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Would You Like To Read An 8,000+ Word/Five Person Debate About Justin Tucker's/Kicker's Fantasy Valuation?

Published:
June 29, 2019 10:46 PM
June 29, 2019 10:44 PM
Updated:
June 29, 2019 10:46 PM
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Would You Like To Read An 8,000+ Word/Five Person Debate About Justin Tucker's/Kicker's Fantasy Valuation?

Jason Katz posed a question to me and our email discussion group about Justin Tucker’s valuation…and why I’m (RC) pushing Tucker as some great fantasy play/er and whether my ‘Undervalued’ label is logical and worthy. It’s a great question, and about 8,000+ words later we had all punched ourselves and ended discussing Joe Mixon for a moment.

You want to read a novella on kicker valuation…Tucker valuation…this-or-that valuations in redraft – then buckle up.

This is a copy/paste of the emails back & forth, so forgive any typos, abbreviations, etc., as everyone was moving fast and furious.

You’ll have to decide which side of the debate won…or neither…or both. It’s not a simple ‘axiom’ to dismiss or extra-push the importance (or not) of the fantasy kicker.

 

The debate group:

Katz: Fantasy writer Jason Katz

Ross: Budding NFL Draft analyst Ross Jacobs

Skol and Savage: From our Handicapping Group

RC: That’s me

 

Pull up a seat…

 

Katz: There is no one I respect more in this business than RC. So, I want to pose this question for the group. RC has Justin Tucker on his undervalued report, suggesting he should go somewhere between 100-120 overall, which is around the 9th-11th rounds. I don't understand how RC arrived at this conclusion. Here are Justin Tucker's finishes since 2012.

2018: 9.7 ppg, the K4

2017: 10.1 ppg, the K7

2016: 11.4 ppg, the K1 (tied with Bryant)

2015: 8.9 ppg, the K7

2014: 8.5 ppg, the K11

2013: 10.0 ppg, the K4

2012: 9.5 ppg, the K4

I love Justin Tucker, but how is he providing an edge in fantasy football justifying taking him over WRs and RBs in those rounds?

Very interested to hear your thoughts.

 

ROSS: So, I’m with RC on this one, and I’ll try to explain my reasoning but like RC it’s going to be pretty lengthy. 

It’s my belief that leagues are not won through the draft, but they can be lost. Every year I feel like I drafted a baller team and every late round guy is going to break out while the top guys are going to perform at or above expectations. But when I do an autopsy of my year after it’s all over and I’ve finished top 2-3 again, I inevitably find that I drafted a few key guys, maybe 2 top performers and one late round breakout, maybe a couple solid value picks, but the team was only as competitive as it was because I filled 4, 5, 6 holes with trades and free agent acquisitions. And that’s after churning through several temporary guys that I’ll use for 2-3 weeks and dump (RB’s typically). 

So, this realization has changed how I approach drafts. Instead of shooting for the moon with every pick, I mostly try to avoid drafting busts. I systematically avoid as much risk as humanly possible. So Gurley for example this year. Could he be a huge value in the 2nd-3rd round? Absolutely. But there’s too much baggage that I’m not willing to deal with. If I want a really early RB it’s David Johnson or bust this year because the RB position is by nature riskier than taking a WR. I don’t care about expected points or points over replacement or any such metric I’ve seen used to argue for early RBs over WRs. They all assume we can fairly accurately predict final scoring ranks and value them appropriately across positions, and they also assume that we’re going to get the full point total that player would accumulate if you started them every week (because that’s the position rank number we all use and what I’ll be addressing in question with Justin Tucker). It’s actually very rare to accumulate the full point total because very few players get started every week and we inevitably miss out one of “those weeks” when a guy goes off for 44 points against the league’s 3rd best defense and he’s on your bench. 

So because my goal has become to avoid risks and busts with my first few picks (it’s fine to gamble and in fact you should gamble some with later picks because they are all risky in some sense otherwise they wouldn’t be late picks) and to maximize “guaranteed” points as much as possible, I find that Justin Tucker is actually a really nice pickup in those middle-late rounds. He isn’t always going to finish as the K1 but we don’t need that. We just want to lock in any advantage we can, and on average he should probably net you 2-3 ppg over your league’s average kicker because let’s face it most people grab one kicker and don’t pay attention to him the rest of the year. I’ve seen guys stand pat with a kicker averaging 4 points a week. Tucker is the most consistent kicker ever, and it’s not close. And to be clear all of this argument doesn’t apply to any other kicker because most of them are nearly totally random from year to year (also league scoring matters obviously. If you get bonuses for distance Tucker ticks a little higher). So let’s say I need a 9th rounder to grab him. What are you legitimately taking instead in that round that is better than Tucker? Some backup RB you hope will snag the top job after an injury? A rookie WR you hope gets a larger role through the season and finishes with 800 yards and 5 TDs? There’s very likely no player you absolutely have to have in the 9th that you can’t also get in the 10th. Instead you take Tucker and lock in a small advantage over 75% of your league. That’s a solid investment and well worth it. 

