Fantasy News & Analysis

Some strategies for identifying fantasy keepers

Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) runs with the ball against the Oakland Raiders during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Every offseason, from January to August, I get inundated with various questions relating to your keeper fantasy football league.

Almost every time I’m asked, regardless of specific details or league setup, I answer the same.

“When it’s time to make that decision, look at ADP, and keep the player(s) who give you the best value.”

Let’s walk through some examples to show you what I mean:

Example 1: “I need to keep two of these players: David Johnson, Travis Kelce, Adam Thielen, and T.Y. Hilton. Keeping two players is mandatory, everyone keeps two players, and we (essentially) all lose our first- and second-round picks by keeping them.”

This one’s easy. By both current ADP and my rankings, Johnson and Kelce rank highest, so they should be your two keepers.

I typically lean toward prioritizing ADP over my rankings, except in few specific instances. If you’re stuck between keeping Marlon Mack and Aaron Jones, I’d urge you to keep Jones. They’re neck-and-neck in ADP, with Mack slightly higher, but Jones is much higher in my rankings. If your choice is between Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson, I’d probably lean Godwin (if you liked both), though I have Robinson higher in my rankings. Godwin has an ADP of 5.04 while Robinson has an ADP of 7.07. If you kept Robinson, you’d have to spend (at best) a fifth-round pick on Godwin. If you kept Godwin, you could still take Robinson in the sixth or maybe even seventh round, returning a value of one or two rounds to your team.

Example 2: “I need to keep two of these players: DeAndre Hopkins (Round 2), Alshon Jeffery (Round 8), D.J. Moore (Round 12), Tyler Lockett (Round 13), and George Kittle (Round 14). The round I took them in last year is the round I get to keep them in this year.”

Okay, so, to answer this, we’ll need to take a look at current ADP. Here’s what we have:

When looking at the question this way, it seems obvious who to keep – Kittle and Lockett, both returning the best value to your team.

However, Hopkins’ ADP makes this solution a little less straightforward, though I think my answer is still the same. The value of keeping a Round 1 player in Round 2 results in a one-round differential, but that differential might still be more valuable than a multi-round differential later in the draft. Round 1 draft picks have a much higher expected return than players being drafted later on. Hopkins is currently being drafted, typically, as the seventh player off the board. If you’re going to be drafting 12th, that’s not such a good value (taking him 13th). However, if you have the first pick in the draft, you’d be taking him with the No. 24-overall pick, returning 17 picks of value in the premium rounds of your draft. You can then (assuming you also keep Kittle), draft Lockett in Round 4 or Round 5 if you were really sold on him. So, the difference these two options would be something like:

Still, I’d much prefer the latter option.

Example 3: “I’m in an auction ($200 budget) keeper league. I have the option of keeping up to four players at the price I paid for them. I can either keep them at that price for exactly three years, or keep them with an annual $10 escalator, which then gives me the option to keep them (or not) at the end of each year. Here are my options: Patrick Mahomes ($1), Christian McCaffrey ($52), Aaron Jones ($2), Derrius Guice ($1), Davante Adams ($49), Cooper Kupp ($8), and George Kittle ($1).”

Okay, so this one’s a bit more complicated, but our process will be the same. Using auction ADP, let’s try to spot his best values. Here it is, sorted by return on investment:

I think Kittle and Mahomes are the obvious must-keeps from this list, followed by Jones, and then Kupp. I think this value is good enough to keep all four players at the price you paid for them and worth the risk of having to keep them for three years without an out.

Certainly, there is some risk here. What if Jones suffers a debilitating injury or loses his starting job as early as this year? If it was a $5 escalator (instead of $10), my answer might be different. Perhaps then it’d be worth paying for the insurance, but I’m willing to gamble at a $2 price-tag.

Further, if you only paid $50 for McCaffrey, perhaps then he might be worthy of keeping — like in snake drafts, premium players have added value as keepers. Remember, if your league-mates are all keeping up to four players, high-end talents are going to be harder to come by.

So, your next question should be, how does this influence your draft strategy? If we’re keeping all four players without an out for the next three seasons, that does pigeonhole us quite a bit. If we buy a player for $1 next year and he’s worth $30 the following season, we wouldn’t be able to keep him. That’s another argument against my recommendation, though, again, I think it’s worth the risk.

By keeping Mahomes, Kittle, Jones, and Kupp, we’re spending only $12 to lock up a QB1, a TE1, a RB2, and a WR2. I wouldn’t spend more than a few dollars to lock up a backup quarterback and a backup tight end. That leaves us with roughly $185 to spend up elsewhere. Looking at ADP, ideally, you should be able to afford something like two top-six wide receivers, one top-six running back, one RB2, and one WR2. You shouldn’t be trying to draft potential keepers and you shouldn’t be wasting your time with low-dollar dart throws, and you should be playing to win-now. And, if these are your keepers, you should be the heavy favorite to win your league this year.

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