Friday, August 04, 2006

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S TOP KICKERS! (yes, Kickers)

Although Peyton Manning may feel otherwise, Kickers deserve some respect. How many contests are won on last second Field Goals? How many pressure-filled Time-Outs have preceded game-winning Extra Points?

In Fantasy Football, a Kicker can be no less crucial. Sure, there's always a leg or two to be found on the Waiver Wire, but the top Kickers? those guys are capable of posting numbers that one would normally associate with a "Flex" or #3 Skill Position player! Of course, much depends upon the manner in which your league tallies points, but if your system rewards Touchbacks... versatile, strong-legged Kicker such as New York's Jay Feely and Arizona's Neil Rackers are potent fantasy weapons, indeed!

And with that "s'up playah' nod" to the lonely dude whose best bud' is a tee;

FANTASY FOOTBALL'S TOP KICKERS! (yes, Kickers)

1. Cardinals, Neil Rackers: Rackers' value formerly resided in the fact that the club simply couldn't put the ball across the 'stripe and into the End-Zone. It's all changed now, though, and reliable-Rackers, who made 40/42 FG attempts, nailed all 20 Extra Points (XPs), and set an NFL record for Field Goals (FGs) made last season, is at the back-end of a high-octane O.
Just turning 30, Rackers recorded 8 kicks of 48 or more yards last season with a long of 54. Dude's got plenty of leg.

2. Colts, Adam Vinatieri: No longer a Patriot, Vin' won't be exposed to New England's often blustery conditions. Accordingly, the cool-as-ice Kicker should thrive within Indy's cozy Home-Dome confines. Last season, Vinatieri was 40/45 for FGs (with a long of 49) and 40/41 for Point After Tries (PATs).
With the Colt offense adapting to life without their Edge', the O will likely go pass-heavy... and an added scoring burden just might fall upon Vinatieri's SuperBowl winning shoulders.

3. Bengals, Shayne Graham: Another high-powered offense, another high-powered leg. The 29 year-old Graham missed just 4 of his 32 FG tries and none of his 47 XPs. With the Beng' O just beginning to scratch the surface of its vast potential, Graham could even improve upon an excellent '05 campaign.
**Note: The good news is that Carson Palmer is said to be moving effortlessly and isn't even wearing a brace, just a smallish knee pad. Still, if that trick knee should trouble him and the club is forced to go to backup QB Anthony Wright for any appreciable duration, Graham's value will skyrocket.

4. Cowboys, Mike Vanderjagt: Much like Indy's Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vanderjagt, an elite Kicker, changed unis' this off-season. Now suiting-up for "The Tuna," Vandy' would do well to keep his opinions to himself and his mind on the field of play. Going by his record, if the 'Pokes new Kicker can do that much... Dallas will be in fine shape. In his last season as a member of Tony Dungy's Colts, Vanderjagt converted all 52 XPs and 23 of 25 FG tries.
While his new new employer's offense doesn't quite stack-up to that of his last, the Cowboys should still hang plenty of points and Vanderjagt should continue to sport one of the NFL's most accurate legs; his career average for FG tries is 87.5% and his PAT average is an eye-popping 99.4%.
That said, at 36 it's not inconceivable that he could lose a bit of leg strength.

5. Rams, Jeff Wilkins: If there's any benefit to playing for a franchise that boasts an elite offense but a largely fictitious defense it's that you're bound to see an abundance of Kicking opportunities. And sure enough, that was Wilkins' lot last season.
As good a Kicker as you'll find anywhere in the league, Jeff Wilkins reliably dots the I on St. Louis' offensive circus. The Ram tough Special Teamer was good on 27/31 FG attempts and converted all 36 PATs. Bragging above-average leg strength, he crushed 9 of 11 kicks of 40-49 yards and all but 1 of his 5 tries of 50 yards or greater.
This coming season the Ram offensive philosophy is slated to change, and if the club does follow through on it's plan to better utilize bruising Running Back Steven Jackson... then Wilkins just might see a slight downward correction in his fantasy point totals. Still, look for the St. Loo' leg to remain amongst the games' most elite.

6. Giants, Jay Feely: In his first season as a member of Tom Coughlin's band of Big Blue Football brothers (prior to coming to NY, Feely was a Falcon) Feely put 35 of 42 Field Goal tries and all 43 Extra Point attempts through the uprights.
If you're looking for a Kicker capable of booting the ball a country mile, the G-Man drilled 8/10 from 40-49 yards, and was 3/5 on kicks of 50 yards or greater. With QB Eli Manning sure to improve, the 30 year-old Kicker will certainly retain his value... and might even see an uptick in fantasy value.

