There are not many, things in life that can generate feelings of unbounded victory, accomplishment, joy, and arrogance. Making a great fantasy move is one of the select few. A great draft pick is a nice way to go about reaching nirvana. Everyone remembers the picks they made that caused people to shake their heads, whisper to the person next to them, or flat out laugh at you (for some this happens more than for others), but turned out to be the reason you won the league. These bad-by-the-consensus-picks-turned-legendary are great, but a great free agent pickup might be even better. There's something deeply satisfying about ditching some bust-deadweight nobody like Jerome Harrison for a top 15 player like Brandon Lloyd. You feel like you cheated the system, but in the best way possible. Lloyd owners, along with those of Josh Freeman, Steve Johnson, Mike Tolbert, and Peyton Hillis can attest to this. Not everyone remembers great FA pickups, but I do.
The year is 2005, one in which Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Larry Johnson put up three of the greatest individual fantasy seasons ever. The running back trio's combined numbers were a ridiculous 5611 all-purpose yards and 72 touchdowns. For comparison, CJ, MJD, and AP put up 6093 all purpose yards last season, but scored 22 less touchdowns. Using standard fantasy scoring, the 2005 trio produced 78 more fantasy points than their 2009 contemporaries. Also consider that LJ got over 13 carries or more only once through the first 7 weeks.
Now, about that great free agent pickup…
Let me preface what I am about to say by clearly explaining my opinion of NFL kickers. Quite simply, there is no such thing as a good kicker, rather, only degrees of mediocrity. Take for example, NY Jets kicker, Nick Folk. Folk started out the season pretty good, hitting 13 of 15 field goals. However, since the bye, Folk has been downright atrocious, connecting on just 5 of his 9 attempts. Last Sunday, Folk committed the infamous, "Woops-I-just-missed-3-fieldgoals" double-whammy, simultaneously screwing over not only my favorite professional sports team, but also my first place fantasy one. As his 24-yard field goal attempt smacked off the right goal post, releasing a disheartening sound that can only be compared to the one produced while flat lining, at first I was shocked, but I soon realized, it should have been expected. I mean, why would he make it? It's in his blood to ruin a 19 play (most by any team this season), 10:04 minute drive to open the second half.
I wrote the following on my blog (www.adamweinberger.blogspot.com) this past May:
Speaking of kickers, I have a total lack of respect for their position. Maybe I don't understand the intricacies of kicking a football, but if kickers are paid exclusively for the purpose of booting a football through the uprights, how in world do so many of them struggle from within 40 yards. I just don't understand. It defies all logic. Can you imagine if the failure rate of kicking was transferred to another job?
"Mrs. Miller, you could bring your son in to see the dentist, or, you could go for it and hope that he doesn't have cavities. It's your risk."
"Risk? Isn't it just a routine checkup?"
"Well, Mrs. Miller, you would think so, but Dr. Brown has a history of inexplicably making mistakes when dealing with the 'routine.'"
"Oh… maybe I should see another dentist then."
"Nope, that wouldn't be a solution. They're basically all like that."
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, after the aforementioned Larry Johnson, the best free agent acquisition of 2005 was none other than Arizona place kicker, Neil Rackers.
Neil Rackers produced the greatest season for a kicker in NFL history, and resultantly, an unparalleled fantasy season. Rackers' numbers were so dominating that, in my league, he was his owner's best offensive player. Needless to say, anyone whose best player is a kicker doesn't have a very good team, but regardless, that's flat out impressive.
His 95 kick percentage in 2005 was the 13th best single season number of all time. Rackers drilled 40 out of 42 field goals, the record for the most made in a single season. And he hit them from everywhere! Rackers was 13/14 for kicks from 40-49 yards and 6/7 for those 50 and longer. Teams should be happy when their kickers go 19 out of 21 from any distance. Forget about for the long ones.
Rackers wasn't just a good kicker, he was the entire scoring attack for the Cardinals. He produced 140 points in 2005, which is the 31st most ever in a single season by a player at any position. Kicker, Gary Anderson, scored 164 points in 1998, the most ever for his position. But, he got to kick 59 extra points. Fifty-nine! That's the eight most ever in a single season. Rackers got a third of that. His 20 extra points attempted doesn't even fall in the top 250 for a single season.
I have always said that drafting a kicker earlier than the last round in a fantasy draft is a total waste of a pick. Having a good (very relative word) kicker doesn't necessarily equate to a good fantasy kicker. What you really need is a "good" kicker on a team with a 6.5/10 offense. If the attack is too good, you get PATs not FGs and if they aren't good enough, you get punts (In fact, I usually don't even bother drafting a kicker since it can be difficult to judge which ones fit the 6.5/10 group. The difference between the best and worst kickers on a fantasy team is usually minimal. I once won a league in which I picked up a new kicker each week depending on the matchup).
Anyways, Rackers played for the best 6.5/10 offense I have ever seen. The stalling abilities of the team were totally unparalleled. The Cardinals were 8th in total offense, yet, 28th in offensive touchdowns! Are you kidding me!? That is unbelievable! Even Houston and Buffalo, whose respective total offensive rankings were 30 and 28, scored more touchdowns than Arizona. In fact, the only teams who scored fewer touchdowns than the Cardinals were the Ravens (24th offense), Browns (26), Jets (31), and 49ers (32). Only because of Rackers' brilliance was Arizona able to bring their total scoring ranking up to 17. For fantasy leagues in which kickers are awarded an incremental value per kick (1 point for PAT, 3 points 0-39, 4 points 40-49, 5 points 50 plus), Rackers' fantasy total was 165 points. That number has not been matched since. If you play in leagues that penalize misses than his stats are even better.
2005 may have been the year of the running back, but it should be the year of the kicker too.
By the way, next off-season the New York Jets will be the center of a new HBO show: Disbarred Jocks: The Expulsion of the Kicker. As part of the show, there will be an open tryout. There will be no premium placed on experience, since any recent success basically means a collapse is in the near future. If you have 1 leg and an eye you can enter. In fact, the eye thing is optional too.
As first seen at: http://www.hotboxsports.com/article/2010/11/The-Brilliance-of-Neil-Rackers