Fantasy leagues have massively evolved since they were first invented more than 50 years ago. We’ve gone from standard, TD-only leagues to leagues that incorporate some variation of point per reception (PPR), individual defensive players (IDP), points accumulated for yards gained, points deducted for turnovers, and dynasty and keeper leagues in which a certain number of players from your roster carry over year after year.
At this point in the fantasy offseason, questions begin to bubble up from owners about who the best keeper options for their team might be. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer to most keeper questions. There are various reasons for this, but I’m going to try and outline some of them here and give you the knowledge to make the best decision on who to keep for your team.
Know Your ADPs
Numerous sources provide ADP information for various league sizes and types. You can probably find an ADP calculator for a league that is very closely related to your league. While that information is important, no service can tell you what the ADP is for every player in YOUR league. You can find good ADP resources at Fantasy Football Calculator and Fantasy Pros.
The best resource for ADP for your league comes from the history of your league. If you’re in a league that has been around for several years, look up the drafts for the last few years. Note the draft slots for each position. Does your league generally take RBs with the first five picks? If so, then you know the ADP for RBs 1-5. Does the first QB come off the board in the fifth round, on average? There’s the ADP for QB1.
Now that you have the ADP for each position, simply swap in the names of players. For example, if WR1 generally goes at pick 1.06 in your league, then you can expect DeAndre Hopkins to have an ADP of 1.06. If the first TE drafted is at pick 3.04 on average, Travis Kelce carries an ADP of 3.04.
With this information, you have a truer ADP of players for your specific league and gives you a better understanding of whether or not keeping a player represents value.
If you can keep the player at a point in your draft later than his ADP suggests he will be drafted, that’s the first hurdle to clear to be considered a viable keeper.
Know Your League Rules
Every league has a set of rules, sometimes called a constitution, that lays out how certain aspects of the league are to be handled. Specific to this article, your league will have details on how keepers are handled from year to year. There are too many options to cover them all in this section, but I’ll highlight the most common ones.
First, some leagues consider kept players as the first picks for each team. For instance, if your league allows an owner to keep two players for the following year, those players will slot into the first-round and second-round picks for the owner in place of selecting a player.
Another popular option is a scenario in which a kept player carries a cost of the round they were drafted in with no penalty. In other words, if you elect to keep a player who was drafted in the fourth round last season, you can keep that player in place of your fourth-round selection in this season’s draft.
Similar to the last option, some leagues consider kept players to carry a value of a certain number of rounds earlier than the round they were drafted in. For example, a league has a two-round cost to keep a player. Using the same scenario as above, if you elect to keep a player drafted in the fourth round last season, that player can be kept in place of the owner’s second-round pick.
Another potential rule to consider is whether or not the league places limits on the number of years a player can be kept consecutively, either through a hard and fast rule (e.g. A player can only be kept for three consecutive seasons) or a penalty that will eventually make a player unkeepable (e.g. A two-round penalty each year will make any player drafted in the first two rounds unavailable to be kept because the cost cannot be paid).
Finally, some leagues impose limits on which rounds potential keepers can come from. A league might decide that all players drafted in the first four rounds are ineligible to be kept to keep as many top-tier players available during the annual draft as possible.
Any combination of the rules listed above, and certainly some I haven’t covered, can be implemented by your league. As a result, be sure you know what limitations, your league imposes on potential keepers.
If the player(s) you’ve identified in the first section comply with the rules your league has set forth concerning keepers, then the second hurdle has been cleared.
Know Your Other League Rules
In combination with the above, it is imperative you know the other aspects of your league rules that can impact who you decide to keep. These include your league’s specific scoring, lineup, and roster requirements.
Let’s look first at how your league’s scoring rules affect who you elect to keep. In a league in which full PPR is a scoring aspect, pass-catching RBs and WRs benefit more. If your league is staunchly against any form of PPR, RBs who get early-down and short-yardage work are more attractive. Maybe your league can be considered progressive and gives TEs 1.5 PPR. If so, a late-round TE becomes a viable option.
