Whatever trap you might fall into during your upcoming fantasy draft, sidestep the most avoidable trap: the wretched kicker run.
In some leagues, the inexplicable run on kickers might start in the ninth or tenth round. In others, drafters might panic as they see kickers flying off the board in the eleventh or twelfth round. Decidedly unsavvy leagues might see a kicker run launch in the middle rounds. My gag reflex has been activated.
Don't give in. Let your league mates throw draft capital in the fire and wait to fill that kicker spot. You likely won't end up with an elite kicker, but here's the thing about that: it doesn't matter.
Below is a look at guys who could go from draft day afterthought to plugged-in, every-week fantasy starters in 2017.
We should remain wary -- very wary -- of kickers on the NFL's worst teams. Kickers, like many others in fantasy football, benefit from positive game script, when things are clicking, yards are being gained and points are being scored. Chris Raybon of 4for4.com found the extent to which game flow can impact a kicker's opportunity: teams leading or tied in the fourth quarter kicked field goals when inside the enemy's 35 yard line much more often than teams trailing and in the same field position. Maybe that goes without saying. But how many times have you been on maximum Sunday afternoon tilt, watching your fantasy players, knowing in the pit of your stomach that your kicker would not get the chance to boot a 45 yarder because his team was down by four and time was of the essence? That's game flow in your eye.
Here are five kickers I'm targeting in drafts. I've left out Justin Tucker, Stephen Gostkowski, Dan Bailey and Matt Bryant, as they're going off the board considerably earlier than the next tier of kickers. All of these kickers are on teams that sport Vegas win totals of at least seven wins, as we're (very) likely not going to find every-week fantasy kickers on bad teams.
Keep this in mind as you draft your teams, kickers included: opportunity reigns supreme. Field goal attempts aren't everything; they're the only thing.
Wil Lutz (NO): Saints kickers haven't traditionally run headlong into massive opportunity despite being attached to Drew Brees and his prolific passing yardage totals. New Orleans kickers were 27th in field goal attempts in 2015 and 29th in 2014. Lutz finished last season tied for the 12th-most field goal tries and fifth in kicker fantasy points because, well, he was really efficient. We should note that the Saints have been below .500 for three straight seasons, meaning their kickers haven't had the full benefit of positive game script. The Saints have an eight-win over/under, per Vegas odds, so it could be the same old story in 2017. But Vegas has pegged Brees with the best odds to lead all passers in yardage in 2017, so nabbing the kicker who could benefit from that production is good process, at worst. The hope here is that the Saints are better than meh.
Mason Crosby (GB): The longtime Packers' kicker is two years removed from having the 12th-most field goal attempts, opportunity that helped Crosby finish as a top-4 fantasy kicker. Aaron Rodgers has the third-best odds of leading the NFL in passing yards this season, making Crosby something close to a no-brainer kicker pick. Try to forget that Crosby sports a career accuracy rate of 80.5 percent and remember that opportunity is all we're seeking in this little exercise. During his 10 years in Green Bay, Crosby has averaged 2.05 field goal tries per game. That's hardly hateful.
Nick Folk (TB): Fantasy footballers are all over Tampa's rejuvenated passing attack, Jameis Winston has the 10th-best odds of leading the league in passing and Folk's average draft position sits at N/A even after the plug was yanked on the Grand Aguayo Experiment. Bucs kickers in 2015 averaged a hearty 2.5 field goal tries per game (third-most in the NFL), though that opportunity shrunk to 1.9 attempts per game in 2016. But if you like Tampa's chances of lighting it up via the air, then you have to like Folk as a draft-day flier. Folk, like almost any kicker, is droppable if our collective faith in the Bucs' aerial game proves misplaced.
Editor's Note: Get our 2017 NFL Draft Guide + Season Pass for FREE with your first deposit on FanDuel and dominate your leagues! Claim now.
Dustin Hopkins (WAS): The 2016 NFL leader in field goal attempts is predictably being ignored in 2017, even though his quarterback is among Vegas' favorites to pile up more passing yards than any other NFL passer. Washington is set to once again pass the pigskin quite a bit in 2017, as the team doesn't even pretend to have a balanced offensive attack. Hopkins has tried 2.26 field goals per contest in 31 games for Washington. That's not bad. It's also good. Some would say it's great. They're not wrong. Hopkins missed eight field goals last year? Who cares? We want attempts.
Matt Prater (DET): The Lions' pass-happy offense produced the sixth-most field goal tries per game in 2016, so it's hardly shocking that Prater finished the year as fantasy's seventh-best kicker. The Lions were third in field goal attempts per game in 2014 (before a forgettable 2015). Matthew Stafford has the same Vegas odds as Kirk Cousins to lead all quarterbacks in passing. Prater, who's being drafted after at least 10 kickers, should be available in the final couple rounds of your draft if your league mates value kickers correctly. Hopefully they don't.