Keeper leagues inhabit a unique space hovering somewhere between a dynasty and redraft league, and the number of keepers and the rules surrounding them dictate if your particular league plays more like a dynasty or a redraft. Regardless of where your league “sits” in this nether region, you can neither play it exactly like a pure redraft nor like a pure dynasty league. In Part One of this short series, I focused on evaluating your team, choosing keepers and making trades. In Part Two, we’ll look at the hallmark of a good keeper league: The Draft.
The Keeper Draft
So what makes the keeper draft so different?
The keeper draft is a hybrid. First, you have to deal with a draft with both a host of veterans and those beloved-by-dynasty rookies. Ezekiel Elliot has been the no brainer #1 rookie ever since the NFL draft landed him in Dallas, but what if someone like Donte Moncrief is on the board? Is Zeke still your absolute pick in that situation? I don’t know if he is for me.
There is no ready-made draft board for YOUR keeper league. You can’t waltz into a keeper league draft with nothing but the latest fantasy mag from your local Walgreens. Nor can you sidle up with just your handy dandy DLF dynasty positional ranking printouts. Both of those things can be a great help, but neither is a silver bullet for your league.
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The number of keepers has a significant impact. The difference in talent available in the draft for a four keeper league vs an eight keeper league is massive. The number of keepers also likely has a significant impact on the status of each position. The fewer keepers in a league, the fewer tight ends are kept, for instance.
The keeper draft is unique to each team. Nothing alters the complexion of a draft in a fantasy league of any type like the existence of kept players in keeper leagues. Many teams go into the keeper draft without a Tight End, or perhaps Quarterback or some other position. Consider that Elliot situation again. Imagine you used 2 of 5 keeper spots on running back and you have no tight end. Elliot is still on the board – but so is Jordan Reed. What do you do?
Attacking the Keeper Draft
I believe there are three keys to follow in order to succeed in your keeper draft: preparation, flexibility and courage.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no handy rankings list that will work for your particular keeper league. The players available are different, even among very similar leagues. This is where a draft board comes in handy. I’m ordinarily not an advocate of the creation of your own draft boards, but for keeper leagues, building at least a simple board is crucial.
As far as building that board, don’t feel like you have to rank every single player. Just make sure that you know what you’re doing early on the draft when all the rookies and top vets are on the board. To keep it simple, just put together a quick list by position of your favorite vets mixed with rookies. Here’s an example of a list I used last year in a league:
Yes, this league does have kickers and defenses still, and as an added wrinkle we start an offensive line! Anyhow, you’ll see that this is far from exhaustive. It’s a simple tool designed to make sure I don’t forget that Tom Brady is available, for instance (who I scooped up in the sixth round, and carried me to the ‘ship.) Spend just a little time on this pre-draft and it can make a big difference.
One note here about rookies. The fewer keepers you have, the lower you should rank rookies. In a keeper league with limited spots, you can’t afford to sit on guys like you do in dynasty. Kevin White situations are not compatible with a successful keeper team with a limited number of keepers. This isn’t to say you totally devalue rookies, but favor veterans heavier the fewer keeper spots you are afforded.
I’d also recommend you come with one or two back pocket players. Guys that are buried on rosters, somewhat out there, and most people don’t know too much about. Having a couple names like that can turn into late draft gold. I don’t mean you have to go too deep, but look at a few rosters and evaluate some of the guys in backup or bench roles. Are there any you see there that could emerge should the cards fall the right way?
So you’ve got your mini draft board, perhaps a mag or the DLF positional rankings, and your Diet Mountain Dew Code Red – what next? Now is the time to remember flexibility. Even with perfect preparation, your best laid draft plans can and will go awry. Maybe this is the year your league goes rookie crazy, drafting all the good rookie wide-outs before you blink. Perhaps an early quarterback run kicks off in the third, leading to a bit of panic. Whatever the situation may be, you can’t afford to go into any draft with a single strategy that you stick to no matter the circumstance. A good draft is like a living, breathing thing. It shifts and changes depending on the moods and decisions of the participants. Be ready to go with the flow and change things up if need be. Is there a quarterback run earlier than you thought? Don’t let it throw you off. Maybe you need to draft the guy you want earlier than you had hoped, or maybe you have to come up with a new target.
Be sure you’re flexible not just with individual players or how you deal with runs, but also be flexible with your general strategy. If 90% of the league is busy targeting young wide receivers, that may not be where the best value is (and this, in particular, is what I’m seeing again and again lately.) Targeting young wide-outs fails to be a strategy once everyone is doing it.
If you really want to win your draft, sometimes you have to take some chances. Drafts are rarely won by going chalk all the way through. Drafts are won when you pick just the right player at just the right time. Have the courage to make the right decision for your team.
Time and again you’ll hear groans through the course of the draft. Most of the time this means a guy they were hoping would fall just got drafted. Have the courage to draft the guy you want even if it is a “little early” by most rankings. Don’t waste your great preparation and stellar flexibility by being afraid to pull the trigger.
And if there is a quarterback run, and you really, really want to draft Ryan Tannehill before he’s gone, do it. Have courage in your convictions. (Or, conversely, have the courage to let Tanny go!)
Remember in the preparation section where we talked about having some “back pocket” players to draft? Have the courage to draft them! At a certain point every draft turns into a dart throwing competition. In later rounds it can devolve into a total crapshoot, so take your guys. Nobody else has to run your team, you do.
I really love my keeper drafts. While I look forward to ALL my fantasy drafts, nothing beats a good keeper draft. The quaint mix of veterans and rookies inherent to it makes for a very interesting experience, and it plays out differently in every league. Redraft and Dynasty rookie drafts both tend to have quite a bit of stagnation at the top, but such is not the case with keeper leagues. Because they are so different, they do require slightly different preparation and thinking. Keep your three keys in mind: preparation, flexibility and courage, and have a great draft and season. One last thing to remember: the chances of a perfect draft are slim and none, and slim left town. I recently participated in the DLF Live Draft in Chicago with 12 other DLF writers. This was perhaps the most experienced collection of fantasy football owners I’ve ever drafted with, and you know what? Mistakes were made. Not just one here or there, but I’m sure every owner has a pick (or more) they wish they could do over. If this game were easy, nobody would play it. Have fun, but have the courage to fail.
If this wasn’t enough draft strategy for you, read one of my earlier articles on DLF here that focuses on more general drafting strategies.
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