 

Katz: I'm taking a shot at a WR or RB that could make a difference. Tucker does not make a difference. He does not provide you that 2-3 ppg edge over your league's average kicker. There are not stats that back that up. I also completely disagree about the entire drat philosophy. I want all upside. As much as I can get. I'm not winning my league with par value. I am also far worse at predicting who is "safe" than I think I am. Give me plausible upside.

It's similar to how RC talks about how guys like Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield should be first round picks or close to it. They're still QBs. Unless you're projecting 2018 Mahomes on them, no QB is worth a top five round pick. There's a reason that QBs always go late and it's because of the replaceability of the production and the opportunity cost in passing on a WR or RB. The same applies in rounds 9/10 for kickers. You don't take kickers there because you can take someone like, using RC's undervalued report, Jordan Howard or Carlos Hyde - someone that can make a difference if things break right. If I have Justin Tucker, I don't have an edge. If I have Howard and Hyde and they are useless, I drop them. But if they end up being RB2s, then I may just win my league.

 

RC: My case for Justin Tucker's premium value (below)...

*Note on your 9th-10th-11th round case for a running back. You’re making the case that a 5-10% shot at a top five producer at their position (let's say Carlos Hyde for a good example), a guy you'll use every week will be found 9th-10th round...and 95% chance you won't hit the lottery ticket and you'll drop them by Week 3...you covet that long-shot play over taking a guy who is flirting top 5 in kicking categories and a guy you will plug and play and start every week? How is that a slam dunk decision? I bet I used Justin Tucker more, and he scored above average in more weeks than most any 9th-10th round flyer RB that I ever would have taken. 

I'm not saying there isn't value in the Hail Mary #4-5 RB grab, but it's all emotion-based. You HOPE you hit the long-shot pick and will eschew a starting positional player, leaving it to chance you get luck there. when likely the long-shot 10th round er is a guy you could also get round 11-12-13, so why not slide to the front of the line and take Tucker (or Z) earlier and get it locked in and then gamble 11-12-13 rounds? Have your cake and eat it too? 

I'd rather put $100 a week in my 401K and let it compound over time than put nothing into retirement and spend $100 a week on Powerball tickets. Sure, the Powerball is quick and huge, if you hit it...you're probably not. That's even a bad analogy because you can draft Tucker early and then buy your lottery tickets the next round. it's not like we're lacking for lottery ticket plays. Kicker, I know I have to start one every week...so why not lock in the best?

Here's why I think Tucker is you smart $100 a week into the 401K...

The prevailing wisdom is that kickers are seen as random events that no one can figure out, so just go with whatever. The reason people think that is because with most kickers, most seasons, that is true. They’re a top three kicker in fantasy or the NFL one season, bottom 10 the next…or even bounced off their team a year after a top fantasy season.

If you look back over the past three years, to stay with the current times, and you list out the top five kickers in three categories which speak to the quality of the kicker themselves -- total fantasy points (which factors how good and how non-hurt they’ve been), total field goals made in a season, and total 50+ FGs (for those that play with longer distance bonuses)…you will see one guy who shows up with the most top fives every year in these key categories – Justin Tucker.

Three categories, three years of results (2016-2018)…nine opportunities to be in the top five (3 times 3). Tucker shows up seven of the 9 times. The two times he missed the top 5 in one of these categories…he finished 6th, just missing top 5.

The next closest in names appearing are Jason Myers and Matt Bryant showing up 4 times out of 9 opportunities. Bryant was AWOL from the lists in 2018 and is likely done in the NFL. Myers now kicking for his 3rd NFL team in the past few years.

 

Top Five: Total fantasy points…

 

2018:

162 = Fairbairn

149 = Lutz

147 = Myers

145 = Tucker

145 = Crosby

 

2017:

182 = Zuerlein

172 = Gostkowski

170 = Gould

162 = Tucker

162 = Bryant

 

2016:

179 = Bryant

175 = Tucker

151 = Hopkins

150 = Sturgis

149 = Vinatieri

 

Top Five: FGs made in the NFL, last three years…

 

2018:

37 = Fairbairn

35 = Tucker

33 = Gould

33 = Myers

32 = Rosas

 

2017:

39 = Gould

38 = Butker

38 = Zuerlein

37 = Gostkowski

35 = Boswell/Succop

(34 = Tucker)

 

2016:

38 = Tucker

35 = Novak

35 = Sturgis

34 = Bryant

33 = Hauschka

 

Top Five: 50+ FGs made, last three years

 

2018:

6 = Maher

6 = Myers

5 = Tucker, tied with Crosby

4 = A few tied with

 

2017:

8 = Bryant

7 = Hauschka

7 = Prater

6 = Forbath

6 = Zuerlein

(5 = Tucker)

 

2016:

10 = Tucker

7 = Myers

7 = Vinatieri

6 = Bryant

4 = Sturgis

 

Kicker stats the past three seasons:

Most fantasy points from 2016-2018 = Justin Tucker

Most FGs made in the NFL 2016-2018 = Justin Tucker

Most 50+ FGs made in the NFL 2016-2018 = Justin Tucker

 

When I draft Justin Tucker, I know I’m getting a for sure top five fantasy kicker…and always in the hunt for the top spot.

