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Full House
Joe Levit

Different types of fantasy football leagues – Survivor, Redraft, Keeper, Dynasty – require a different set of skills and strategies.

Compared to redraft leagues, a keeper league is like playing poker for the entire night, rather than risking your money for just a few hot hands. Since keeper leagues are a sustained gamble, the requisite level of commitment and competition increases exponentially.

These leagues differ from Dynasty leagues too. Instead of something staid and largely predictable, keeper leagues offer an environment of year-round action and high stakes. In a keeper league, fortunes can change in a hurry, but no matter what hand you are dealt, there is always something you can make of it.

Pre-Draft Strategies

In a keeper league, how well you select players in each draft, but especially the initial one, is often what determines how well your team will fare against your foes. If you make serious mistakes here, they can cost you for years to come.

The surest way to avoid a meltdown in the draft is to ante up before it by doing your homework. That’s right, it’s back-to-school time, but in this case you are majoring in fantasy football. Spend time reading football news sites online, especially those sites that offer fantasy analysis. Purchase a few of the better fantasy magazines that hit the racks by mid-summer. Their mock drafts can give you an idea of how your own draft might unfold.

Stick to articles that detail the reasoning behind their rankings. The more information you stockpile, the better you will be able to make major decisions on the fly. Remember, your mind is a more comprehensive tool than any cheat sheet.

In the weeks leading up to the draft, disseminate misinformation to your fellow owners. Hype up big-name players past their prime or hot rookies you wouldn’t want in their first year. Effective bluffing means that you should occasionally tout someone you would draft if the round warranted it. Your propaganda will ring truer if there is a kernel of candor in what you are claiming.

The last piece of pre-draft preparation is to delve into your league’s bylaws. In order to draft well, it is essential that you understand the parameters of your league, particularly how it will handle player transactions, and how that will affect keeper status.

Draft Strategies 

Put on a poker face when it is time for the actual draft. You don’t want people to see your reactions to players being drafted. If the owner right before you steals a player you wanted badly, don’t sweat it – on the outside. If you do, it will make any attempt to trade for that player later much more difficult.

In the early rounds, try to select physically durable players who are consistent fantasy scorers at each of your important starting positions, since you will be retaining at least a few of these guys beyond the season.

In the later rounds grab a few risky players with huge upside who might pan out over the course of the season. Players that qualify this year include talented backups who will start out behind a stud (like Stephen Jackson behind Marshall Faulk) or players who have flashed potential (Donte’ Stallworth) and may finally play up to it. This technique is like a wild card in poker – it might not help you at all, but it could help you claim all the money.

Even in a keeper league, be sparing when it comes to drafting rookies. Remember that most of them are not going to contribute right away, and none of them are proven commodities. Rookie quarterbacks and wide receivers rarely produce standout fantasy seasons. Dan Marino and Randy Moss, for instance, were huge exceptions.

This does not mean you should ignore rookies completely. Opportunity is a huge factor in predicting initial rookie success. Julius Jones of the Cowboys and Kellen Winslow Jr. of the Browns are both major pieces of their respective team’s offensive puzzles, and have no legitimate competition for playing time. They will be given every opportunity to post solid fantasy numbers.

Season Strategies 

During the season itself, there is really only one choice to make: Either you are going to go for it all this year, or you aren’t. Since every owner leaves the draft thinking he or she has the best team, it will take you a few weeks to come to your conclusion.

Determine whether your club has a legitimate shot to win the title this year. If it does, then trade next year’s draft picks or some current players on your squad for the one or two studs you need to finalize your dominant starting lineup. Mortgage your future if you believe the time is now.

If your team doesn’t have what it takes to make the playoffs, trade away good players who you won’t retain next season to acquire extra draft picks for the next year. Or, trade a few of your players for another owner’s stud, who you will then keep as one of your holdovers. Build for the future when the present is bleak.

Some owners think you should play to win every year in a keeper league. I disagree with this. In a redraft league a never-say-die attitude makes sense because there is nothing to lose, but in a keeper league you can create perpetual mediocrity by working toward the playoffs each year but not being good enough to grab the trophy.

Be realistic enough to take action when your season is shot. Sometimes misfortune simply grabs us by the groin and doesn’t let go – Your star back tears an ACL and then your top WR gets benched and your sleeper QBs stay in a slumber. When this happens it is not a poor strategy to work toward the next season. It might give you a shot at the championship every other season because you build your team that way. That isn’t bad considering that no owner in competitive keeper leagues wins every year anyway.

Off-Season Strategies

After the Pro Bowl is over, resolve which players you will retain going into the next season. Try to trade away all of the rest of your players for draft picks. Reckon the value of each player. If you think a guy is worth a second-round pick and you are only being offered a sixth rounder, it may actually be smarter for you to force the owner to use the second-rounder in the next draft on the player. But, if you can land a good pick for the player then choose that option because you can use the selection to fill out your starting lineup next season.

If possible, purge your roster in favor of youth. Try trading an Ahman Green for a Clinton Portis or LaDainian Tomlinson. As long as the production is nearly equal, then ditch age whenever possible.

Determine whether it is advantageous going into the next draft to have your own strong keeper picks or extra draft picks. This factor can change yearly. Sometimes it is wise to trade players for other, better players that you will use as keepers. This happens when every other owner has keeper slots filled with top players, but doesn’t have supporting players you would want to draft with a first-round pick. In other years, the other owners have a surplus of talent, and cannot keep all of those great players. That is a year you want to have a lot of high draft picks.

When it comes to players or entire seasons, the bottom line in keeper leagues is that you have to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em.