In my less than expert opinion, ones approach to fantasy football should be the same as ones approach to investing; you’re looking for undervalued assets. Really, all of life is finding undervalued assets, from finding that kid who’s willing to trade Dunkaroos for carrots, to wooing that unheralded gal/guy who just needs a new hairstyle, getting that hail damaged (but otherwise fine) car, to purchasing a fixer-upper property in a growing neighborhood, the road to the American Dream is paved with finding undervalued assets. Speaking of the American Dream, a fantasy football draft is one of the few true meritocracies you’ll ever find. Everyone starts out on (relatively) equal footing, has the same number of picks, and the same access to information. How you draft is truly a measure of your ability to research and maximize opportunity while minimizing risk. What always has amazed me is many drafters consentingly give up two picks on a fungible kicker and a volatile defense. As a fantasy owner you must realize that draft picks are your only shot to get first dibs on a player, and you must act accordingly. To maximize your chances at a championship, you must break away from convention and take all of your cuts.
Seriously, why does anyone draft a kicker? The difference between the leading kicker (Stephen Gostowski), and the 12th ranked kicker was a mere 31 points. In comparison, that was relatively the distance between Dez Bryant and Josh Gordon last year. While not insignificant, it’s not worth spending a valuable draft choice on a kicker. The difference between the bottom and the top shrinks even more in shallower leagues, its 27 points in 10 teamers, and a miniscule 19 points in 8 team leagues. Unless you have convinced yourself that kicker X is going to have a transcendent year, don’t take a kicker. Instead, play the matchups and read Jonathan Nardone’s weekly Big Point Kicker column.
With defenses my distaste for drafting one is less strong, I would highly advise against drafting one if possible. The big point turnover stats that you look for in a fantasy defense are extremely volatile and vary greatly year by year, and even week by week. The top ranked Kansas City Chiefs defense looks great on paper, but their breakthrough season just shows the fact that the position is too volatile to invest a draft choice in. The #1 Chiefs Defense in all of fantasy football amassed most of their points teeing off against the likes of Blaine Gabbert, Michal Vick, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor, Case Keenum, Jeff Tuel, Robert Griffin III/Kurt Cousins, and Matt McGloin. Matchups against top level QB’s Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Andrew Luck produced 1 point results. What I’m getting at here is even the top level defenses, take off against terrible opponents, and tread water against high level offenses. You are better off simply passing on a defense altogether until the night before game time.
The reason I advocate completely passing on picking a kicker or defense in all early drafts is threefold; talent is emerging, coordinators are fickle, and the human body is fragile. In 2013 we saw Knowshon Moreno and Julius Thomas emerge through the preseason, 2012 saw a rash of injuries leading to the emergence of Alfred Morris, 2011 saw a change of scenery lead to a breakout for Darren Sproles, and the list goes on. These are all players who entered the preseason largely undrafted or drafted in the final two rounds of 8-12 team leagues, and ended up the starter (or a key contributor in the case of Sproles) by the end of camp. By not taking a kicker or defense, you have two valuable roster slots open to pick up an ascendant player who can change your season.
In summation, for all of those drafting before the final preseason game, buck convention and nix drafting a kicker or a defense, instead maximize your limited hacks at the piñata by using your final two picks on a high upside WR/RB/TE, and monitor emerging players. You’ll finish with league average or better results by streaming kickers and defenses, and you’ll have the first shot at some possibly season changing players.