When I don’t draft Tucker, I take anyone else…I feel like I’ve got a random 15-20% shot at finding a top five kicker. I might find the Fairbairn of 2019…I might also find kickers #15-30+ and be ever rotating guys in and out trying to find magic. Or I can just take the best in class kicker and forget about it.

On a PPG basis, Greg Zuerlein has been the top dog the past three years…but he’s also missed games with injury 2017 and 2018. Throwing you back into churning the waiver wire for ‘luck’. Possessing Tucker is the least ‘luck’ based top kicker in the game.

In the most erratic, random, aggravating position in fantasy, the kicker, there is one not-erratic, not-random, not-aggravating consistent producer. I think that’s worth a premium. 

 

Katz: You make a compelling argument on the surface, but the reality is that you can stream similar production to Justin Tucker on a weekly basis by targeting kickers on home favorites playing in good weather. Tucker has his down weeks just like any other kicker. And by targeting the proper teams' kickers via streaming, I can create the same weekly advantage that Tucker presumably provides, which, again, is not reflected in the final numbers.

Your strongest point is about the lottery tickets - all we are really doing is delaying them by a round each. They're lottery tickets anyway. Like you said, 95% chance our rounds 10-15 guys are dropped by week 4. But I've got my lottery ticket guys I want to target and I believe in and I want to get them. If I can take Tucker round 10 and still get my guys, I will, but I won't pass up on what I believe is a shot at a huge return on investment for a kicker.

It's not that dissimilar from you believing you can pinpoint the outliers early in the draft. The only difference is the opportunity cost in the double-digit rounds is far less.

 

RC: You're making a case that you can get any old kicker, and you might...but you assume you are. The odds are you're not. The odds are, the fantasy psychology is -- picking up a hot kicker (or hot anything) just when they go the other way to balance out. I'd say streaming kickers, because they are more random (where as QBs, DSTs, WRs, RBs, and maybe TEs you play talent + schedule/opponent -- opponent for a kicker is not reliable), is a more certain death chase than luckily finding the average or something great at the right time. When you chase random kickers, you tend to be a week late. 

I am not saying streaming kickers is the worst thing, I'm just staring at the one (of two) great, more reliable kickers in the league/fantasy and I can get them ahead of anyone else and put that spot to bed and then go chase my RB and WR dreams after...why wouldn't I? Tucker leads all at his position in the three key categories the past three seasons total, and we're like 'yawn'...a player doing that at any other position is a fantasy god. Why can't 1-2 kickers be the exception who are the exception? Especially when that 10th round wild card RB...is probably there 11th or 12th round. Tucker, I know I'm using him...all season except his BYE week. 11-12th round guy...likely gone/

'Any old kicker' who starts out slow (low attempts/scoring) the first 2-3-4 games...you're changing them out. Tucker starts slow...you stick with him because of his production, you know he'll pick back up. How many kickers can you say that about...ever? That's even more of the Tucker premium...whether that's 10th-round or 12th-round or whatever is spending up, smartly, to get him to lock in 'a win' week-to-week over most of the other kickers. 

If you can, go back through a team you had 3-4 kickers in a season and add up the scoring and see how you've done with it the past few years. Maybe, you have the Midas touch with streaming kickers. My guess is you didn't beat the average or beat Tucker's three-year averages.

 

Katz: I would say I probably cannot stream Tucker's production, but even Tucker isn't so far ahead of the average as to warrant using an earlier pick on him at the cost of a potentially viable WR or RB. It's not that I'm a streaming god, it's that we have the numbers on Tucker's fantasy production and he doesn't provide the weekly edge you claim he does. I would love to do an in-depth study on this, but I have neither the time nor resources to look at week to week kicker performance to evaluate repeatability and consistency.

 

RC: You assume you'll find your way to the average, but I'd say streaming kickers (unlike the other positions) is usually a negative chase that's a week or two behind, taking last week(s) hot kicker and crossing your fingers...and you get the new kicker just in-time for their decent to their mean. 

Tucker's going to be the #5 kicker this year, let's say that's a fact. You're more comfortable picking from 31 other kickers, knowing 4 of them will beat Tucker and 27 of them won't...a 13% chance to beat Tucker. Let's say you are fine to get a top 10 kicker because it's 'close enough' to Tucker...you have to find one of the 10 out of 30 (33%) kickers to get to have your bet payoff. 

Streaming for top 10 kickers means you're going to keep wading through 33% coin flips to connect them together? Streaming means you were wrong the week(s) before, so that's a negative outcome already, now hoping you're next 33% for/67% against pickup or swap pays off? The odds are against you doing that every time you try But it is possible to beat the odds, they're not insurmountable. You are saying you want the 33% chance vs. taking a golden/secure top five asset. And you're confident that you can keeping taking 33% chances all season 3-4-5 swaps to get a payoff eventually. It's not impossible...just a odds-against statistical gamble when there is no need to do so (for Tucker and for Z (hoping he stays healthy) only). 