7. Broncos, Jason Elam: Jason Elam has been getting it done for more than a decade now, and Denver's rare mile-high air certainly helps put a bit more "loft" beneath his kicks. Long in the tooth, Elam's one of those guys who could see his stock plummet precipitously if age catches up with him within the span of a single off-season as it has for so many former athletes.
Accurate on 24 of 32 FGs and 43 of 44 XPs last season, the Broncs' value could even buoy slightly (he'll handle Kickoff duties) since he's the likely fill-in for a suspended Todd Sauerbrun. Naturally, it's all predicated upon whether or not your league awards points for Touchbacks.

8. Seahawks, Josh Brown: Just as Jeff Wilkins has benefitted from playing within the incredibly productive Ram passing game, Brown has reaped the rewards of being RB Shaun Alexander's extra-point posting Caddy. In addition, the 'Hawks' steady as a rock Signal Caller, Matt Hasselbeck, and the knee-deep receiving corps also serve to bolster Brown's fantasy value. With RB Shaun-A's multi-score games come multi-score games for Brown... it's a tit-for tat dynamic and one of the few in life that you can actually enjoy.
Josh Brown's Field Goal accuracy vacillated a bit (18/25), but he's virtually automatic from "39 yards and in" (he missed just 1 kick), and after drilling 5 of 8 from distance (50+ yards) Brown can assuredly boom it. After going 56 for 57, Brown was virtually automatic on Extra Point tries as well.
The club did lose the SuperBowl and how they respond to the defeat remains to be seen, but the loaded offense should continue to stack 6's like Wonder stacks white Bread.

9. Chargers, Nate Kaeding: Entering just his 3rd pro season, the 'Bolt booter should be considered a top fantasy weapon... and I ain't "keeding."
Nate was great on all 49 PATs and missed just 3 of his 24 Field Goal opps'. Why so few FGs? Same reason as C-Hawk Josh Brown; an accomplished offense and a time-eating Running Back, Ladainian Tomlinson.
It should be noted that Kaeding was 3 of 5 from 50+.

10. Eagles, David Akers: Akers missed a chunk of the mid-season due to injury, but once he returned the Eag' kicking game was back in capable hands. "The Akers" banked 16 of 22 FGs (4 of those misses came on tried of 41+ yards) and was 23 for 23 on FG tries.
This season the Philly' O is in a bit of flux; no T.O., no clear-cut #1 pass catcher, and a gifted, versatile feature back in Brian Westbrook whose durability remains a concern. Look for an uptick in FG tries for this late-round fantasy draft pick as he's bound to notch several big games while playing against the big boys of the NFC East.
*NOTE: According to Internet sources, Akers hit a 65 yard Field Goal attempt in practice on Sunday... no lack of oomph' there!

11. Chiefs, Lawrence Tynes: Although he's 28, Tynes has just 2 pro seasons under his belt. Hailing from Scotland, "Larry" (to friends) looks a helluva' lot like a suhweet' fantasy commodity. The Chief hit 4/8 from 40+, 2/3 from 50+, and missed just 1 of his 45 XP attempts last season.
With RB Larry Johnson grabbing hold of the offense's reigns and the passing game iffy at best, the club could turn to the 3rd year Kicker more frequently than it did over his first 2 seasons. And given what K.C. has seen out of Tynes (or Larry, if we were friendlier) thus far this pre-season... new coach Herm Edwards will be just fine with that.
Consider Tynes a bit of a "sleeper" amongst Kickers. While he's by no means an "unknown," other owners might not be aware of his considerable upside.

12. Steelers, Jeff Reed: Reed's club regularly plays in unfavorable weather conditions and those inclement games clearly manifest themselves in his numbers.
His accuracy can't be questioned as he put all 45 PATs into place... that is, right between the big yellow posts, but Reed missed 5/11 FG tries; he was 6/9 from 40+ and 0/2 from distance.
With short yardage/G-Line specialist Jerome Bettis and do-it-all pass catcher Antwaan Randle El relegated to mere memory, the club is left with swift RB Willie Parker (who is not going to shift the pile), a talented but to date disappointing #2 pass catcher in Cedrick Wilson, and a rookie in #3 Santonio Holmes. The Steelers are bound to lean more heavily upon Reed than they did last season.
Solid? Certainly, spectacular? Not. Look for some incremental improvement from Jeff Reed, he should be a credible frontline fantasy leg this season.

AND THERE YOU HAVE IT, THE NFL'S TOP-12 KICKERS!
While you may disagree with the seeding(s), or have Raven Matt Stover (with McNair at the helm the Ravens should be far more dangerous offensively) and/or Raiduh' Sebastian Janikowski (another rock-solid fantasy Kicker, newcomer Aaron Brooks renders the pasing game far more lethal than "deer-in-the-headlights Kerry Collins) on your list, each of the above 12 should help guide an owner to Roto-glory. That said, there are at least another half-dozen Kickers worth your time, with the above 2 heading that list. Likewise, don't hesitate to comb the 'Wire for a Kicker should yours disappoint. Last season, I pulled Jeff Wilkins AND Jay Feely off o' my 12-team leagues' discard pile... and helped ride them to 1st and 2nd place finishes.

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