In leagues that have keepers or are in a dynasty "keep
'em all" format, considering the value of players in
future seasons is a valid and necessary consideration. You
play this season but will be effected in later years by your
decisions now. How should this effect your player acquisitions
and which players will have increased or decreased value
considering what 2004, 2005 or more might hold?
If you only take one snippet of words from this discussion,
let it be this:
"The current season is three times
as important as any future year"
It does not matter if you only keep one player or you retain
a roster of 24 players each season. By and large, your decisions
must be for this year. Let me illustrate why this using a
bit of history. Consider first that success in fantasy football
is largely a product of having impact players - those proportionally
higher scoring players in their position that yields a big
advantage each season. Sure - having solid players that turn
in respectable numbers each season is a good thing. It is
also the route to a .500 season. "Good" is good
but "Good" doesn't put the trophy on the mantle.
The most common mistakes of fantasy teams are to reach on "projects" that
they think will turn into studs in just one or two years,
or to overvalue the performance of one season.
Don't misunderstand. It is critical to get players that
will improve over the years and such is one good reason to
have keeper rules. But that typically leads to players being
overvalued thinking that Randy Moss is a stereotype as a
rookie instead of being the extreme exception that he was.
Or that the one big career year by a player after six years
or more in the league means that he is just breaking out
into stud-hood much later than most. Things often happen
for one season and they are over.
History may repeat itself, but not nearly often enough
for one player. Some other player will just fall into the
same set of star-crossed influences the next year and look
like the new hot guy. There are great players and then there
are great seasons. Great players are "great" because
they turn in many big seasons. Almost any player can have
one great season - remember, these players were very successful
in football their entire lives up until they reached the
NFL. Out of 250 million people in the U.S., it is unlikely
that only four people can rush for over 1500 yards in a season
like last year. Great players make their own opportunities
and are a part of a continuing good situation.
Let's do a comparison between the 2002, 2000 and 1998 seasons
to see what changes just every other season for the top players
in a common performance scoring system:
What we see in high keeper value for quarterbacks is notable.
It is a fairly consistent position, at least in the top six
players each season which are the true difference makers.
Favre may never again be top 5, but he is a great one that
will never fall flat. Culpepper, Gannon, Manning and McNabb
have proven their value. There will always be the occasional
Plummer, Grbac or Bledsoe sneaking into the top echelon because
of the big season but considering the "keeper-ability" of
a quarterback, you MUST consider track record and not just
last season and definitely not the prospects of him breaking
out next year. Let someone else take the small chance.
Top quarterbacks make good keepers because at least a handful
of them are fairly reliable from season to season. They are
also often undervalued in keeper leagues since many team
owners think they need only one and there are so many out
Runningbacks are highly valued and let me be the first to
clue you on in a little secret. They come and go with astounding
speed. Consider that of the top ten from 1998, only four
of them were still top players two years later. By four years
later, none of them were in the top ten. Four years later
half of them are no longer in the league. As was shown in
the five year lookback article, there is also an odd tendency
for some runningbacks to turn in great seasons only every
two years. Comparing 2000 to 2002, only Garner and George
made it back to the top ten after two seasons and both were
at the bottom of the top ten.
There is a lot of change that happens in this position and
recognize that when you start coughing up huge bucks for
the latest hot runningback. You need a great runner and the
past season is a predictor of sorts, but in determining long-term
plans you are much better off getting a quarterback to keep
than a runner. They just do not have the legs of any other
position. Keep them considering their value for one year
but do not look much beyond that.
Keeping runningbacks is a play for greatness or for the
league cellar. You take your chances and you have to hope
lady luck does not zap your players with the injury stick.
But considering their contribution to your team, it is a
chance you must take. Just be realistic about their long-term
prospects and know that if you burn that high draft pick
or spend those big auction dollars - you better be right
because you will be hard pressed to make up the difference
if your guy fails.
The keeper-ability of receivers is somewhat similar to quarterbacks.
Guys like Moss, Owens, Moulds and Harrison hang out in the
top level for a long time. Every season there are always
nice surprises in the position too - guys like Mathis, McCaffrey
and Alexander turned in monster years in the past but could
not sustain that. A top receiver as a keeper is a goldmine
because it can provide years of benefit in a position that
has tremendous change in the midrange of scorers each season.
As was discussed in the previous article analyzing the draft
position of players, consider that the best long-term keepers
for receivers were almost entirely first round picks with
just a few second rounders having the lengthy careers of
note. Any player can have the big year - any player. The
right situation can mix with a nice schedule and other variables
unique to that season which will yield a great year for a
player. Keeper considerations must take into account the
longer term because you need to determine the likelihood
that the player will continue to perform at the same level.
That his past was because of him, not because of a great
but temporary situation.
