Finder's Keepers - Keeper League Strategy Part 2
By Jeff Tefertiller
June 2nd, 2010

This is the second installment of a series on keeper leagues. Since most keeper leagues keep less than three players, this article will expand on the strategy discussion for these leagues.

As discussed in the first article, there are only two goals in all keeper leagues: win the championship and upgrade your keepers each year. Most know how to win the league so we will look mainly at upgrading keepers and general strategy. Keeper leagues that only keep three or fewer players are no different than other types of keeper leagues. In these leagues, studs win championships. Why? Because every team in the league will be keeping their top players and the best players available in the draft should be the rookies and marginal starters.

In leagues that keep three or fewer players, the players kept should be the same players drafted in the same number of rounds of a redraft league. For example, in a league that keeps three players, each player should have an ADP of 36 or higher. In these leagues keeping a quarterback or tight end is a usually a bad idea, even if their names are Manning or Brees. Their ADP is easily in the top 36 players, but it is still best to keep running backs. Let’s look at why it is imperative to keep as many ball carriers as you can and only keep running backs and receivers if at all possible. Most teams will keep at least two running backs, and some will keep three. If you keep a quarterback or tight end and do not pick early in the first round, you will lose all chance at drafting a top 20 running back. You are already losing the battle. In addition, since many teams keep only backs and receivers, many studs at quarterback and tight ends will be available in the draft. The difference in fantasy production from Peyton Manning to Jay Cutler or Jason Campbell is not near the difference from Ray Rice to Pierre Thomas. It becomes all about relative value. A general rule I try to follow is that you should try to keep (depending on your choices) at least as many running backs as you are able to start each week. If your league starts two backs, plus a flex player, you should try to keep three running backs. This is dependent on having three viable options at the position. Starting a top running back in the flex against teams that starts a receiver is a big advantage for you in non-PPR leagues. There will be times when the best keepers will be receivers or a quarterback, but the goal should be to keep only backs. For this reason, it is a good idea to trade a stud receiver or quarterback for a stud running back if the opportunity arises. You will be able to replace the quarterback or receiver much easier in the draft. Since backs are so hard to come by in non-PPR keeper leagues, it is assumed that the ball carriers available per trade will not be worth the price.

When an owner does not have good running backs to keep, it puts an even heavier burden on the draft to find quality backs to compete this season and to possibly keep next year. Since few leaguemates will trade a good back for a receiver or quarterback, the situation becomes a cycle unless the draft provides good running back keeper options. There will be receivers available that provide comparable production in the draft as the stud receivers. In keeper league drafts, the emphasis is on production more than youth as is the case in dynasty leagues. An aging receiver that will not be kept is only evaluated on expected production this season, not his longterm outlook ... giving the feel of a redraft league. This is true for non-keepers at all positions. Many keeper owners have the dynasty philosophy about acquiring youth, undervaluing the older, proven players. Since one of the goals is to win the title, fantasy production should be the highest priority.

Keeper league owners should try to keep as many backs as possible because they consistently outscore receivers in non-PPR leagues. The scoring difference between elite fantasy backs and the average starters is much more than at the receiver position. This gives the owners with the stud runners a distinct advantage over the competition. In addition, predicting the top ten receivers at the end of the season is difficult while few top backs finish outside of the top ten unless injury. When we look back to the 2009 season, we notice some wideouts who came out of nowhere to produce elite numbers. Few fantasy owners valued Miles Austin or Sidney Rice very highly, but each was a top fantasy receiver. There is value to be found at the receiver position. Also, some top wide receivers were impacted by the poor play, or injury, at the quarterback position. Many had high hopes for Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith (CAR), and T.J. Houshmandzadeh coming into the 2009 season. All three struggled for consistency due to issues at the quarterback position. With so many variables at work, wide receivers are not great keepers unless they are elite and the best available players to keep.

Having all three keepers at running back assumes each has an ADP equal to the pick given up to keep the player. Average Draft Position (ADP) for redraft leagues is a great barometer for keepers. It allows an owner to judge his keepers against the norm. In addition, it will give ideas on where to look for value and which players to target via trade. Looking at ADP when reviewing the rosters of the league will allow any owner to easily identify trade options that might not be so obvious. Every league is different so ADP should be used as a guide, not a hard and fast rule. Also, keeper owners are encouraged to study the Footballguys.com rankings of the Top 36 players overall to see the differences between ADP and the rankings. Taking this one step further, the Draft Dominator and VBD applications will offer more information as to relative value of the keepers compared to the rest of the league.

