that players like Walsh and Rackers have helped people to fantasy championships, or at least gotten teams off to a fast start, but remember also that the difference from kicker-to-kicker is usually going to be very small. I wouldn't be opposed to the notion that kickers shouldn't even be a part of a fantasy league anyway.
If it were up to many coaches, they wouldn't have them in real football either.
Well here's good news, genius: This is FANTASY football! It's a FANTASY! This is literally the only place in your life where you are in control. The only place where you aren't be nagged by your "old lady" or yelled at by your boss. You get to have the final say in who gets to play and what they're worth. Let me ask you this:
Who was your left tackle on your fantasy team last year? Who was your punter? Who did you have to cut to make it down to a final 53-man roster? Who was your running backs coach? Where did you hold practices? Which player slept with your wife? What was it like being the general manager of the Carolina Panthers?
It's not real anyway. Don't kid yourself. If it was, you'd be a lot richer than you actually are. I don't know how this devolved into me insulting the crap out of you but here we are. Life is like a box of chocolates:
You never know whose gonna kick.
If you drafted a kicker before the last round, I think you and Forrest Gump share something in common. (And I'm not talking about running a successful shrimping business.)