The reality of keepers - considering the dramatic change
from season to season of impact players - is that you need
to play for this year and make keeper decisions be a function
to worry about later. The tendency of fantasy team owners
is to overvalue certain players, particularly in dynasty
leagues. Upside is important but a track record is more important.
The only difference between a redraft league cheatsheet
and a keeper league cheatsheet is moving down players that
are coming to the end of their career within the next year
- two at most. Players that are old and on a definite downward
trend as their career winds down. The only players that move
up in a keeper league are the first or second year players
that have given a good sign that their development is on
pace to become a top player in their position but realize
the risk is as significant as the hoped payoff could be.
In keeper leagues - play for this year. Next year there
will be new rookie runningbacks and always a few receivers
and quarterbacks that have taken the next step in their development
that will be available. Play to win this year and the worst
you will get is some players to trade if you do well.
Let's look at some of the players that do deserve some extra
consideration in a keeper scenario:
Quarterbacks that fall:
Rich Gannon - At the age of 37, Gannon is
the oldest starting quarterback in the league though he still
obviously plays at a high level. His rushing yards has fallen
each season for the past few years and it is unlikely he
will play many more. Hard to pass a top QB, but his long-term
outlook must be considered very limited. Then again - so
what if he retires next year or 2005? You would get great
play (unless he is injured) for at least a year and by then
different QB's will be stepping up.
Brett Favre - Though only 33 years old, Favre
openly hinted at retirement this season and then changed
his mind. He has a lot of miles on the tires and has a ten
year string of never missing a game. But his value is already
depressed this season anyway.
Mark Brunell, Jon Kitna, Rodney Peete - These
guys are merely placeholders this season for future quarterbacks
and may not even make it through the season without getting
Lower Quarterbacks that rise:
Chad Pennington - After showing that he was
the real deal last season, the Jets lost their #1 receiver
in Lavernues Coles and face a tough schedule with two older
receivers in Conway and Chrebet. In future years, Pennington
is almost a lock to become a top echelon passer.
Patrick Ramsey - This pick requires a small
leap of faith given the production of last season but with
improved receivers and a coach that wants to turn the sky
dark with passes, future upside moves him up.
Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Carson Palmer -
while there is a chance that none of the three will be playing
this season, chances are almost zero that they will not get
a chance by next season.
Runningbacks that fall:
Let's be serious here - as shown above this position has
incredible turnover year to year anyway, so the only runningback
that might fall in keeper scenarios is Emmitt Smith,
Jerome Bettis, Antowain Smith and Garrison
Hearst who have all been seriously devalued this
season anyway due to their age.
Runningbacks that rise:
Another reality check - runningbacks normally do not "develop" over
time, they either are good from the start or they never will
be. The only players that qualify in this scenario are the
rushers who are currently backups behind players that are
either aging or often injured. This includes Lamont
Jordan, Lamar Gordon, Larry Johnson, Chris Brown and Justin
Wide Receivers that fall:
A good receiver can not only play well into their thirties,
but can be productive doing so as long as they are a proven
top player. A few receivers that can be slightly devalued
in keeper leagues (but already have been in most rankings
Jerry Rice - Eventually Rice will stop playing
even though no one believes it can ever happen. But it will
happen. Really. I mean, it has to happen. I think.
Tim Brown - Already a nonstarter in fantasy
Curtis Conway (32), Joey Galloway (31), Troy
Brown (31), Ed McCaffrey (34), Keenan
McCardell (33), Rod Smith (33)
and Jimmy Smith (34) are all getting long
in tooth but still could deliver a nice year this season.
Move them down but only slightly.
Wide Receivers that rise:
In a position of much complexity and requiring perhaps as
much or more development as any other position, changing
a receivers rankings upward based on upside and potential
is pretty hit or miss in accuracy terms. The only receivers
that it would really apply towards are the first or second
year players and at least half or more will never take that
big step up into being a fantasy starter.
Players that might move up slightly and with more risk involved
would be Deion Branch, Antonio Bryant, Javon Walker,
Robert Ferguson, Charles Rogers, Taylor Jacobs, Andre Johnson,
Bryant Johnson, Ashley Lelie, Reggie Wayne, Josh Reed and Donte'
Stallworth. But again - outside of Antonio Bryant,
Reed and Stallworth who have already shown a reason to expect
better play, the rest are just big risks to draft differently
because you can keep them.
Tight Ends are really unaffected by keeper rules since only
in dynasty formats would anyone likely keep a player outside
of the top three in the position. If you are keeping a kicker,
you must be in a dynasty league as well since they are almost
impossible to forecast for any given year, let alone their
long term impact.
Keeper leagues are a fun nuance to use to keep team owners
interested in the offseason and more likely to return the
next year. The important factor in determining where a player
is ranked or where you should be taking him in the draft
is dictated by more important factors than their "keeper-ability".
When you make your plans and decisions, always remember the
"The current season is three times
as important as any future year"
And I want to win now...