Draft rankings preview: Kickers

Draft rankings preview: Kickers

Published May. 18, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET


When you listen to sports talk radio, you’re only going to hear about a placekicker when he makes or misses a game-winning try. Those 34-yard conversions or misses in the first quarter don’t often get mentioned and, unless there’s a spectacular block or oddball return involved, they’ll merely be tallied in the box score.

Kickers are people, too.

Short field goals count as much as the 30-yard sprints by a running back or Michael Vick into the secondary that bring you to your feet. I know. The drama isn’t the same, but they’re still adding value.

1. Stephen Gostkowski, New England

Gostkowski appeared in eight games before sustaining a season-ending quadriceps injury, a partially torn muscle. He converted 10-of-13 field goal attempts and 26 PATs prior to his injury.

Fantasy owners can rely on Gostkowski for a massive baseline of PATs, as he’s averaged 3.2 conversions per game since becoming the New England kicker in 2006. He converted a career-high 36 field goals in 2008. Gostkowski averaged just 27 attempts in his other three full NFL seasons. Take the consistent pile of PATs.

2. Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland

The Raiders turned Janikowski into the real-life version of “SuperJock” in 2010. Janikowski converted a career-high 33 field goals in 2010 and benefitted from the brilliance of Darren McFadden and the long-distance heroics of Jacoby Ford to convert 43 PATs.

The quarterback position remains a huge question mark, but the Raiders know how to run the ball. Year after year, this unit ranks among the league’s leaders. The numbers may roll back if McFadden experiences an injury, but look for the Raiders to continue to rely on Janikowski’s powerful leg. He’s converted three or more field goals from at least 50 yards in five consecutive seasons.

3. Nate Kaeding, San Diego

Kaeding appeared in just 13 games last season because of a groin injury. He converted 23-of-28 field goals and 40 PATs, his seventh consecutive season with at least 40 PATs. Most importantly, Kaeding converted nine of his 10 field goal tries from distances between 40 and 49 yards. That was a huge boost, as Kaeding’s range has come under fire in San Diego for the last couple seasons.

4. Garrett Hartley, New Orleans

As expected, Hartley piled up a high PAT total in his 14 games played. He converted 40 PATs and 20 field goals in his 25 attempts (8-of-9 from distances of at least 40 yards). Hartley’s totals were obviously impacted by his own injury issues and the increase in Drew Brees’ turnover count.

The addition of Mark Ingram in the first round of the NFL Draft provides the offense with a fantastic bulldozing option between the tackles to move the chains.

5. Nick Folk, New York Jets

Folk performed miserably in his final season in Dallas (2009), converting just 18 of his 28 field goal tries. In fact, Folk failed on seven of his 12 attempts between 40 and 49 yards.

He improved as a member of the Jets in 2010, converting 30-of-39 field goal tries (76.9 percent) while successfully completing all 37 of his PATs. Mark Sanchez continues to grow in his third NFL season behind a tremendous offensive line and stellar defense.

Nick Novak was signed before the lockout in February and may provide some competition in camp.

6. Matt Bryant, Atlanta

The Atlanta offense performed brilliantly under Matt Ryan in 2010 (fifth in the NFL at 25.9 points per game). Bryant converted 28-of-31 field goal attempts, including nine makes from a distance of at least 40 yards. He also converted all 44 of his PAT attempts.

In his past three complete seasons (two of which occurred in Tampa Bay), Bryant has converted 88-of-103 (85.4 percent) of his field goal attempts. He does not offer long-distance bonus opportunities (he’s converted 4-of-13 attempts in his career from distances of at least 50 yards), but Ryan’s efficiency will yield frequent PATs and short-range attempts. The unit added another potent weapon by trading up to select wide receiver Julio Jones in this year’s draft.

7. David Akers, Philadelphia

The Eagles drafted a kicker in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, thereby signaling the end of Akers’ long tenure in Philadelphia. Akers converted 32-of-38 field goal attempts in 2010, his third consecutive season with at least 32 field goal conversions. He also slammed at least 43 PATs through the uprights.