Your league’s lineup requirements also play a big part in helping you determine who is a viable option to be kept. If your league has starting lineups that differ considerably from what most consider “standard” (QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, TE, RB/WR/TE), those differences can highlight a potential keeper. Maybe your league is a two-QB or a SuperFlex league (SuperFlex indicates a QB can be started in a FLEX position). In that case, a QB becomes a feasible keeper.
Aside from who starts weekly, the remainder of the roster also has to be a consideration when deciding on who to keep. Some leagues have roster restrictions, such as a maximum number of a position, which impacts who you should keep. Other leagues have short benches, making a non-starter a player that has to be ultra-valuable to take up a precious bench slot. In these cases, it’s difficult to recommend a player be kept unless the value is too good to pass up (more on value later).
Know Your League’s Draft
This section can be broken up into two parts: Your draft spot and the tendencies of the other members of your league. Both of these factors can have a profound effect on which players should be considered as a keeper for your team.
First, if your league sets the draft order before keepers have to be declared, you can use that information to your advantage. Knowing where you will be picking in each round combined with the knowledge of the perceived needs of the teams between your picks will give you a more informed opinion on whether a potential keeper is worth a pick in that round or if that player will be available at a later pick. For example, if you are considering a keeper at RB in the fourth round and you know the owners between your picks in the fourth and fifth round are RB-needy, it would make sense to keep that player. On the other hand, if those opposing teams kept RBs, you might feel confident about that player dropping to your fifth-round pick.
Perhaps the most influential aspect of whether or not to keep a player comes in the form of how your league traditionally drafts. People are creatures of habit and tend to repeat behaviors, whether consciously or not. If your league tends to overvalue QBs and a run of them always starts in round five, you can use that information to determine if you want to keep that WR in round five or take the chance the QB run will happen again and he’ll be available in round six.
Know Your Keepers
While there are no hard and fast rules concerning keepers, the one thing I can say with near certainty is keeping a K or D/ST is not a good idea. This is simply because those two positions are so volatile year after year that it is difficult to say with any confidence who will finish where. Also, generally the separation from the #1 and #15 finisher at each position is so small, there is no added value to getting the top one and you can just as easily get starter-value by streaming those positions.
The next two positions that are much less desirable as keepers are QBs and TEs. While it is easier to rank players at those positions, typically the range of points from the #1 guy to the #15 is small enough that streaming these positions is also a viable strategy.
Listed below are the top 15 scores at QB from 2014 – 2018, the average of those figures, and the current ADP, courtesy of Fantasy Pros.
Despite Patrick Mahomes’ incredible 2018 skewing the average of the QB1 spot up by about 10 points, you can easily see how bunched together the QBs are. In a typical league in which only one QB is started, it would be difficult for me to keep a QB unless I was getting extreme value or there were no other viable options.
Now, here is the same data for TEs (PPR), courtesy of Fantasy Pros.
There is a clear tier consisting of TE1 and TE2, then another tier made up of TE3 through TE5. Beyond that, it’s pretty much everybody else. As such, unless I’m getting one of the top five TEs at least four rounds later than current ADP, I’m passing on a TE as a keeper option as well.
Now, keep in mind some leagues provide rules to give these two positions more value. These recommendations are for more traditional leagues with typical scoring and starting lineup requirements.
Moving on to the RB and WR positions, this is most likely where you’re going to find the most value. In most leagues, we can focus our attention on these two positions barring an extreme value situation at QB or TE.
Here are the total PPR points for the top 30 RBs and WRs from 2014 – 2018, the average of those points, and the ADP for each, courtesy of Fantasy Pros.
As you can see, in a typical 12-team league everybody has some combination of at least five RBs and WRs by the end of the sixth round. This is the primary reason why RBs and WRs are the most appealing positions to keep year after year. I’d consider any RB or WR if they can be kept later than their current ADP.
