Everything comes in degrees. When you’re young, eating at McDonald’s qualifies as “going out to dinner” (my seven-year old will tell you so.) But then you get a little older and your tastes begin to change. Maybe you slowly evolve, first to “fancier” places like Chili’s, then later to steak joints like Gibsons. Maybe you skip stops on that food journey, who knows.
In many ways, the Dynasty leagues we all love (the leagues we celebrate every day here at DLF) are like that steak dinner – refined, full of nuance and a real treat when you get a good one. And just like that food progression, you don’t generally start with a dynasty league. You start at McDonald’s with a re-draft, maybe you graduate to a Chili’s equivalent in a keeper league, before you finally end up at the dynasty steakhouse. And boy is it great when you get there. But you know what? You can’t eat steak for every meal. And a good, deep keeper league may be the best complement to true dynasty. If you’re looking for another league type as a companion to your ultra-serious dynasty league, a keeper league might be just the ticket. Here are a few reasons why.
Strategy in Choosing Keepers
This is a whole new element of strategy somewhat unique to keeper leagues – the keepers themselves. Sure, you make roster decisions in dynasty, but how stressful is it really to choose whether to cut Tyrod Taylor or Jacob Tamme? Will your end-of-bench decision really save or sink your season? Probably not.
Decisions on which five guys total to keep, now that can be a pivotal choice. What if you have to choose between Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins? Two great talents, two – ahem – “middling” quarterbacks (and yes, I’m being generous – though I love me some Tyrod Taylor), who do you take? What about a running back choice between LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray – which sliding-in-the-ranks running back do you take?
The great thing about these keeper decisions is they have waterfall effects. They aren’t always just about “who are the best X guys on my team?” These questions can also be about team composition. Is it better to use four of five keeper spots on wide receiver, or should you spread the wealth to different positions? Do you use one of those same five keeper spots on a quarterback like Russell Wilson in a 12-team league? There are tough decisions you have to make with keepers that are weightier than decisions in dynasty on which tight end four you should keep.
The Keeper League Hybrid Draft
[inlinead]The unique intricacies of a good keeper league shine brightly in the hybrid draft. Everyone loves to draft. We spend a good part of the off-season participating in mock drafts, reading about mock drafts and trying different strategies in mock drafts. You might say mock drafting separates the casual fantasy player from the dedicated. And though the typical dynasty rookie draft has its charms, it doesn’t quite scratch that true drafting itch we got from our early days in Plain Jane re-draft leagues.
Keeper leagues, on the other hand, scratch that full-blown-massive-mosquito-bite itch of a real draft. And depending on the individual keeper league rules, each draft can play out very differently. The number of players kept is a factor. Leagues with fewer keepers will push the rookie class back further into the draft. Leagues with eight or more keepers per team can make the first round look like a dynasty draft. Add to that the rule variations many leagues add around keepers, assigning a “cost” to each player you keep. Sometimes dependent on the round they were drafted, other times dependent on how many consecutive years they have been kept. Each keeper draft is unique.
And then we get to the throw-backs, those valuable vets who get dumped back into the draft pool for one reason or another. One of the most exciting times for a keeper league is when cut-downs are complete and you can witness the smorgasbord of talent available in the upcoming draft. Players like Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson and Alfred Morris often fall below the cut line for someone. There were keeper league drafts where Demariyus Thomas was thrown back after his rookie year. It can be very exciting to see what unexpected names become available.
All of these possible draft types and the nuances of available players can make it very challenging to prepare for a draft in a keeper league. In fact, many of the drafting resources available aren’t all that useful. Re-draft rankings have some utility, but they are a different animal. Redraft leagues are always based on a win-now mentality, and that isn’t always the case in keeper leagues. Dynasty startup rankings often have the opposite problem; they give a little too much weight to younger players and can be far too focused on winning 2-3 years from now.
In some ways, you have to rely on your own rankings and wits to effectively draft in a keeper league, which presents a unique and potentially satisfying challenge.
While trading is undoubtedly important in every fantasy football league type, it again has some unique aspects in a keeper league. For one, since nobody can keep all their great players forever, they tend to be slightly looser trading top assets. There are also many more draft picks to be had, and managing to snag additional early picks in a keeper can really set you up for the following year. So, what are some elements of keeper trades?
As in most leagues, your trading strategy is highly dependent on whether or not your team is in contention. If you are in contention, you know the drill. Use what tradable assets you have to shore up any team weaknesses. We don’t need to get into the specifics of this, as in any league the trading strategy for contenders is the same – find a way to win.
If you are not in contention, different decisions have to be made. In a keeper league, you do need to look towards the future much like in a true dynasty. If you can pick up extra picks in the following year’s draft that can be quite valuable – this is a useful strategy if your season failed due to bad luck or some bad lineup decisions.
But one thing to watch out for at this point is if your keepers are a group of good, but not great players. You can easily be fooled that your core is strong based on a lack of perceived weaknesses. But success in keeper leagues is about consolidating strength in your keepers, not about eliminating weaknesses. It can be preferable to have two studs and three schlubs over five middle-of-the-road types. Teams featuring Torrey Smith as their top wide receiver don’t often pan out. Be honest when evaluating your keepers and try to find ways to upgrade them if necessary. Perhaps there are teams with too many studs to keep. Maybe you can find one team ready to completely rebuild and willing to give up their one true stud to start that process.
Your goal should be to consolidate your keeper strength and pick up draft capital for next year.
We all love dynasty leagues, that’s why we’re here. And while redraft leagues can provide a reasonably fantasy diversion, I find them too easy to dismiss. Keeper leagues, on the other hand, let me flex both my dynasty muscles and keep my redraft sensibilities sharp. The hybrid draft of a keeper league can be very exciting and the trade market is often much more robust than a typical dynasty league. Keeper leagues thankfully also feature a bit of an off-season – perhaps not as active as a good dynasty, but it can be close. So keep eating that dynasty steak whenever you can, but if you feel the need for a good fajita instead, think about joining a keeper league or even transforming your re-draft league for a different fantasy flair.
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