A New Way to Look at Special Teams Scoring

Over the course of the previous few seasons, there has been a growing trend of removing the kicker position from fantasy football leagues. Most feel that kicker scoring is either too random to predict (there is good data in the ethos to state otherwise) or should not have as big of an impact on fantasy as say a WR or RB. For those that believe the later, I agree, kickers should not determine outcomes of fantasy games or championships. Just because Justin Tucker goes 4/4 from 50+ on a Sunday in December, doesn’t mean that your team is entitled to win a league playoff game or the ultimate prize, a fantasy football championship.

We do have to remember that kickers are people too, not just on the field to be ridiculed when they miss a PAT or a tackle in the open field. They do belong in fantasy football, but I do believe they should have a slightly reduced role. The slack could be picked up by another aspect of special teams that is typically grouped in with defenses or an afterthought altogether, the return game.

In standard scoring settings (I’ll be using ESPN) all return TDs count for 6 points for an owner’s DST with no regard for the amount of return yardage that is associated with said return. Don’t get me wrong, there are leagues that do reward return yardage to deepen the pool of playable WRs and RBs, but this would be the grouping together of the “3rd phase” of the game into a cohesive scoring system. With a couple of small changes, the issue of kickers determining too much throughout a fantasy season can be addressed and properly grouped along naturally with the return game in what I’m calling Team Special Teams.

Changes to Scoring

Using ESPN standard scoring as my guide or how kickers are typically scored, a reduction certainly needed to take place, while still giving kickers the feel that they could change a fantasy week if they have an extraordinary day. Here’s the breakdown of how kickers are typically scored vs. how this system would score them:

 

Scoring type ESPN Standard Team SP
FG Made (50+ yards) 5 4
FG Made (40-49 yards) 4 2
FG Made (0-39 yards) 3 1
Each PAT Made 1 1
FG Missed (any distance) -1 -1

 

I do agree that kickers should be rewarded for a kick over 50 yards in length, so instead of receiving 5 points, they receive 4. However, kicks shorter than 50 yards have become fairly commonplace for your standard NFL kicker averaging an 84% plus conversion rate for the top 10 fantasy kickers from a year ago. Also, each FG under 39 yards is reduced from 3 points to 1 point. While these kicks in the NFL are worth 3 points, they are now roughly the same distance as a PAT and are scored as such in this format. If a kicked is missed it is still just -1 point. This change resulted in about a 3 and a half point difference per game in scoring just from kicking (3.49 points on average from 2015 and 3.3 points from 2016). To offset some of the loss of scoring from Special Teams in general, the return game is added into the mix in the following format:

 

Special Team Return Scoring
Return Yardage (per yard) 0.04
Return TD 6
PAT return 2

 

The average NFL team gained just over 980 return yards (both kick and punt return) in 2016, which would result in 39.2 points added via the return game minus any TDs. A touchdown return is a big play in an NFL game and is scored as such with a full 6 points per return TD.

Re-examining 2016:

When you think of return TDs and special teams brilliance, you certainly think of Tyreek Hill from just a year ago. Adding in the return TDs and yardage would have added a total of 80.12 points to the Kansas City Chiefs’ Team Special Teams, resulting in the top Team Special Team unit in 2016 with 152.12 points. For comparison’s sake, the Browns, mirroring their real NFL results, would have scored the lowest in this format with just 79.36 total points. The average NFL team would have scored 111.90 total Special Teams points in this format, slightly lower than the scoring just from kickers alone (122.34). Below is a breakdown of the top 10 kicker scores from 2016 vs what those scores would have been in a Team Special Teams scoring format:

 

Kicker Scoring 2016 Team Special Teams Scoring 2016
176 152.12
174 143.44
145 143.28
144 143.28
143 139.56
143 127.04
141 124.24
140 121
135 117.56
135 115.28

 

For a full breakdown of the scoring from 2016, click here.

Impact on Defensive Scoring:

A defensive or special teams touchdown can certainly shift the tide of any week of fantasy football. These big plays were counted on by some in what were perceived as great match-ups to take their teams over the top in a given week. You would think that losing special teams TDs must have some large impact to the top overall defensive units in fantasy football, but that simply is not the case. Taking the top 10 scoring DSTs from a season ago, their average fantasy points scored were 130 according to ESPN standard scoring. If you remove the special teams TDs from the equation, that average slightly lowers from 130 to 125.8 points, or just .26 points per week of difference. The top 10 teams are below for reference, but properly allocating special teams TDs to a special teams unit is the way to go in the future.

Team ESPN Standard Points Team Special Teams
Broncos 146 146
Cardinals 143 143
Vikings 157 139
Giants 130 130
Chiefs 140 122
Eagles 127 121
Ravens 118 118
Patriots 117 117
Seahawks 113 113
Chargers 109 109

The entirety of special teams should not be forgotten any longer. Special Teams are not just kickers, but a combination of the kicking game, punting game and return game. If you ask any NFL coach, they will attest that Special Teams are truly one third of the game and combining most aspects into one scoring system will now account for the totality of special teams. While the team special teams scores are certainly lower overall than the kickers’ scores alone in 2016, they still average over 132 points, which is higher than the average of the top 10 TEs from a season ago (110.6) and comparable to a low end Flex spot on a fantasy roster on a weekly basis.

Defenses will truly be scored as defenses and special teams as special teams. As fantasy owners we deserve to have a game that is as close to an NFL game in terms of scoring as possible, and the team special teams scoring method will allow for that to take place.

Like this idea? Hatew it? Have questions? Find me on Twitter @TheRealHalupka