If you are in a keeper league that keeps three or fewer players, you should try fervently to improve your keepers each year. One way is to identify trades where you send multiple players for one stud player, preferably a running back. Teams who have one stud back and little else are the perfect trade targets to begin negotiations. In leagues that keep just one player, the player kept is of the highest importance. Other ways to upgrade keepers are through the waiver wire and via the draft. Late in the season, it is a great move to drop bench players that will never start on your team for players that could be valuable keepers if their situation changes the next year. After the bye week of your kicker and team defense, there is little reason to carry a backup at each position. Every year, the savvy owners sort through the waiver wire and find the backup running back that will be a free agent the following year and stash them deep on the roster. This has paid off many times for owners. Remember Chester Taylor as a Raven? How about Michael Turner as a Charger? The forward-thinking owners were able to reap the rewards.

In leagues that keep so few players each year, the draft is very important. In a keeper league draft, it is important to note that most players are drafted with the thought that they will not be kept the next year. The owner drafts these players as though it is a redraft league. But, as the draft unfolds, especially in the middle or late rounds, sage keeper owners will take a few chances on players chock full of potential and upside. If deciding between two equal players, the keeper owner should draft the player that might have value the following offseason, either as a keeper or as trade bait. The teams that draft with an eye on next year’s potential keepers have an advantage. The draft becomes extra important, just like in redraft leagues, the fewer players each team keeps.

ADP (Average Draft Position) has been mentioned a few times above. It is best used in conjunction with redraft rankings to identify and isolate which direction to go with keeper decisions. If an owner has a player who is ranked higher than the corresponding ADP, it is very understandable to keep that player over one that has been drafted higher in preseason. There becomes an opportunity to trade the player with a high ADP to upgrade draft picks. Each keeper league is different and each league values keepers and draft picks differently. There is no true guide as to value of either. Each league has its own economy. But, the best trades to get done are ones where a team trades a player it will not keep and a lower pick for a higher pick. These trades benefit both parties and are easier to negotiate and finalize.

Keeper leagues are enjoyable to many owners. They offer the chance to build for the future with great keepers and the flexibility to change course like a redraft. Usually, the teams with the best keepers win the leagues. They have such a head-start that is difficult to overcome. And, the best keepers are running backs in most cases. It becomes all about upgrading keepers, specifically at the running back position. The draft will allow owners to fill out the roster and possibly upgrade keepers. To get an idea as to how the draft might go, I strongly suggest using the Draft Dominator. It allows an owner to plug in every keeper, enter every pick, and then run a mock draft. The mock draft can even be run using ADP. It is a great tool for draft practice.

If you are in a keeper league that keeps three players, or less, remember that most success is all about upgrading keepers and getting as many stud running backs as possible. Below are the top 36 players per ADP. These would be the ideal players to keep in leagues that keep three players or less. Also, the goal is to have as many players ranked as highly as possible. I included the next four players to show those on the cusp of being a viable keeper. Notice how only 17 backs are in the Top 40 of ADP. The drop-off at the running back position is noticeable and expected production quickly plummets. This is why it is important to own as many of the top ball carriers as possible. The ADP data is from Footballguys.com.

  1. Chris Johnson - RB
  2. Adrian Peterson - RB
  3. Maurice Jones-Drew - RB
  4. Ray Rice - RB
  5. Frank Gore - RB
  6. Andre Johnson - WR
  7. Steven Jackson - RB
  8. Michael Turner - RB
  9. Aaron Rodgers - QB
  10. Drew Brees - QB
  11. Larry Fitzgerald - WR
  12. Rashard Mendenhall - RB
  13. Randy Moss - WR
  14. DeAngelo Williams - RB
  15. Reggie Wayne - WR
  16. Peyton Manning - QB
  17. Shonn Greene - RB
  18. Roddy White - WR
  19. Calvin Johnson - WR
  20. Miles Austin - WR
  21. Brandon Marshall - WR
  22. Ryan Grant - RB
  23. Cedric Benson - RB
  24. DeSean Jackson - WR
  25. Marques Colston - WR
  26. Vincent Jackson - WR
  27. Chris Wells - RB
  28. Jamaal Charles - RB
  29. Tom Brady - QB
  30. Sidney Rice - WR
  31. Greg Jennings - WR
  32. Knowshon Moreno - RB
  33. Philip Rivers - QB
  34. Jonathan Stewart - RB
  35. Pierre Thomas - RB
  36. Matt Schaub - QB
  37. Dallas Clark - TE
  38. Tony Romo - QB
  39. Anquan Boldin - WR
  40. Steve Smith - WR

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to tefertiller@footballguys.com.