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2016 Fantasy football: Kicker rankings

Some people may think kickers are insignificant in fantasy football. Those people are pretty much right, but Ryan Mathews is here to tell you which kickers you should draft and which ones you should pick up when the one you draft is on a bye.

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Editor's note: Even though our Pride Of Detroit fantasy league is full, start up another POD league at Yahoo! sports. We already have one overflow league, but if you're still on the outside looking in, head to the fanposts and create a new league.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out my running back rankings, please do so here. I wrote a bunch about how much I like David Johnson and how I think Tevin Coleman will burn those who invest in Devonta Freeman. It’s great.

And then here’s some of the other rankings I’ve done so far: quarterbacks and tight ends.

With the shameless plugs aside, here is where we get to the meat and potatoes of every fantasy league: the kickers. We’ve all been there: it’s the eighth round, your team has a starter at every position and you pull the trigger on a kicker to fill out your starting lineup, the first one off the board. It was a learning experience, even though it meant you endured a few rounds of ridicule from the rest of league and were reminded each week when a player drafted after your kicker outperformed your starting running back or receiver. Okay, that could be a bit specific and less entirely relatable, but you know what it’s like to nab your kicker too early. Hate them or love them, the underdog’s on top, and kickers gonna shine until their heart stop. Here are the kickers you draft and the one you pick up when your starter is on a bye.

Group “The only kicker that might be worth taking before you take your final positional player”

1. Stephen Gostkowski

Stephen Gostkowski is, and without a doubt, the best kicker in fantasy football. It isn’t something I think he would ever want engraved next to a bust of him in Canton, but it’s true. Over the past four seasons, Gostkowski has been the best kicker in fantasy. Scoring more points than any other kicker isn’t a fluke or a coincidence: in 2015 he scored eight more fantasy points than Graham Gano, in 2014 he scored eight more fantasy points than Cody Parkey, in 2013 he scored six more fantasy points than Matt Prater and in 2012 he bested the New York Giants ex-kicker Lawrence Tynes by eight points. Considering the point differential between kickers who finish two through ten is usually just a couple points here and there, he’s been far and away the most productive kicker in fantasy.

When it comes to kickers in fantasy, you don’t want to try and be the smartest person in the room and seek out the offense you think has the potential to stall out the most, therefore giving a kicker the chance to score multiple points with a single kick. You want the kicker whose team has an offense that gets them in the end zone or is consistently in the red zone. For instance, the top three kickers in fantasy football last year were the only kickers to attempt more than 50 extra points. All of those single points add up and Gostkowski just doesn’t miss them — well, he has missed one, but that was back in 2006.

Group “Can I kick it? Yes, you can!”

2. Chandler Catanzaro

I always mispronounce Chandler Catanzaro’s last name by putting an ’n’ after the first ‘a’ and before the only ’t’, and this makes it seem like he can’t make kicks. But that’s not the case because he can, and he will score a lot of points in fantasy this year. He’ll have the same designation next year of kickers from yesteryear like Tynes, Prater and Parkey had in the section above: “here is Chandler Catanzaro and he finished this many points behind Gostkowski in 2016.” And that’s a privilege, really.

The Cardinals figure to have one of the most explosive and point-producing offenses in the entire league this year, so Catanzaro should have the opportunity to kick right around the same amount of extra points he did last year — 58 — but hopefully he won’t miss five of them in 2016 like he did last season. Even after missing those five extra points and three field goals, he still finished third in fantasy points for kickers. Also, of any kicker that finished in the top 10 in fantasy points last season, Catanzaro was tied with Seattle’s Steven Hauschka for the fewest amount of field goals attempted with 31.

3. Steven Hauschka

Steven Hauschka has been one of the most accurate kickers since he became a full-time starter in 2011. Of all active kickers since 2011, Hauschka’s 88.8 percent field goal percentage is the third-best behind only Dan Bailey and Stephen Gostkowski. Up until the 2015 campaign, he never missed more than two extra points in a season — he missed four of his 44 tries, but that shouldn’t be more than a blip of incongruity.

4. Mason Crosby

While he’s never been the most consistent kicker — his career 79.7 percent field goal percentage isn’t anything to write home about — Crosby’s fantasy value is largely predicated on, you guessed it, his volume of extra point attempts. The Green Bay offense was getting in the end zone more often than any other team in the league in 2011 and 2014, and Crosby finished fourth and sixth in fantasy points among kickers respectively in those years. Though the Packers offense was hampered by injuries last year, Crosby’s 85.7 percent field goal percentage was the second best mark of his career. If Crosby can be within a couple percentage points of this mark and the Packers can get their act together on offense, he should be one of the top kickers in fantasy in 2016.

