Fantasy Football is Like Poker

By Jacob Dreyer

Here’s the Kicker: Used for More Than Breaking Ties

Fantasy football is like poker: kickers do not determine the rank [of the team], but may be used to break ties between [teams] of the same rank.

Fantasy football began in 1963 with Wilfred “Bill the Gill” Winkenbach. The Oakland area businessman and limited partner in the Oakland Raiders created the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL). Each roster of the eight-team league consisted of: two quarterbacks, four halfbacks, two fullbacks, four offensive ends, two kick/punt returners, two field goal kickers, two defensive backs/linebackers and two defensive linemen. (Michael Fabiano, 2007).

That’s right.  Two field goal kickers.  Two!

Despite how fantasy football was intended to be played, a growing movement to eliminate the kicker position from the virtual teams is picking up steam. Pundits argue that kickers promote luck and kicker statistics are impossible to predict. But what is wrong with luck and uncertainty?

The year was 2014 and Pella Hippos were stampeding through the league, posting an undefeated record through Week 9 and finishing the regular season 11-2. Hippos averaged 110.5 points per game and a plus-23.7 scoring differential, sporting a roster with:

  • No. 5 QB (Drew Brees)
  • No. 4 RB (Matt Forte)
  • No. 2, No. 3 WR (Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson)
  • No. 1 TE (Rob Gronkowski)
  • No. 3 D/ST (Houston Texans)
  • No. 4 K (Mason Crosby)

Following 131- and 125-point performances in Weeks 12 and 13, Hippos laid an egg in the championship game with only their fourth double-digit point total (95) of the season and first since Week 10 (Weeks 1 and 3) in a four-point loss. How did it happen? QB Matt Ryan, playing for the opponent, outscored QB Drew Brees by six in a head-to-head game played in the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints.

How is that for luck and uncertainty?

Iowa Penguins (name change in 2014) also finished runner-up in 2013 despite scoring 137, 126, 159 and 147 in Weeks 12-15 and a roster consisting of:

  • No. 1 RB (Jamaal Charles)
  • No. 1 WR (Josh Gordon)
  • No. 1 TE (Jimmy Graham)
  • No. 1 D/ST (Kansas City Chiefs)
  • No. 5 K (Mason Crosby)

Because they scored 88 in the title bout.

I tell you all of that to tell you this: luck and uncertainty is the world in which fantasy football resides; don’t take it out on kickers.

Kickers are people, too!

When I was a young lad, I played sweeper (middle defender) for my recreation league soccer team. I was only moderately athletic and relatively slow, but I could kick the ball the length of the field.

After dabbling in various positions (QB/LB in seventh grade, TE/DE in eighth grade) to begin my football career, I was named K/P for my freshman and sophomore football teams.  Fun fact: I hold the record for both the longest (72 yards) and shortest (redacted) punts in school history.

 As a kicker…I factored into the results. Extra points, field goals, kickoffs (field position)…all matter. To draw a comparison few people will agree with…kickers are like free throws in basketball: not as exciting as other scorers/scoring plays, but reflected on the scoreboard.

No. 1 kickers in the past decade and the amount of points they bested the No. 2 kickers by:

  • 2007 – Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers (4 points)
  • 2008 – Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots (5 points)
  • 2009 – Nate Kaeding, San Diego Chargers (7 points)
  • 2010 – David Akers, Philadelphia Eagles (1 point)
  • 2011 – David Akers, San Francisco 49ers (19 points)
  • 2012 – Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots (8 points)
  • 2013 – Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots (8 points)
  • 2014 – Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots (6 points)
  • 2015 – Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots (5 points)
  • 2016 – Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons (17 points)

Five times in the past 10 seasons, Stephen Gostkowski has been the No. 1 kicker in fantasy football.  Five times. Five!

Drew Brees has been No. 1 quarterback three times (most of any signal caller) in the past 10 seasons.  No running back has been No. 1 more than once in the past 10 seasons.  Antonio Brown and Calvin Johnson have each been No. 1 wide receiver twice. Rob Gronkowski has been No. 1 tight end three times (two others were twice).  Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles have been No. 1 defense/special teams twice.

So…are kickers impossible to predict?  Or…are kickers more possible to predict than any other position?  

On a balmy evening in Brookings, S.D., my eyes were glued to the television as the San Diego Chargers played the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football. Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski made 51- and 19-yard field goals in the first half, cutting the South Dakota Pansies (name change in 2013) fantasy football deficit to three points (80-77). But my anger grew as the Raiders went for it on multiple fourth downs in field goal range in the third and fourth quarters due to a mounting deficit. And the game ended.  I was hurt.  I was angry.  I was confused.

In the words of Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) in Rounders: Few players can recall big [games] they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of [their] career.

But I can also recall fantasy football losses due to my defense/special teams allowing a garbage-time touchdown and my quarterback fumbling on a sack with 30 seconds remaining in the game.  It happens.  It’s part of the game.  And it should be celebrated.  

In the words of Benjamin Franklin “Benny the Jet” Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) arguing with teammates in regards to Scotty “Smalls” (Tom Guiry) joining The Sandlot: [You’re] part of the game, right? … Now how come he don’t get to be?

Kickers have lost games.  Kickers have won games.  But most importantly…kickers are (and should remain) part of the game.

The most common player on my fantasy football teams in 2016: Justin Tucker, kicker, Baltimore Ravens. He finished as the No. 2 kicker in fantasy. He has been top-10 kicker since 2012. He is my target in 2017.

#KickersArePeopleToo

Fabiano, M. (2007, August 15). Fantasy football 101. Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.nfl.com/fantasyfootball/story/09000d5d80021ece/article/fantasy-football-101