 

Katz: Plenty of studies have been done on what drives kicker scoring. Obviously, there's speculation involved, but if you go with a Vegas favorite playing in good weather, the opportunity should be there and we know opportunity drives kicker scoring more than accuracy. I love knowing that Tucker simply isn't going to miss, but if I can get a kicker that may attempt 4-5 field goals, that's more valuable. It's not about chasing last week's kicker - I couldn't care less what a kicker did the previous week when looking at the upcoming week - all I care about is the spread and the weather. 

 

RC: That's why I like Tucker...most FGs made the past three years, and he plays in good and bad weather...mostly one of the worst for weather typically. 

 

Katz: I like Tucker, too. I understand why you like Tucker. But the data says he doesn't provide any statistical edge.

 

ROSS: Could you expand on what you mean by “the data says he doesn’t provide any statistical edge”? Because if I understand it right you are rightly pointing to year end ranks and saying “see, there’s no advantage to be had here” and I would agree with that statement IF we could perfectly predict final year ranks. What RC and I are arguing is that under actual real-world conditions things are much murkier and within that realm Tucker does indeed provide a slight edge in that he’s more predictable than any other kicker AND he happens to generally finish near the top of the kicker rankings. He is useful because he’s predictable, a known quantity. That has value in a game where things are very chaotic from year to year and especially from week to week. 

 

Katz: What I mean is that if I were to analyze the weekly scoring of every kicker in the league, it would show that Tucker does not provide any meaningful advantage. To do this using a reasonable sample size, I would need to compile the last five years' worth of weekly scoring data on kickers as well as their ADPs and analyze how frequently Tucker posted a top 12 performance at the position, while comparing each of his performances to the other kickers that week to see how much of an advantage he provided while factoring in the likelihood that the surrounding performers would be owned. It's a lot. I know what I think the data would say, but I do not have the time nor the resources to do the study.

I have come across articles that do something similar on a smaller scale and all of them suggest that there is no value in taking a kicker early.

 

Katz: This statistical analysis is kind of what I'm referring to: https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/fantasy-football-metrics-that-matter-kickers

 

ROSS: I’ve seen similar studies in the past. I’m sure we all have. And I completely agree with it. Except I don’t believe it addresses the real question here: is there something special about Justin Tucker that warrants consideration? 

 

Katz: The only thing special about Tucker is you know you can use him all season and he has a high chance to finish top 6 at his position. But without a meaningful edge, there's no value in reaching for him.

 

ROSS: How are those things not a meaningful edge? 

 

Katz: Because the difference in scoring between Tucker and a random kicker is not meaningful.

 

ROSS: You acknowledged that he has a high chance of finishing top 6, so how do you figure that’s not a meaningful edge over 1/31 other kickers? And not even that because you won’t have a shot at picking all those guys up. And that’s assuming you just pick one randomly and stick with him. Trying to stream bottom of the barrel kickers seems rather difficult to me. How do you manage that effectively to where it doesn’t automatically put you behind the guy with Tucker? The odds seem stacked against it in my estimation. 

 

Katz: Because Tucker isn't giving you a weekly advantage at the position a high enough percentage of the time. Certainly not enough and not significant enough to justify reaching multiple rounds for him. Again, I don't have the data, but I'm gonna trust that Scott Barrett did when he did the study. If I had the time, I would do it myself. I think it stands to reason that the "take a kicker last round" strategy has become universal because it actually has merit.

 

Katz: Tucker's 2018 game log: 

1.     12

2.     7

3.     13

4.     15

5.     10

6.     3

7.     5

8.     3

9.     10

10.  BYE

11.  13

12.  11

13.  17

14.  6

15.  8

16.  13

 

Nothing about that looks like something I can't get streaming.

 

ROSS: Bet you that game log is better than any other single kicker and it’s also better than what you could manage streaming though. How often is he worse than the top half of kickers? You think your opponent is going to be on average better than that every week? Besides, even if it’s not an advantage every single week, it’s still going to be an advantage a good enough portion of the time. You don’t have to win every game. Just need to win 10 or so. And I’d guess Tucker is going to give you an advantage enough to make it worth picking him a little early. 

I have to add, the strategy your league mates employ factors into this. If everyone takes kickers really early then it’s possibly not as valuable. If they all take them last round as you suggest them snagging him slightly ahead could have even more value. It’s always a meta call and each league is different. 

 

Katz: My stance is this: We have a ton of data on the randomness of kicker scoring and how it is imprudent to take a kicker early. Until someone shows me data indicating that any individual kicker breaks that mold, I see no reason to chance my stance. So if Tucker really does provide a relevant weekly edge at the position, all I need is the data to prove it and my opinion will do a complete 180.

 

ROSS: That’s a perfectly reasonable position to take. I don’t have a computer at the moment, but as soon as I do I’ll try to come up with something. 

