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Who Do I Keep?
David M. Dorey
2003

Keeper leagues are a wonderful way to reward the shrewd drafters with continued spoils of the past season. They allow fantasy teams to maintain the same "personality" each season as the league can be divided up into the "LaDainian" team or the "Faulk" guy or the "Lucky Portis" owner. It helps to foster more sense of identity for individual teams and is another factor to bring owners back each season.

There are numerous ways that keeper leagues set their rules and each have their own distinct sets of strategies and considerations. For analysis purposes, let's review the two most common flavors:

  1. Keep & Pay - Up to three players may be kept from the prior season, and for each player kept a draft pick must be surrendered starting with the first one. If a team retains three players, then their first pick in the draft is in the fourth round.
  2. Free Keeper - Any number of players can be kept without penalty, but the same number is allowed of all teams. Normally it will be only one or two players.

The only difference between these sort of leagues and any other normal redraft league happens between the end of last season and the start of the draft. Keeper leagues allow team owners to stay involved and think about their teams during a time when little NFL action is going on. It is an important time to make the right decisions because until your choice is made, you have exclusive control over all those players you had last season. Who to keep?

There are two factors you must consider before determining who is worth keeping.

Positional Value - Before you decide which player you want to keep, you must be aware of what the positional value is relative to the other positions that are on your roster. Look at your scoring results from the past season, which you should have since this is a keeper league, and see how positions score relative to the others. Are Quarterbacks significantly higher than Runningbacks? Are Wide Receivers as valuable as any other position or only half the value of a Runningback.

For more accurate comparisons, compare the midpoints of the average starters in each position. In a traditional 12 team league that starts a QB, two RBs and three WRs, you should look at the results from last season and see what was scored by the sixth-best QB, the twelfth-best RB and the twelfth-best WR. There are only three TE's worth keeping and even then only for leagues that reward them much higher for production than they do the receivers. If flex positions are used and allow, for instance, a third runningback to be started each week then that must figure heavily into the positional value.

Player Value - Knowing what positions are worth relative to each other, you then must review your roster for how well players scored within their position from last season and where you rank them this year. Chances are pretty good that runningbacks command a premium in your drafts and are among the highest scoring players in your league. Quarterbacks may count heavily as well. Do you have a top receiver? How many points can you reasonably expect to garner by keeping a particular player and what is the net difference from keeping others?

Once you have determined those two factors, then you can consider which player(s) to keep. Applying those to the two types of keeper leagues are similar with one big difference:

Free Keeper League - since there is no penalty for retaining a player, you will be keeping the one, two or however many that is stipulated for all teams. If you have a top three player in either quarterbacks, runningbacks or receivers, then obviously those guys should stay unless positional values mean that a 12th best runningback is better than the third best receiver as an example. You need to consider what each player that you keep does to your chances to build a complete, strong team in the draft. Chances are extremely good that you should be looking at keeping good runningbacks because this season in most every draft, the rushers are more popular than a box of free money. The snap answer to "who do I keep" is "who is your best runningback?" and that answer is often the right one. But not all the time.

You must determine what your starting point will be in the draft with the keepers that you have. Review the draft from the previous season in your league and try to get a feel for what players will be retained by other teams. Make a cheatsheet out for your league, removing the most likely players that will be kept and then determine how your draft will likely happen. Know that all the starting quarterbacks, runningbacks and likely half the starting receivers will be the first to go in the draft. How can you best position yourself to build a complete team?

Keeping players is a function of their positional and performance value, their positional scarcity and demand in the draft and their effect on your ability to build a full team. There is no snap answer for that without knowing who else is being kept and how positions rank in both value and demand.

As a general statement, obviously runningbacks should be a heavy consideration for you to keep given their normally high scoring, demand and the almost shocking speed at which they are being yanked from the shelves in drafts this season. But do not allow that to blind you to the value to your team of keep a high scorer in other positions. If most other teams already keep two runners, then they will be more likely looking elsewhere when they start to draft because they too are wanting to build a complete team.

Keep & Pay League - All the same considerations that apply for the Free Keeper Leagues are still valid for this style of league, the big additional factor to consider is that you lose a draft pick for each player you keep, normally up to three. What this means is that every player that you keep must not only satisfy the considerations above, but also must be more valuable than a pick in that round would be.

In essence, the question is this - if I drop this player, will I be able to draft him? If the answer is yes, then likely you should drop him and take advantage of either drafting him or some other better player that is still available. If you would not be able to draft the player because he would be taken before you could draft him, then keep him. You can only know that by knowing your league - the number of players being retained in different positions, how they are valued and so on. Again - reality is that in most leagues either runningbacks or quarterbacks are going to be the most valuable and will be the better choice. Only the top receivers and by that I mean Harrison, Owens and Moss, are normally worth keeping over a starting runningback or quarterback.

Who Do I Keep?

It is a big question that is much more involved than merely deciding how well he might play the next season, unless you only start one player each week. You do not - you start a team as will your opponents and you must put up the best TEAM you can, not the best player you can because the only thing that matters every week is your total score.

I get numerous requests for advice on who to keep each season and while I enjoy - time permitting - giving my opinion, only you can make that decision because you need to know what your total team will be like, what the draft will likely yield, what the scoring values are in your league and all the other nuances that make your league unique.

In reviewing your roster for keepers, keep an eye out for your total team look, not the strength of one position without considering how it stacks up against other positions in your league scoring. Understand what sort of team you can create in the draft knowing what players you already have in the stable. Consider too the upside of players that you keep - how likely is it that they can exceed expectations or is the player already playing at his high end? You cannot consider who to keep without knowing how that effects the draft plans you will make. Review, compare and decide.

Go through that process and you will make the best decision for your team and be prepared for your draft. Will you end up just keeping the best runningback on your roster? Maybe, maybe not.

But probably.

Good luck this season!