THE PATRIOTS HAVE NO SHORTAGE OF FANTASY SUPERSTUDS—TOM BRADY, ROB GRONKOWSKI, WES WELKER—AND, YES, EVEN KICKER STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI, WHO SHOULD ONCE AGAIN TAKE his place as one of the league's most productive fantasy kickers.
In his six seasons with the Pats, Gostkowski has made more than twice as many PATs (289, the most in football over that time) as field goals (141). Not that Gostkowski minds. "I feel like every kick and field goal is challenging," he says. "Things have to go right to make a kick, and it's easier the more opportunities you have."
Gostkowski was certainly busy in 2011. Along with the 49ers' David Akers, he was one of two kickers to score five or more points in every game. He finished third in points scored (147), and his totals for field goals (28) and PATs (59) were each the second highest of his career.
New England's offense was so efficient inside the red zone (65.3% touchdown percentage) that although Gostkowski has one of the stronger legs in the NFL, he attempted 19 fewer field goals than Akers, who set an NFL single-season record of 52. "Most of the guys who attempt a lot of 50-yarders don't kick in the Northeast," Gostkowski says. "Where it's cold and windy, you don't get those same opportunities."
Autumn weather in the Northeast won't change, but New England's red zone offense will. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had 24 rushing TDs over the last two seasons, is gone. The Pats will be a little less efficient in scoring TDs, which should make them more reliant on Gostkowski.
He has made 84.8% of his career field goal tries, including 70% from beyond 40 yards. Gostkowski says that 80% of his attempts in practice are between 35 and 40 yards. "I'm more likely to get fired for missing 35-yard field goals than for missing 55-yard field goals," he rationalizes. "Being able to kick those at 85 percent power increases your accuracy. You make those, and you have more confidence to make the longer ones."
Adding to Gostkowski's confidence is what he deems a full recovery from the torn quadriceps that ended his 2010 season after eight games. (He admits to feeling the effects of the surgery early last season.) Gostkowski had no hesitation going full bore in his off-season workouts, which consisted of sprinting, single-leg squats and assorted exercises for his hip flexor and groin.
"I'm building my strength so that in Week 12 I'm kicking just as well as Week 1," he says. That commitment to consistency is yet another reason that Gostkowski resides among the fantasy elite.