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Keeper League Draft Strategy
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Keeper League Draft Strategy

As fantasy football continues to grow in popularity, more and more players are looking for new ways to play that increase the level of entertainment and involvement. One of the most popular ways of getting deeper into the obsession of fantasy football is by playing in keeper leagues.

Keeper leagues are fantasy football leagues where the team owners are allowed to keep a set number of players from year to year. To play in a keeper league takes more dedication from the owner and the league in general. When signing up to play in a keeper league, you are making a commitment not just to the upcoming seasons, but for years to come.

If you and a group of like-minded friends are willing to make that commitment, the benefits are well worth it. I am entering a keeper league that is entering its 14th season, and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a hobby (euphemism for obsession) that I’ve enjoyed more.

Keeper League vs. Standard League: The Draft

Keeper league play during the season and playoffs is essentially the same as in any standard league. The biggest difference between the keeper and standard leagues is the draft – both the importance of it and the strategy involved in it.

The extra importance of a keeper league draft is easy enough to understand. You are potentially drafting players for multiple years. Therefore, your decisions carry far more weight than they would in an ordinary draft. The ripple effects of a good or bad pick can last for years.

The more intricate difference is in how one prepares for the draft. I would like to illustrate a basic overview of keeper league draft strategy that can help you adjust to the subtle nuances that can trip up a first time, or even long time, player.

Rookie Analysis

The first and most important difference in draft strategy between standard and keeper leagues is the importance placed on rookie analysis. Rookies are generally shunned in standard leagues as they are unproven and no one really knows how long it will take them to adjust to the pro game.

In keeper leagues, it is a different story altogether. You are drafting for this year, but you are also drafting for your team’s future. And the top ranked rookies are not going to see the light of draft day again until the backside of their careers, and by then you won’t want them. All this is to say that you want to have solid rookie rankings heading into your draft that you feel confident using.

Veteran Analysis

For the most part I tend to rank veterans essentially the same as I do in standard leagues, but there are a few exceptions. I move players up or down based on their age and the amount of time they’ve spent in the league.

A good example of this would be comparing a player like Steven Jackson, an older guy who has been a solid fantasy player for years, to a guy like David Wilson, a second year player with potential that rushed for under 500 yards in his rookie season. In a standard league, you would almost certainly rank Jackson above Wilson. However, because Jackson is on the backside of his career and Wilson is an up-and-comer, you should absolutely rank Wilson higher in a keeper league. Older players should be dropped in the ranks; younger players should move up. This is truer with running backs than any other position as they tend to age faster.

Great quarterbacks play into their late thirties; young quarterbacks often take time to develop. Because of this, keeper league quarterback rankings should more resemble the standard league rankings (wide receiver and tight end rankings are somewhere in between in terms of adjustment).

Combining Rookie and Veteran Rankings

The next natural step is to incorporate your rookie rankings into your veteran rankings. This is more art than science, but I’ll give you a few basic rules of thumb that I use in my draft preparations.

I should first tell you that my league is a 12-team league where we keep seven players each (I’ll talk about the importance of this shortly). This means that the top 84 veteran players (or something resembling the top 84) are off the board. My top ten rankings in any given position will consist of something like this: 4 rookies, 4 players with 1 – 3 years experience, and 2 players with 4+ years experience.

Also, my top five ranked players overall are almost always exclusively rookies. Again, this is because these guys are not going to be around at next year’s draft.

Of course, this is all subject to adjustment and will change from year to year based on what the current year’s rookie class looks like. This year’s rookie class is much weaker than last year’s.

Overall Strategy

The major strategy adjustments to make going from a standard league to a keeper league are summarized best by saying that you should move young, inexperienced players up in your rankings and older players down in your rankings. Rookies should be ranked especially high based on their future potential. More dramatic adjustments should be made in the running back category where young running backs – especially rookie running backs – should be ranked much higher than in standard leagues.

One last note: the amount of difference between standard league and keeper league draft strategy is relative to the amount of players kept. In a dynasty league, where teams keep about 20 – 25 players and draft only 5, you might not draft any veterans. If your league only keeps 3 players, the adjustments you make should be minor. In other words, there’s not too much difference between this type of draft and a standard league draft. The league I describe above, where seven players are kept from twelve teams, is somewhere in the middle and is the baseline for the strategies outlined in this article.

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