 

Savage: I think the appeal of Tucker is the consistency. With most kickers, you have to handicap their opportunities to score points AND whether or not they can actually capitalize on those opportunities. Tucker reduces a lot that variance because he's so automatic. I agree that you can replace his season output by streaming, but I think it opens you up to more volatility in an already very volatile game. There is nothing worse than losing a week because you streamed Mason Crosby against the Lions in week 5 last year and he missed 4 FG's and an XP. That game was indoor and I'm sure the Packers over/under was reasonably high, but Crosby still managed to blow up your week because he's a mediocre player prone to those types of blowups. 

The other benefit you get is the extra time that you would otherwise waste searching for your kicker streams each week. Even if its only 5-10 mins per week per team, if you play in a lot of leagues and think you have an edge in evaluating RB's and WR's, that time is probably a lot more valuable looking for guys to stash on your bench or exploring trade opportunities. 

 

Katz: The time is irrelevant. I have enough time to do everything I need to do in my leagues. The Crosby example is just cherry picking an example of when a smart streaming strategy would backfire. It is no different than when Tucker puts up three points in a single week. It happens. This is a very easy question to answer by just going over the data. If I had time to do it, I would. If I had the resources to do it, I would. Unfortunately, I do not. Pinpointing instances where a streamer failed or Tucker succeeded is not going to hold any weight in this discussion. We just need someone to comb through the data.

 

RC: I think the argument comes down to this, and it cannot be answered with math/science because like most fantasy things it's conceptual and filled with what ifs...

My point with Justin Tucker was not to definitive tell you (the world) he was better than every 10-12th-round choice you could make. My point was...he belongs in the argument for best in class kicker for a real reason and that he's better than any ole kicker and that has value, and that it maybe worth more than a 14th-15th round any old kicker. 

We'll never solve "What is a top 5 kicker and their 2-3 points per game spread from the average (#16-17 kicker) really worth compared to streaming 2-3-4 kickers a season?" --because we really don't have data on that.

We also cannot properly value whether a top 3-5 kicker is worth more than a random 4th-5th RB and streaming any old kicker because I could see that as a person drafting an 4th RB they will cut in 2-3 weeks as a waste of time/money compared to locking in a top kicker, because the kicker HAS TO start/play. #4-5 RB is an unknown and 90%+ of the time doesn't work out, and you're grabbing new ones every week off waivers. The top kickers are typically gone off waivers. 

Someone else see the argument, like Jason, and not without merit, that he'll go any old kicker and what if he pulls James Conner last year instead? Then was it worth it? I had several times planned to draft Tucker/Zuerlein 10-11-12th round of a draft, but then I wanted Conner for sure and sometimes lost my kicker plan because I wanted in on Conner -- and that move was fantasy nirvana -- and if Jason (or anyone) pulls that off they are living a better FF-life with Conner+Rando kicker. I get it. 

I just put forth why Tucker is worth considering there...that it's not folly...that there's a economic logic -- including that I can get Tucker early and get my James Conner or whomever with my 11-12-13th round pick too. I'm good going early Tucker, RB gamble later. Others are RB/WR/TE/QB gamble now and hopefully good kicker later.  

I'm trying to do what Jason is doing in a different order. We agree...flyer RB-WR love + Kicker taken 11th and 14th round let's say. Jason is good with the RB/WR love first and kicker last, I think I can accomplish it kicker first, and getting a kicker with an edge (in theory). 

Either way has it's merits and detracts...but my main point is -- there's logic/strategy/math for Tucker/Z/top kicker earlier than what 'THEY' say a kicker should go for. I don't always go kicker 10th or 11th, but if I see the board and the guys I want will be there (I think) 11-12-13th, I lock down my best in class kicker and then get what I was going to take anyway. Or find gambles I like if someone takes one in front of me. 

There's no 'winning' this debate on either side because every year, pick, scenario Butterfly Effects -- but to the original question posed 'Why would Tucker pose an /edge advantage over taking a RB/WR 9th-11th rounds, I hope I at least made the case that's it's not dumb to consider, that there is some logic behind it. Top five kicker, top kicker in the league vs. RB/WR with a 10-20% chance to be on my team by Week 5, and/or RB/WR I could get after my Tucker pick -- both sides have a case to make. 

Can we end agreeing on -- at least it's not silly to entertain Tucker 'early' whatever that means (9th-12th)? 

 

Savage: Katz, I'm not just cherry picking examples, I'm trying to make a point about the volatility inherent to streaming. When you stream, you can generate more FG and XP attempts than Tucker gets in a given season, but you're also going to generate more misses because you're using inferior players. I agree that you can end up at the same point total at the end of the year, but there's going to be more variability in your scores from week to week.

I don't think this is as simple as just looking at average points scored, you need to look at the range of potential outcomes on a week to week basis. If you gave me the option to roll the dice with a kicker every week or just automatically have 9.5 points added to my score, I'm taking the 9.5 every time. Tucker is the closest thing to that scenario and to me that's worth spending an extra dollar in an auction or taking him a round early.

 

Katz: Oh I couldn't agree more that I would take the 9.5 and pencil it in every week. But I can't. And even Tucker doesn't do that. You talk about generating more misses because I'm using inferior players and while that's true, it doesn't matter because the data has proven that attempts is single most predictive factor of kicker scoring. Yeah, there will be works where my great stream gets five attempts and misses three of them. Just like there will be weeks where Tucker doesn't get any attempts. It's variance. I prefer to go with the most predictive data.