5. Justin Tucker

He’s one of the most accurate kickers in the league — as I’m sure all Lions fans are well aware of — and I think there are a lot of reasons to believe that the Ravens will have a better offense this season. Even with the abysmal season the team’s offense had last season, and the down season that Tucker had himself —his 82.5 percent success rate on field goals was the worst of his career — he was still able to finish ninth among kickers in total fantasy points. There’s reason to think that last season’s poor performance from Tucker was more aberration than it was a peek into what the future holds for the kicker: he only made four of his ten attempts from 50 yards and out, and that accounted for six of his seven total misses for all of 2015.

6. Dan Bailey

Kickers who get to play in controlled conditions within a dome for at least eight games have an advantage, even if it might be ever so slight. Dan Bailey is one of those kickers. His 93.8 kicking percentage was only matched by recently suspended Giants kicker Josh Brown, and both of the kickers attempted 32 field goals in 2015 — good for eighth among all kickers.

The Cowboys offense will look to return to its success of 2014 with a healthy Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and fantasy darling Ezekiel Elliott playing the role of DeMarco Murray, and that means Dan Bailey should have more chances at extra points a.k.a. a kicker’s fantasy lifeblood.

7. Matt Prater

Finishing 20th in fantasy points among kickers last year isn’t something that should cause you to jump into the top ten of this season’s rankings. For Matt Prater, however, there’s a few reasons why he could finish even higher than this ranking. For one, Prater attempted only 24 field goals, the fewest of any kicker who finished in the top-24 in fantasy points. Expect that number to increase as the Lions offense is a much more consistently producing machine. The Lions of 2015 were a tale of two halves and so was Matt Prater’s fantasy production. In the final five weeks of the regular season, Prater made eight of ten attempts and converted all of his extra point attempts. Over those five weeks, Prater was the 10th best kicker in fantasy.

8. Graham Gano

2015’s winner of the “Second to Stephen Gostkowski by ‘X’ Amount of Points” award, Gano is a prime candidate to experience some regression in terms of his fantasy production. The Panthers offense scored points in bunches last season, so Gano had a lot of opportunities to score points himself. In fact, no kicker in the NFL attempted more extra points than Gano last season, and no kicker made more than him either.

Remember, even though Gano finished second in fantasy points among kickers last season, and I have him ranked here at sixth, this could literally end up being the difference between the team scoring 49 touchdowns instead of 59. If that happened last season, Gano drops from second to fifth in his finish among kickers. His kicking percentage of 83.3 percent was the third-worst among kickers who finished in the top ten as well. He’s a fine kicker on a team that scored a lot of points last season, just don’t expect him to repeat it this year.

9. Chris Boswell

The Steelers kicking position was in complete turmoil until Week 5 when Chris Boswell showed up. Josh Scobee was missing some very makable kicks, but it wasn’t until Week 4 things reached a breaking point. After he missed a 49-yard field goal with 2:29 remaining and then a 41-yard field goal with just over a minute left in the fourth quarter to effectively ice the game and ultimately cost the Steelers a win against a divisional opponent, he pissed off Snoop Dogg (NSFW) and lost his job. Enter Boswell and things turned around drastically for the Steelers. Boswell only missed three kicks in his twelve games with Pittsburgh — from 48, 41 and 47 — but he converted both of his kicks from 50 yards and out. With the job Boswell’s to lose, so as long as he doesn’t upset Snoop, the Steelers offense should be high powered enough to give Boswell plenty of opportunities to kick extra points and field goals.

10. Adam Vinatieri

This could be the last hurrah for the veteran kicker, but with Andrew Luck back, a wide-open AFC South and a nice dome to kick footballs in for eight games out of the year, Vinatieri is worth being your kicker if you’re picking late in the last round of your draft.

11. Cairo Santos

Cairo Fernandes Santos wasn’t very accurate last season as he missed seven of his 37 chances to kick field goals. He attempted eight kicks from 50-plus yards and four of them were misses, which is something to be optimistic about Santos heading into 2016. As the Chiefs offense attempts to get back to full-strength with a healthy Jamaal Charles in the backfield, Santos field goal attempts could take a slight decrease, but he shouldn’t be charged with attempting another eight from 50 and beyond.

12. Dan Carpenter

Dan spiked his helmet off of the ground last season after he missed an extra point.

In other words, he cares enough about missing an extra point to put his own face at risk. I like him and the Bills offense in 2016.

Group “Only on your kicker’s bye week”

13. Josh Brown

14. Blair Walsh

15. Robbie Gould

16. Matt Bryant

17. Brandon McManus

18. Nick Novak

Group “Forever my weakness, he’ll be on my team for my other kicker’s bye week for sure”

19. Sebastian Janikowski

Group “Back to the rest of the guys you’ll never play this year”

20. Mike Nugent

21. Dustin Hopkins

22. Phil Dawson

23. Connor Barth

24. Josh Lambo

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