He’s still got a strong leg (9-of-11 from distances of 40-to-49 yards), so Akers will be kicking somewhere.

8. Dan Carpenter, Miami

Carpenter achieved new career marks in field goal conversions and tries last season, but his PAT count dropped precipitously. He missed 11 field goals, all from distances of at least 40 yards (four beyond 50 yards).

The Miami offense remains a huge question mark coming into 2011. Both of the veteran running backs are free agents-to-be, and Chad Henne’s growth is paramount. If the offensive inconsistency continues, Carpenter’s right leg will get frequent workouts.

9. Rob Bironas, Tennessee

Bironas remained a consistent fantasy option for owners in 2010. He converted 24-of-26 field goal attempts, including 10-of-11 conversions from distances of at least 40 yards. He added 38 PATs in what was a wildly inconsistent season for the Titans. Bironas has averaged 26.7 field goal and 34.2 PAT conversions in his six-year career.

The Titans are leaping into a new era under coach Mike Munchak with a new quarterback under center (will rookie Jake Locker win the job?). Bironas figures to be active in the field-goal department once again, though his PAT total may dip.

10. Mason Crosby, Green Bay

Crosby posted his fourth consecutive 100-point season for the Packers last season. He has averaged 47 PATs and 27.5 field goal makes per season. Crosby converted 22-of-28 field goal attempts in 2010, including 10 successes in 14 tries from distances of at least 40 yards. He attempted at least one field goal in 14 of 16 games (four PATs in his other two appearances) and converted multiple field goals in seven contests.

The Super Bowl champions return fully-stocked offensive and defensive units. Crosby should be in line for another huge campaign.

11. Neil Rackers, Houston

Rackers posted a monster season behind the prolific Houston offense in 2010. He converted 27 field goals in 30 attempts, including three of his four attempts from distances of at least 50 yards. Rackers also converted all 43 of his PATs.

The Texans’ attention to the defense this offseason likely slows down the Houston juggernaut to some degree. I suspect that we’ll see thing rev down a little bit with more attention to a run-pass split and a less frenetic pace. Rackers should still see a host of field-goal tries, though his PAT baseline likely dips.

12. Lawrence Tynes, New York Giants

Tynes was the player most impacted statistically by Eli Manning’s turnover-happy 2010 season. He attempted nine fewer field goals than he did in 2009. Twelve of his 19 field goal conversions came from distances inside of 30 yards.

The bottom line for Tynes is this. His value will be dependent on improved play from the defense, which forced Manning to press downfield in 2010. If the secondary performs more consistently, the Giants can turn back to the run instead of forcing the ball deep.

13. David Buehler, Dallas

Buehler performed reasonably well in his first season as the Dallas kicker in 2010. He converted 24-of-32 attempts and 42-of-44 PATs. Of course, the eight misses weighed heavily on the minds of Dallas fans and, undoubtedly, Jerry Jones. Four of Buehler’s misses came in games that the Cowboys lost by seven points or fewer.

Buehler did well for fantasy owners with at least one PAT in every game (14 with multiple PATs) and at least one field goal conversion in 11 games (10 multi-FG games).

14. Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis

Vinatieri posted a ridiculous 2010 season. He converted 26 field goals, his highest total since 2004, while launching a career-high 51 PATs. His conversion rate of 92.9 percent was also his best effort since 2004 with the Patriots.

What else needs to be said? If Vinatieri is healthy, he’ll continue to pile up a hefty PAT total. Vinatieri has averaged 27.5 field goal tries per season in four complete seasons with the Colts.

15. Matt Prater, Denver

Prater missed the final four games of the 2010 season because of a groin injury. For all of the issues in Denver last season defensively, the never-ending game of catch-up promised Prater owners solid fantasy numbers. Prater converted multiple PATs in 10 of the 12 games in which he appeared and five efforts with two or more field-goal conversions.