To RC's point, when the opportunity cost of taking the kicker in the 9th or 10th round is basically zero, which, in this case, I would define as not missing out on any player you want, then I'm all for it. It's the same rationale I use when I take a QB early. I stare at the board and go "ehhh...I'll take a QB" because I don't see any WR or RB as a must have or providing me any sort of advantage. I just won't pass up on Tucker for an RB or WR I believe in, even knowing the odds of any player hitting in those rounds is obviously low. The reward for nailing a James Conner or a Phillip Lindsay far outweighs the downside of missing on a top kicker.

 

RC: Looking back at the volume of words about this...who would have thought Justin Tucker would elicit so much conversation? I love it!!

The very logical case for bypassing Tucker Or Z...the Conner or Lindsay story, but I still say that in redraft it's a bit of a needle in the haystack reach most every time for paying off on the gamble RBs which is why Tucker's 'security' as a starter brings him into the debate as a choice. I'd rather have redraft 2018 James Conner than Tucker at his best year. However, usually, we all end up with redraft Rashaad Penny/Marlon Mack 2018 not the Conner scenario -- guys that either don't matter at all for the season or don't matter for 2-3-4 weeks off the bat and we ditch them for hot new thing. 

If nine out of 10 times the flyer 10-12th round RB/WR/QB/TE doesn't work (even if they did but it was later but you dropped them too early) those odds-against-us counterbalances the fact that top 3-5 kickers are not wildly scoring ahead of the #10-15 kicker...but they do give some edge, and if it gives 1-2-3 pts per games on average, and maybe that could be worth a win a season whereas most other #10-12 picks are ditched for greener pastures quickly and give no ROI -- it makes the debate reasonable. 

Tucker's security is his bump in value for me, not any old 'good' kicker...worth considering 10-12th round, but not a must/hard and fast rule. I see a James Conner 2018 situation, I go for that first/and did last year. A Philip Lindsay option, last August...could've got him round 15...Devontae Booker was trading ahead of him. I'm good taking Tucker a bit earlier than ADP rules if I know I can get Lindsay (or whomever) when I want after that. 

I think that's the whole summary here -- Tucker is potentially worth an earlier move, especially when what you're targeting at 10-11-12 is likely available the round after you take Tucker. And that Tucker and Zuerlein are probably the only two to even have the debate about...which is why I think they are undervalued as a 13-14th round ADPs.

What's crazy about this is we all would like Tucker, now we're heatedly discussing 11th or 13th round? We want to take him. He's a lock down starter. It's just a matter of 'when?'. I like securing him and working from there more times than not because I got plenty of gambles I can take otherwise after. I'm not doing this for Harrison Butker or Fairbairn (top 2018 PK)...this is Justin Tucker (or Zuerlein) centric not kicker centric theory. 

 

ROSS: I can also make a really good case why Katz might have the better strategy even though I see the logic in locking up Tucker a smidge early. By one line of reasoning you could say that to win a cutthroat league you need every last point you can get, so why not throw caution to the wind and go all upside? It may only be a 5% shot of hitting huge, but that’s 5% I have that you don’t if you nab Tucker. 

I try to think of these things this way: in any given competition what is the best way to win? There are a number of factors that go into that analysis, and I think the size of the playing field is extremely important, with only 12 people in a league this argument might not be necessary, but I’m going to make it to stress a point anyways. Back to the original question: what’s the best way to win? Many people would say that following the “meta,” the so-called “optimal strategy” is your best bet. I think it’s not though, and here’s why. If, for example, half of the league follows the same strategy, it warps the game, and new avenues of value are opened up. When the crowd piles onto one side of a given bet it strips all the upside from that bet, and very often the counter-play becomes the better bet for the simple reason that nobody else is betting it. There’s also the luck factor, and whenever luck is involved you can bet that the optimal play isn’t going to produce good enough results to beat the guy that made a few “sub-optimal” plays and got lucky. In these type situations it can therefore be more logical, if you are gunning for only 1st place, to go for an all or nothing strategy. This is what Phil Hellmuth does in poker. Phil is not considered a very good pro by most other pros. One on one versus most other top players Phil is at a disadvantage. BUT he has won more large tournaments than any other player because his style is geared specifically to win large tournaments instead of playing “perfect” poker. There are several specific things he does that are unique to poker tournaments, but it’s the general principle I’m interested in here. There’s also a huge difference between a 1500 player poker tournament and a 12 man fantasy football league, but all these things are at least worth thinking about.

 

I say all that to make the point that it’s possible the best strategy isn’t to take the more predictable, easy Justin Tucker points, but in fact to gamble every spot you can afford on high upside skill position players. My guess is that makes more sense in say a very large tournament like daily fantasy, or in a very high-stakes professional league, but again it’s worth thinking about. 

