If you're at all like me, one of the most enjoyable
aspects of fantasy football competition for you is
the realism... you know, getting the opportunity to
function in a similar capacity as the NFL's general
managers, making player personnel decisions that can
make or break your franchise. I just love that.
That's why for me, keeper leagues are the only way
to go. I enjoy them a great deal more than the standard
draft-a-new-team-every-year, single-season concept.
For the purposes of this feature, "keeper" is
defined as any league which allows owners to retain
at least one player from the previous season's roster.
It should be pointed out, however, that leagues which
allow only one or two retainees really don't fit the
parameters of a true keeper league.
A keeper league really means you retain everyone from
the previous year. When you conduct your preseason
draft, you're required to make a cut for every player
you select. That's when some truly testing decisions
come into play. Decision-making directly determines
winners and losers, so the format should encourage
Other benefits of a keeper league include reaping
the rewards of a good initial draft for several years,
rather than just one. It also allows for owners to
cultivate young players who might not be of much value
when initially acquired, but could end up winning a
title two or three years into the future.
I also like the idea of having to make a decision
at some point whether to stick with a gameplan, or
abandon and begin contemplating next season. I'm not
referring to "sandbagging" -- I discourage
the practice in any and all league formats -- but with
a keeper league, you can trade decent veteran players
to contenders for draft picks and/or younger players
and give yourself the opportunity to bounce back quickly
from a subpar season.
Fortunately, I haven't often been in the position
of having to do that.
When planning for an initial keeper league draft,
there are some different factors to consider compared
to assembling a roster you will call yours for only
one year. But before I go into that, allow me to make
one point very clear right here: Studs are studs. Star
players are valuable in any league, regardless of circumstances
(unless they're severly injured, of course). I would
dare to say that the first few rounds of a keeper league
draft should look very similar to any other draft.
It's in the middle and late rounds where the men separate
themselves from the boys.
Okay, let's take a look at a few considerations:
In a standard single-season league, age is a very small
consideration. As long as the player in question
can be productive for the season in question, he
has value. A productive 32-year-old running back
has just as much value, all other factors being equal,
as a 26-year-old.
But in a keeper league, age is much more of a consideration.
An owner who drafts too many guys on the wrong side
of 30 is, at best, going to contend for only a year
or two before being forced to rebuild his roster. At
worst, he'll endure a frustrating, injury-plagued,
losing season with no foreseeable cure in sight. That
aforementioned 26-year-old back now has significantly
more value than the 32-year-old, because of expected
That doesn't mean owners should avoid anyone in their
30s, of course. But take a player like Oakland's Tim
Brown for example. In a single-season league, Brown
still has legitimate value as an owner's fourth or
fifth WR. In a league that carries 21 players on the
roster, Brown might be a 12th round pick. In a keeper
league, Brown would likely be selected much later,
if at all. Nearly 40 and now the third receiver on
his team, Brown's value in a keeper league is much
more limited... perhaps as a backup for the owner fortunate
enough to secure Jerry Porter in an earlier round.
Even Brown's teammate, Jerry Rice, takes a hit on
value in a keeper league. Yes, Rice is still a good
option in a keeper league because he remains the No.
1 WR on a team that throws effectively. But his owner
would be wise to supplant his receiver depth chart
with younger emerging players, so that when Rice does
finally run out of gas (age 50?), the gun will remain
loaded. That consideration simply doesn't exist in
a single-season format.
This is where the two formats differ the most. In a
single-season league, you can't afford to seriously
consider anybody who isn't virtually guaranteed a
starting job this season. You typically don't have
the roster space for such luxuries.
In a keeper league, you want at least a handful of
guys just like that. Generally rookies or young veterans
awaiting their opportunity, a keeper league owner is
wise to acquire just about anyone with talent. Because
if the stud-to-be doesn't get his chance this year,
it might come next year or even the year after that.
Most rookies, except the very cream of the NFL draft,
fall into this category. In a single-season league,
Tennessee RB Chris Brown has limited value, because
incumbent Eddie George is likely to keep that job for
at least one more season. Brown's worth a late-round
gamble for the owner of George, in case George gets
hurt, but that's probably it.
In a keeper league, Brown should go much earlier.
George's time at Tennessee appears to be nearing an
end, and Brown is the odds-on favorite at this early
juncture to succeed him. A patient keeper league owner
might be rewarded for his 15th round pick with a budding
star back... in 2004 or 2005.
This is obviously a consideration in any league, but
arguably even moreso in keeper leagues because owners
have the luxury of time to prove themselves correct.
If you draft Dallas' QB Chad Hutchinson, for example,
believing that he will eventually become productive
with Bill Parcells as the new Cowboys head coach,
you can afford to be patient and see if that comes
In a single-season league, you need to focus almost
exclusively on the preseason to determine which way
Parcells is leaning, and make your assessment accordingly.
You might believe Hutchinson has all the tools to be
a star (I don't, actually), but if you don't believe
it can happen this season, you can't take him even
if you're confident Parcells is the right coach for
him. Hutchinson could throw for 30 TDs in 2004, and
that doesn't help you even one micro-bit this season.
You're less concerned with what other owners are doing
In a single-season league, you have to be ultra-aware
on Draft Day to what your league rivals are up to.
If, for instance, there's a big run on kickers in
the eighth round, you'll probably find yourself taking
a kicker then as well to assure you get one who can
In a keeper league, the urgency isn't as dramatic.
Sure, you might miss out on a good kicker at the time.
But you could land another valuable youngster and take
your kicker late. You give up some kicking points now,
but gain QB or RB or WR points later on with a savvy
selection. In single-season leagues, it's harder to
pull that strategy off. Not impossible, mind you...
just more difficult.
Bottom line, keeper leagues require more of true NFL
GM-thinking... short-term and long-term. That's why
it's so much fun.