The big-legged kicker from UCF will likely see ample field-goal tries (he attempted a total of 69 field goals in the 2008 and 2009 seasons) behind Tim Tebow or Kyle Orton. Prater’s averaged 33 PATs in his three full seasons in Denver.

16. Ryan Succop, Kansas City

The Kansas City offense kicked into a new gear under Charlie Weis, and Succop was there to clean up the work of Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles. Succop converted 42 PATs, including 10 games with at least two conversions. He also posted seven games with at least two field goal conversions and was shut out only four times.

The Chiefs figure to be a more consistent and functional offense in 2011. Cassel received additional support during the NFL Draft when the Chiefs selected Jonathan Baldwin from Pittsburgh. Dwayne Bowe no longer works alone, and tight end Tony Moeaki should become a more consistent option down the seams in his sophomore season.

17. Connor Barth, Tampa Bay

Barth was the beneficiary of a huge surge from Josh Freeman and the youthful Tampa Bay offense. Barth converted at least one field goal in 13 of 16 games. He converted multiple field goals (seven total) in two of the three games in which he did not generate a PAT conversion. Barth was shut out altogether once in a Week 6 drubbing by the Saints.

The offense likely opens up a bit more, with Freeman more completely integrating deep threat Arrelious Benn into the offense led by sophomores LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams.

18. Josh Brown, St. Louis

Brown remains one of the premier long-distance kickers in the game, having converted at least three tries from distances of at least 50 yards in six consecutive seasons. He now kicks behind a more efficient offense, led by second-year starter Sam Bradford. The Rams’ offense provided Brown with 26 field goal opportunities from distances of 39 yards or less (23 conversions).

The receiving corps remains a work in progress. There are ample options available to Bradford, led by PPR machine Danny Amendola and deep threat Donnie Avery, who returns from injury.

19. Billy Cundiff, Baltimore

Cundiff produced a fantastic first full season as the placekicker in Baltimore. He converted 26-of-29 field goal and 39 PAT attempts. He’s not much of a long-distance threat, having converted only four of his 13 attempts from distances of at least 50 yards. The efficiency of the Baltimore offense continues with Joe Flacco under center and steady, sure-handed options Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason at wideout.

20. Robbie Gould, Chicago

Gould remained an efficient option for fantasy owners in 2010. Jay Cutler cut down on his turnover count, thereby producing more frequent short-distance attempts (18 of his 30 attempts came from inside of 40 yards). Gould owns an 85.5 percent career field-goal conversion rate and has averaged 37.8 PAT conversions in the past five years.

21. Alex Henery, Philadelphia

Henery was selected in the fourth round out of Nebraska. He’ll likely assume the reins for David Akers, who came under fire frequently during the 2010 season. The Eagles obviously possess a potent offense and will keep Henery active. Akers averaged 38.3 field goal tries during the three-year period from 2008-2010.

22. Jason Hanson, Detroit

The veteran placekicker appeared in eight games in 2010 before being shut down because of myriad leg injuries. He’ll battle Dave Rayner for the role behind an improved Detroit offense in 2011. If his leg strength has returned (Hanson converted three field goals from distances of at least 50 yards in his eight games), then he likely wins the role.

He’ll have a “sleeper” tag behind Matthew Stafford’s offense.

23. Jay Feely, Arizona

The veteran placekicker joined his fifth team in 2010 and produced the seventh 100-point season of his career. Feely converted 24-of-27 field goal attempts (10-of-13 from distances of at least 40 yards) with 29 PATs.

The Arizona offense is set to undergo change in 2011, with a new quarterback likely to be added once the lockout lifts. Ryan Williams was added in the 2011 NFL Draft, likely to supplant Chris “Beanie” Wells in the backfield split alongside Tim Hightower.

24. Shaun Suisham, Pittsburgh

Suisham finally joined a team other than the Cowboys and Redskins when he was signed by the Steelers to replace longtime kicker Jeff Reed. Suisham converted five PATs in his first game, a 35-3 romp over the Raiders. He converted 14-of-15 field goal tries, including five multi-field goal games in his seven games for Pittsburgh. Suisham also converted 19 PATs.

