Fantasy football 2012: Click-and-rip strategy to drafting a team defense and kicker

If you really, truly want to dominate those oafish office goons in the workplace fantasy football league, the secret is in two simple steps … at least in terms of drafting your fantasy kicker and team defense.

Click … and rip.

Start by clicking here to watch a short, but very valuable, video clip. It is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies of all time. It will only take several minutes. I’ll still be here when you get back and we’ll discuss step No. 2.

OK? Did you soak in all that Robin Williams had to say? Good. Now pull out your favorite fantasy football magazine, turn to the fantasy kicker and team defense ranking pages and rip them out.

That’s right. Tear those pages completely out, crumple them up and throw them away. We’re not laying pipe, we’re talking fantasy football. Go ahead and rip it all out, I want it all gone – nothing left of it. Your fantasy football hearts and souls (and office bragging rights) are at stake.

Drafting your fantasy football team defense and kicker does not require lengthy analysis, hours of studying lists and charts and rankings. In fact, taking too much time to soak in the rankings that guys like Matthew Berry and other fantasy gurus crank out may actually lead to a fatal mistake or two on draft day.

As Robin Williams’ character suggests in that clip from Dead Poets Society, it is time to think for ourselves. Fantasy football owners shouldn’t methodically choose a kicker or defense from a pre-planned list – especially since having a kicker or defense ranking in front of us on draft day could easily tempt us to draft a kicker or defense earlier than we should when someone else in the league starts the inevitable run on either position.

Where should you draft your starting kicker and defense? In the last two rounds, unless you are in some unique ultra-deep benched league. In most standard scenarios, you should draft running back and receiver depth in the later rounds, your team defense in the next-to-last round and kicker in the final pick.

Why?

Because kickers are a dime a dozen. Every year, there are kickers emerging from fantasy football free agent pools that go on to lead the field by season’s end. Last year’s best kicker, David Akers, was a free agent option in many leagues after his exodus from Philly and uncertainty in what he could accomplish with a new team. The Niners had one of those unprecedented years that elevate kickers in which no one can predict.

The next eight kickers in terms of overall fantasy points finished the season within 14 points of each other – basically a difference of just one point per week maximum. Of them, half weren’t readily drafted in 2011 leagues and readily available for anyone who had the foresight to snatch them up.

So there is no need to reach on a kicker. Yes, that means you’ll have to watch kickers like Stephen Gostkowski, Mason Crosby and David Akers go to other teams. That’s OK … you’ll have a stronger bench and the necessary depth to go all the way.

Instead, simply block off your last round for the kicker slot and draft whatever guy you like at that slot. Gut-reaction picks are OK. You can easily swap out your guy for a hotter commodity off the waiver wire if you so choose.

I personally like guys on offenses that are good enough to get into the red zone consistently, but not such dynamic powerhouses that they punch it in for TDs every time. Field goals score you three or more points … the PAT typically is worth just one tally.

For that reason, I find myself liking Alex Henery with the Eagles (look at his track record after he settled down in the kicker role for Philly last year), Rob Bironas (the Titans can move the ball, but aren’t going to punch it in as heavily as teams such as the Packers, Saints or Patriots), Jason Hanson (one of last year’s top scorers who is falling in drafts again this year, the lack of a solid running game in Lions-land means some of Stafford’s drives will end in field goals) and Robbie Gould (the Bears are improved on offense, but will find themselves in enough dog fights to value their field goals).

One of those guys will be available in the next to last round of most every draft. If not, there are other options. Mike Nugent, who was a solid scorer last year for a revitalized Bengals squad, is in the perfect spot to score fantasy points as a kicker – his offense is good enough to move the ball, but not so good that it will punch in a ton of TDs.

On the defensive side of things, it’s a similar story. The Niners dominated on defense. They and the Bears were the cream of the crop. San Francisco could have been had late in drafts last year. The disparity between the No. 1 defense and No. 12 defense can be a little more noticeable than at kicker, and is why I target my defense a round earlier than my kicker.

For most run-of-the-mill defenses, strength of schedule can completely dictate the end-of-year scoring output. In fact, every season, there are squads that are available off the waiver wire that can be snatched up and played based just on their matchup that week. I’ve won my share of championships just by rotating in the flavor of the week, using just week-to-week matchups and waiver wire pickups to produce solid overall team stats.

Factoring that in along with some offseason moves that will help certain squads rise to the top of the heap, the teams I personally am targeting in the next-to-last round of fantasy drafts are:

Buffalo. The Bills defense went under the radar last year despite posting some solid totals. They added Mario Williams in the offseason and they have, in my opinion, the easiest schedule. Outside of two games against the Patriots and one versus the Texans, Buffalo doesn’t play any true powerhouse offense. They draw a self-imploding Jets offense twice, and under-impressive Dolphins squad twice, and also play the Browns, Cardinals, Colts, Jaguars, Rams and Seahawks. Perhaps the sweetest part is that during the typical fantasy football playoff weeks (15 and 16) they draw Seattle and Miami. Matthew Berry ranks Buffalo as his 11th defense. My bold prediction is that the squad finish the season as a top-5 fantasy team defense.

Houston. Not as likely to make it to the next-to-last round, the Texans emerged last year as a top team defense. The loss of Mario Williams hurts, but the squad still has enough playmakers to be a solid option most weeks, especially when the matchup is right. Houston opens the season with two cupcake matchups (Miami and Jacksonville) and have a slew of other easier games during the season, especially in the final two weeks when you need them most (playing Indy and Minnesota during the typical fantasy playoff weekends).

Cincinnati. Few squads were quietly as good as the Bengals were in terms of fantasy team defense production. While this year’s slate does pose some big challenges, I am personally loving the five game stretch starting in Week Two when the Bengals draw the Browns twice, Redskins and Dolphins (who will both be using rookie QBs) and the Jaguars. If you were playing musical team defense (which does work if done correctly), the Bengals are a team I’d be fine using the first half of the season and then dropping for a team with an easy second half.

Detroit. Drawing two games each against the Packers and Bears does pose its issues, but the Lions do have a series of other juicy matchups that could help bolster a sneaky-good 2012 season from a points standpoint. The team opens against the Rams, Niners, Titans and Vikings. They could do some damage there. The squad also draws Seattle, Jacksonville, Colts, Cardinals and a second game vs. the Vikings.

Be sure to check out my QB, RB, WR and TE rankings, too.

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