 

Katz: The point you touched on here is actually an adjustment in my approach to fantasy football I am adopting for this year. I used to really favor guys that had high floors; the guys that you know wouldn't get you zero - ppr guys. Especially at running back. To use an example of two guys RC is high on this year and I agree with him - Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry. It is well within the range of out comes for Fournette to get hurt as he has been the past two seasons and for Henry to revert back to the guy we saw for the first 10 or so weeks of 2018. It would be safer to take someone like Marlon Mack or Kerryon Johnson - guys we know have roles and ppr floors. But I don't care anymore. I don't want floor. Floor does not win me fantasy matchups. What wins me fantasy matchups is when Henry goes off for 120 yards and two touchdowns. What wins me fantasy leagues is when my third round RB returns to being the mid first round guy he was heading into last year. That's largely why I will pass on Tucker in favor of a lottery ticket if necessary. Tucker is not winning me a league. But finding a Conner or Lindsay will. I just want a team with the maximum upside possible.

 

ROSS: Right. Totally get that line of thinking. For me though I think it’s all a question of what do I need to win this particular league, and what strategy gives me the best chance of doing so? For my little homer leagues I don’t need every last point I can get. I already know I can play it fairly safe and finish in the top 3 easily. So spending every 3rd pick after the first 3-4 rounds on a safe ppr guy, high floor guy instead of a high upside potential breakout guy is a fair trade that gives me a nice solid floor to lean on. Now if I’m playing in a league against Jason Katz, RC, Rabbit, Skol, and the rest of the gang, you can damn well bet I’m shooting for the highest point total I can muster because I know I’m going to need it. 

 

Katz: For better or worse, I don't play in a single "casual" league. Everyone knows what they're doing and is hyper competitive.

 

Skol:  Ross, if you’re playing in a league with this group you better be ready to burn a 6th rounder on Tucker!  Just catching up on this discussion and my 2 cents has to do with the study’s on streaming (at any position).  Tucker being measured for how often he is top 12 out of 32 in a given week is flawed IMO because unless it’s a deep Best Ball league we aren’t competing against all 32 kickers per week.  We are playing against the 11 other top ranked kickers in that given week.  So if a random guy nails 5 FGs and beats Tucker but nobody would have reasonably started him then who cares?  In my mind it’s about who you place the burden of outperformance on.  In the top 12 of 32 case the burden of outperforming weekly randomness is placed on Tucker.  If we ask Katz to stream a guy from the bottom 22 kickers to outperform Tucker each week the burden of outperformance is placed on Jason...because he is now one on one vs Tucker each week and an underdog most of the time.

I think a better question to ask is how many weeks was Tucker top 3 out of the 12 top ranked kickers going into that week.  (We could use RC’s rankings).  It makes so much more sense to compare Tucker to only presumed starters and not the entire database of kickers and is the reason I question articles that use “data” and “facts” in a way that isn’t 100% logical and therefore draw flawed conclusions.  

Like Katz, I am not likely to have time to throw these numbers together in the next few weeks.  But defining the right question is half the battle

 

RC: Skol, I think kicker is the one position where we are at-risk of running with bottom half/bottom tier kickers when we stream because there is so much variation on performance (which is why I promote Tucker, he's the one least variable guy). Katz/a human is likely to have a bottom 16 kicker (for the season) at any given time because it's what makes 'streaming' them a thing...'who knows?' what they'll do or who's the guy one year to the next.

Thinking about your top kicker tracking, it made me think the average for kickers is about 8 pts per game (3 for 31-30, 4 for 40-49, 5 for 50+, subtract for misses. It made me think that 10 or more pts in a week is a 'quality start' from baseball terms. Then I decided to use that arbitrary number to check on kickers people used from start-to-finish last season (Fairbairn led all FF and was not picked up in most leagues until like halfway into the season).

I just looked at Tucker, Butker, Gould, Lutz, Gostkowski, Vinarieri, Crosby but also Zuerlein (11 games played) and Fairbairn (top kicker for 18). 

The 'quality starts' counts in 2018:

 

10 = Tucker

8 = Zuerlein

8 = Vinatieri

7 = Crosby

7 = Fairbairn

6 = Lutz

6 = Gould

5 = Butker

2 = Gostkowski

 

The median of this group is 6.5 Q-Starts in 2018. Tucker 50% better. 

Which goes to another point I noticed tracking kickers, the top kickers not-Tucker the last few years...it's off the backs of a couple of wild games like 7 FGs in a game, etc. One big events can give them a great average when in reality they suck aside from 1-2 games. Some of the surprise names on the 'top' list had 20-25+ point games in 2018. Tucker did not. 17.0 was his high game. 

Not Tucker.

I'm more surprised about Gostkowski's count, honestly. 

Running with top kicker Fairbairn 2018...two awesome games spiking his overall average and then a lot of average otherwise. Fairbairn's Week 13-17 is where all his action was...his pts in games Weeks 13-17...21, 3, 22, 6, 8. He was a mass pickup after his Week 13, 21pt explosion...just in time for 3 pts. Then likely dropped because 'steaming' and frustration, and then he goes 22...back everyone comes after him for a 6 then next week. 