25. John Kasay, Carolina

Kasay excelled despite the overwhelming ineptitude of the Carolina offense in 2010. He converted 17 PATs and 25 of his 29 field-goal attempts, including 14 makes from distances of at least 40 yards. Remember, the Panthers averaged only 12.3 points per game.

The offense won’t make a dramatic jump behind Cam Newton, but the return of tackle Jeff Otah should help to get the running game on track. The PAT baseline may be low, but Kasay will see ample field-goal tries.

26. Olindo Mare, Seattle

I still feel some pain in my left hand from the time I emphatically slammed a studio desk in support of Mare as a potential beast in New Orleans. Alas, Mare converted just 10-of-17 field goal attempts for the Saints.

He’s since become a reliable once again, producing strong numbers in his three-year tenure with the Seahawks. In 2010, Mare converted 25-of-30 field goal and 31 PATs for the playoff-bound Seahawks. He’s averaged 24.3 field goal conversions during this three-year period.

The 2011 Seahawks figure to take on a different look, with Matt Hasselbeck potentially ending his tenure. Charlie Whitehurst or perhaps another option, such as Kevin Kolb, will inherit a re-tooled offense. The Seahawks locked in Mike Williams and Ben Obamanu to anchor the receiving corps.

27. Josh Scobee, Jacksonville

Scobee posted his best season since 2006 for the Jaguars. He tied his career mark with 41 PATs and converted 22 of his 28 field-goal tries. Five of his six misses came from distances between 40 and 49 yards.

The Jacksonville offense is in flux this season, with Blaine Gabbert onboard as the heir apparent to David Garrard and a personnel shift in the receiving corps.

28. Joe Nedney, San Francisco

Nedney performed well prior to sustaining a knee injury that forced him to be placed on injured reserve for the second straight season. He converted 11-of-13 field goal attempts and 17 PATs. Obviously, inefficiencies at quarterback and his injury history send up red flags. Jim Harbaugh’s arrival should result in at least a moderate up-tick in offensive production and more opportunities for the 38-year-old Nedney, who likely faces and defeats competition in camp if his knee checks out.

29. Rian Lindell, Buffalo

The longtime Buffalo kicker was limited to a career-low 16 field goal conversions on 21 attempts. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson provided additional some thrilling moments and touchdown grabs, thereby boosting Lindell’s PAT count to 31. I’m most curious to see how Fitzpatrick handles the offense this season and what impact C.J. Spiller is able to post in his second season. Lindell does have long-distance capability if the offense can get a more efficient push and even a reasonable effort out of the defense.

30. Phil Dawson, Cleveland

The Browns put the franchise tag on Dawson in February, thereby ensuring that the veteran kicker will be back for his 13th season. Dawson converted 23-of-28 field goal attempts and 28 PATs. He struggled on long-distance attempts, converting just three of his eight attempts from distances of at least 40 yards.

Colt McCoy’s growth and continued dominance by 2010 breakthrough superhero Peyton Hillis will be paramount to Dawson’s success. He’s been a solid field-goal contributor through the years (28 or more attempts in his past six complete seasons), as the offense has struggled historically. I’d obviously be much more optimistic about his chances if he could put any distance on his kicks.

31. Ryan Longwell, Minnesota

Longwell could do nothing but watch as his longtime teammate and friend Brett Favre flailed through the final season of his illustrious career. Favre’s failures relegated Longwell to the role of unused bystander. He attempted only 18 field goals (17 successfully converted) with 30 PATs, down from 55 in 2009.

I suspect that Leslie Frazier utters the words “no turnovers” to his new quarterback 9,000 times per hour once the doors are unlocked this summer. Either way, Longwell is a waiver-wire candidate to open the year.

32. Clint Stitser, Cincinnati

The rookie from Fresno State acquitted himself nicely in five games to finish the 2010 season after being signed in late November. Stitser converted 7-of-8 field goal tries, although he did miss two PATs.

He’ll have the opportunity to win the job in camp behind a retooled Cincinnati offense.