Know Your Strategy
The true test is when you have more potential keepers than the league allows. What happens if you have to choose between two of the following:
- Kerryon Johnson at pick 5.11
- Zach Ertz at pick 6.02
- Andrew Luck at pick 8.02
- Chris Godwin at pick 9.11
Let’s once again look to Fantasy Pros to see where each of those players is ranked.
- Johnson is RB19
- Ertz is TE3
- Luck is QB2
- Godwin is WR20
Using the tables from above, we can see where the ADP for each of those positions is.
- RB19 has an ADP of 4.03
- TE3 has an ADP of 3.05
- QB2 has an ADP of 4.09
- WR20 has an ADP of 5.01
Comparing the keeper cost and current ADP, we get the following differences:
- Johnson can be kept at 5.11 and his current ADP is 4.03. Difference = 21 slots
- Ertz can be kept at 6.02 and his current ADP is 3.05. Difference = 33 slots
- Luck can be kept at 8.02 and his current ADP is 4.09. Difference = 41 slots
- Godwin can be kept at 9.11 and his current ADP is 5.01. Difference = 58 slots
Now, what are we passing up at each of the picks if we elect to keep each player? Again, we can consult the tables to see who is going on average at each pick (potential keeper in italics).
- Pick 5.11 – Johnson, QB5 (293 points), RB27 (152 points), WR24 (198 points), or TE5 (193 points)
- Pick 6.02 – Ertz, QB5 (293 points), RB29 (147 points), WR25 (194 points), or TE6 (167 points)
- Pick 8.02 – Luck, QB10 (263 points) or TE9 (146 points)
- Pick 9.11 – Godwin, QB13 (248 points) or TE11 (139 points)
Combining the last two bulleted sections, the biggest value is Godwin. “Value” will refer to the difference between actual ADP and keeper draft position. Additionally, you can keep a starting WR as opposed to a non-starting QB or a fringe-starting TE at pick 9.11. You can’t even draft a top 30 WR or RB at that pick. That makes keeping Godwin a no-brainer.
Luck provides the next biggest value, but a closer look at what will be available where he needs to be kept, you can still secure a starting QB or TE. Plus, the QB position is one of the easiest positions to find starter-quality production via streaming. Let’s not rule him out just yet, but I don’t know if his value will be enough to warrant the cost.
Ertz is next on the value list, but his cost is way too high relative to who we would be passing up to keep him. If you waited until that pick to take a TE, you’d still likely get a top-six guy. You could also potentially be missing out on a FLEX starter. Ertz is too expensive, so he’s out.
Now, Johnson provides the least value among the potential keepers, but he fills a starting position that is much harder to replicate through the waiver wire. If you passed on keeping Johnson, this pick would provide a FLEX starter as opposed to a starting RB2. Because the QB position is easier to replace weekly, Johnson is a better option than Luck, so he becomes our other keeper.
You can apply the same process for each player you are considering keeping.
- Is the pick required to keep the player later than the player’s ADP?
- Is the potential keeper allowed under the league rules?
- What other players might be available at the pick required to keep a player?
- Is it possible to get similar value at a later pick instead of keeping a player?
Hopefully answering these questions makes your keeper decisions a little easier.
(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)
Hi Brian, this article is GOLD! I’m in a 3 player keeper, 12 teams where you give up a pick 2 rounds higher than where the player was drafted and players from the first 3 rounds can’t be kept. I’ve always struggled with how these 36 players essentially removed from the draft would effect tiers and rankings and where players should be drafted.This has provided me with some logic and rationale for how to prepare going into the draft. Great stuff and a pretty “Sweet” article!
Made sure I printed this so I will have a blueprint going forward. Thanks for this!
So glad you found this helpful, Paul. I’ve run a similar style keeper league for several years (four-round penalty) and it makes mid- to late-round drafting a very forward-looking project. If I or any of the other talented writers here can help, find us on Twitter or drop a comment on any of the articles! Best of luck this season!