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Getting a leg up

The easiest way to tell the difference between a savvy fantasy owner and a rookie is by looking at the kicker on each of their teams.

The inexperienced owner often believes that the most valuable kicker is the one playing for the highest-scoring team. The veteran, on the other hand, places value on the kickers that a) play for an offense that struggles in the red zone and b) have strong legs.

Of the top-six scoring kickers in the NFL this year, only three of them play on teams that are among the league's top-six scoring offenses. Another thing to keep in mind when judging kickers is that, in fantasy football, extra weight is placed on the distance of kicks.

The value of kickers, more than any other position, fluctuates weekly based on matchups. However, there are a select few kickers who consistently produce regardless of the defense their team is facing. Following is a list of the top-four fantasy kickers thus far in the season.

**1) Neil Rackers (

Cardinals)** – Judging by his name, Rackers should be crunching numbers behind a desk somewhere. Instead, he's racking up points at a record pace. If he continues at his current rate, he'll shatter the Cardinals' single-season record for field goals by 27, and break the NFL record for single-season field goals by 18.

The sixth-year pro from

49ers in Week 4, he booted three field goals of 50 yards or longer, tying Morten Anderson's all-time NFL record for most field goals of 50 yards in a single game.

In some fantasy leagues, Rackers is single-handedly carrying teams. His value is equal to a solid starting quarterback or running back, which is unheard of for a kicker. It's unlikely that Rackers will continue attempting more than three field goals per game. But if

's offense keeps stalling in the red zone—they've scored two touchdowns in 15 drives inside their opponents' 20-yard line—then Rackers could be headed for the record books.

**2) Jay Feely (

Giants)** – Feely is one of only two NFL kickers that hasn't missed a field goal during the entire regular season or preseason this year. The former Atlanta Falcon has nailed each of his 10 field goals, including three from 40 yards or beyond.

The former Michigan Wolverine, with a career kicking percentage of 86.8 from within 40 yards, always has been solid from middle distances. But until this year he hasn't been consistent from beyond the 30-yard line.

In the New York Giants' top-scoring offense, Feely has been allowed numerous opportunities in the first six games of the season. It took him eight games last year before he reached 10 field goal attempts.

If his team didn't have three red zone giveaways, Feely might have even more points. Fortunately, the Giants have scored touchdowns on less than 50 percent of its trips inside the red zone, which has given Feely plenty of opportunities.

3) Nate Kaeding (San Diego Chargers) – There were serious concerns about Kaeding's psyche heading into this season given that his 40-yard miss against the New York Jets in the playoffs last year ended up being the difference in the game. Also, he missed four of his seven field goal tries during the preseason this year.

But Kaeding is resilient. The second-year player from

says that adversity motivates him, and it's hard to argue. The baby-faced former third-round pick has been nails during the regular season, converting each of his 10 field goals for the NFL's second-best scoring offense.

He hasn't kicked any balls in the 50-yard range, but he is perfect on four attempts between 40-49 yards. In the last two games, he made each of his four tries between 30-39 yards.

**4) John Kasay (

Panthers) **– For the simple fact that Kasay has more field goals from 50 yards or beyond (3) than any other kicker in the NFL, he belongs in the starting lineup.

His overall conversion percentage (72.7) doesn't turn heads, and there certainly are higher-scoring kickers, but it's the number of long-distance opportunities that make Kasay so valuable. Only two kickers—Rackers and the Broncos' Jason Elam—have more field goal attempts from 40 yards or longer than Kasay, who has made each of his two tries between 40-49 yards and half his attempts above that.

Of course, the Panthers' offense could go on a cold streak, or a hot streak, leaving Kasay with fewer opportunities or only extra points. But if history holds true, Kasay should continue to get some looks from beyond the 40-yard line. Last year, his three field goals from 50 yards or longer tied for the third-most in the league.

The Panthers lead the league in scoring touchdowns inside the red zone, which doesn't bode well for Kasay. But if he is already this productive from long distances, imagine the possibilities if

's red zone execution drops.

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