The randomness of kickers in general creates a streaming trap door where you chase guys at the wrong time. My belief. We do that at other positions (like flex) but kicker is where more randomness exists for most options. That's why I say streaming kickers is a potential trap/coin-flipping event...except 2 guys who defy that -- Tucker and Z. At least, I think it's worth considering on Tucker and Z, and thus their undervaluedness. 

 

Katz: Again, I don't want to cherry pick at your Fairbairn example, but just because he exploded for 21 points doesn't mean I'm starting him for the 3 points. I remember distinctly picking up Jason Myers for the week he put up 24. I dropped him that Tuesday. There is no chasing last week's points with kickers because it is a week to week thing. Denny Carter posts weekly streaming options at kicker every week. I went through his recommendations for the season and he pretty consistently was able to pinpoint multiple guys each week that scored at least 8 fantasy points. Obviously it's not every week. But it's just as more, if not more than Tucker. And these are all kickers that are sub 50% owned and presumably widely available. Streaming kickers is objectively a better strategy than starting the same kicker each week unless that kicker is elite. So outside of Tucker and Zuerlein, streaming kickers is better than every other kicker for sure. Is it better than Tucker? Maybe. It's certainly close enough to allow me to forego reaching for Tucker to take another shot on a WR/RB.

 

ROSS: Everyone has brought up valid concerns about how best to try and measure Tucker against other kickers. It was something I was thinking about last night as well. Scoring system obviously matters, but also how many you compare him against and how they are being started. For example in some of the leagues I play in it’s not uncommon for guys to carry two kickers on their roster all season and rotate them based on recent success or failure. Some guys pick a kicker and never change because they aren’t paying attention. Some stream based on recent success failure. Some stream based on perceived future prospects (at home factored team in good weather). If it’s early in the season guys will stick with who they drafted which is typically the top kickers from last year plus a few big names plus kickers on the perceived best offenses. Later on things can change. So how do you measure this? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe cut some of the randomness and compare him weekly to a randomly selected top 24 finisher? Because I’m with RC in thinking it’s pretty damn likely that the kicker you face in any given week is liable to finish anywhere from 1-32. As Katz maintains correctly, kicking is random as far as we can tell (possibly outside of Tucker), so why not compare him to essentially a random starting kicker for the week? I’d even drop it to someone that finished top 24 if we wanted to raise the standards just to see if he still holds value at that level. 

 

Katz: I have only seen one team in one of my leagues in my 16 years of playing fantasy football ever roster two kickers for more than a single week (covering a bye). Just wanted to put that out there.

 

Skol:  Certainly depth of roster matters huge here.  In two deep Dynasty Leagues I play in plenty of teams have 2 kickers.  If the rosters are shallow then I think an interesting question is how many people are trying to steam kickers?  Based on what we’ve discussed it could be half the league in competitive scenarios.   If the K you want cost more than $1 then how much FAAB are you spending on this exercise for the season.  Food for thought - would you rather spend 9th or 10th round draft capital or precious FAAB budget?  Proud that we have taken this discussion so deep, lol.

 

ROSS: I don’t doubt it Katz, but just saying I do play in one league where rostering 2 all season is the norm. Like 10/12 do it and I’m one that doesn’t. I think I remember one or two even having 3 kickers for some reason. Incredibly stupid I know, but it is what it is. 

I think we’re all on board with streaming kickers as the obviously superior strategy except possibly for Greg and Justin. At least I haven’t seen anyone quibble with that. I’ll have to check out Denny carter if he’s that good. And for the record I always stream kickers or try to grab one having a phenomenal year before everyone else notices. It’s often a guy on an offense that’s better than people expected but not so good that they score a ton of TDs. Usually they move the ball well but often get stopped short for easy FGs. Looking at you Atlanta. Other than that the last 2-3 years I’ve been able to grab Zeur a few times in the 15th round or something. 

 

ROSS: And just as I was about to ask what the group thought of Joe Mixon’s prospects for 2019 I see that Jonah Williams is out for the year...

Katz: It's really upsetting. I was really warming to Mixon as my first round target if I pick late, the big 4 RBs and DJ are gone, and DHop/Davante are gone. But now I think his ceiling might be lowered enough where I'll just go Beckham or Julio in that spot.

 

RC: The O-Line was what it was last year, and Mixon went #9 in PPG in PPR (Wks 1-16)...working through an in-season knee procedure and Dalton lost later into the season. He's still in the mix of top RBs after the 1st/obvious wave of them, you'd think. I just believe Fournette is better than Mixon in every way and has a better O-Line, QB, defense to get the ball back and is a sneaky good pass catcher. I like Mixon, but I love Fournette...if he can stay healthy. 

 

Katz: I agree with all of that. But the Fournette injury risk is real and has to be factored in.

 

RC: I want to go #1-2-3 RB with Fournette this year, but the injury bump ticks him down to outside the top 5/knocking on the door. Fournette is getting contract time so I think he'll suddenly be healthy, but can’t bet on it with his history. I love him, and I have a funny feeling Derrick Henry is going to score 20+ TDs this year with 300-350 carries.



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