While the keeper league off-season is a similar to standard dynasty leagues, there are key differences. When you only have a handful of players you can hold onto each year, those decisions are critical. As in the past, this article will have three sets of recommendations dependent on how many players you keep each year. One for leagues that keep three to four, one for leagues that keep five to six, and one for leagues that keep seven to eight players. Anything beyond that, and you’re basically in a dynasty league and should treat it as such. I should also add that these recommendations are based on a fairly standard full-point PPR league with a single quarterback.
This also might be a good time to read my article about team evaluation – it helps to know where you stand before making your off-season moves.
Before we get to the picks, let’s take a quick, honest look at how we did with last year’s picks. As is always the case, we had some big hits a set of middling picks, and some big misses. I feel pretty good at recommending JuJu Smith-Schuster and Zach Ertz in the three-four keeper range, but made a bad call suggesting Jay Ajayi was worth a keeper spot. (If it’s any consolation, I kept him in one of my own keeper leagues!) For my five-six keeper picks, I didn’t have any huge wins, but I felt ok about David Njoku, Sterling Shepard and Deshaun Watson. Hunter Henry didn’t pan out, but injuries happen! I’m honestly happy with almost every pick I made for seven-eight keeper leagues – Marlon Mack, Cooper Kupp, Aaron Jones, Chris Godwin and Robby Anderson. Sure, I fell on my face with Nelson Agholor, and injuries hurt other guys, but most players on that list I might look to keep again.
Overall, I’m fairly happy with the picks I made last year, but enough of the past – on to the picks!
Three-Four Keeper League Targets
Patrick Mahomes, QB KC
In most cases, I would not recommend using a keeper spot on a quarterback when you only keep three-four players in a single-QB format. But Mahomes isn’t your average QB. Mahomes went wire to wire with spectacular production and he’s the current QB1 in our rankings. I want to own him everywhere, and I would absolutely use a keeper spot on him in this situation. I also know he may be untouchable, but I feel there is at least a reasonable chance his current owner would rather use his keeper spots on running backs and wide receivers. Or, perhaps he worries Mahomes will be Deshaun Watson part tw0. Take advantage of that, and get your QB for the next ten years.
George Kittle, TE SF
Similarly, I’m also going off brand a little with my second pick here in Kittle. I do favor running backs and wide receivers for these spots when you keep so few, but Kittle can set you up at tight end (the hardest position to be set up at) for the next ten years, too. I’d be more than happy to have a team keeping both Mahomes and Kittle in a four-keeper format. Kittle compares favorably to O.J. Howard from a metrics perspective, the only area Howard clearly beats Kittle is height. And Kittle fought through a down season for the 49ers and flourished as the primary offensive target when injuries decimated the 49er wide receivers. Kittle is only getting started, and I have been a fan for quite a while. With only three or four keepers you want studs, and Kittle is certainly a stud at his position.
Aaron Jones, RB GBP
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One of my favorite ideas in fantasy circles is from the great Sigmund Bloom. He likes to talk about the “assumption of rational coaching.” We often fail by assuming coaches always make good decisions in terms of play time, play calling and workload. Jones is a prime example of how that assumption can fail us. One of these years, the fantasy dreams of Aaron Jones will be fully realized. It just wasn’t this year. Again. We did get closer this time, as former coach Mike McCarthy eventually relented. It’s clear from watching the film that Jones is the better, more dynamic running back in the Green Bay backfield. Here’s to hoping that the future regime recognizes this fact.
Corey Davis, WR TEN
I have to be honest; in many cases, the players I target in this article have been disappointments. A lot of time to find the best value in a keeper league, you have to take a chance on a player who doesn’t have the best track record. Davis was highly drafted and highly regarded in the fantasy community, but he has yet to really put it all together. But he showed quite a bit of improvement this past season, and I think the arrow is pointing up. I also still believe that offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will turn the Titans into a better offensive team, it just might take a little more time to get there. I also have real questions about Marcus Mariota at this point, but I do love the talent and upside of Davis.
D.J. Moore, WR CAR
My second favorite rookie wide receiver, Moore had both ups and downs in his first season, as we should expect. I think we still suffer a bit from the 2014 class that came out of the gate on fire, and that has set our expectations a little too high with some rookie wideouts. Moore has playmaking ability similar to another former Maryland Terrapin, Stefon Diggs. We saw some of that ability as the season wore on, but the Panthers fell apart a bit at the seams in the home stretch, and Cam Newton’s shoulder issues followed by a couple of untested quarterbacks didn’t help Moore finish strong. I think there are also real questions about the future of the Panthers’ offense, but from a pure ability standpoint, I really like Moore’s future potential.
Calvin Ridley, WR ATL
I’ll finish this with my favorite wide receiver from the 2018 class, Calvin Ridley. Ridley doesn’t have the elite size or speed that we typically like to see in wide receivers. But what he has shown is a gamer mentality that leads to production. Ridley is a great route runner, and he came into the league ready to play from day one. We often salivate over raw talent and overlook polished players like Ridley who lack those “elite” traits. Here’s the problem though: elite traits don’t always lead to elite production. I really like his future in Atlanta, even though the offense has struggled at times under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. His firing stands to benefit Ridley.
Five-Six Keeper League Targets
Christian Kirk, WR ARI
When you’re keeping five or six players, studs are harder to come by. In that case, get your studs in place and then look to high upside players who could be studs in the future. Christian Kirk is a great example of that in this range. The Cardinals showed that they really like Kirk both in his draft capital as well as in his playing time his rookie season. The Texas A&M product had an up-and-down rookie season, but he did manage to score double-digit points in half of his games. He ended the season on IR, but he’s certainly a prominent part of future plans in the desert.
Anthony Miller, WR CHI
Enter dynamic rookie wideout number two in this section. The Bears traded back into the second round in last year’s draft for the Memphis wide receiver. Miller is a combination of good (but not great) speed and size, better than average quickness and an attitude. He made some great plays this season, but also made his share of bone-headed moves. Some expected more out of Miller in 2018, but that’s why he might make a good target. He’s certainly in the Bears’ future, and their offense is likely to get even better over time. Miller pulled a disappearing act a few times over the course of his rookie season, but hopefully, consistency will come with time.
Tarik Cohen, RB CHI
Next up is another piece of that ascendant Bears’ offense, the ‘Human Joystick’, Tarik Cohen. Cohen makes a highlight reel-worthy “wow” play every other week. He can run the ball to success, he can catch the ball with the best backs in the business, and he regularly makes defenders’ heads spin. The problem with Cohen, of course, is that you don’t really know which games he will produce for you. He’s somewhat like the DeSean Jackson of running backs: a true boom or bust play. But he managed two weeks of 30+ points and two more of 20+ points. I’ll take that in my flex spot any day.
Rashaad Penny, RB SEA
There is more speculation in this pick than in others. Sure, the Seahawks used a first rounder on Penny, which often guarantees playing time for most NFL teams. But the Seahawks and Pete Carroll are not like most NFL teams. I don’t know if Carroll cares about draft capital at all. Just look at the backs who have and are dominating touches for his team, Carroll seems to love a good undrafted running back. It doesn’t help his situation that he also missed quite a bit of time to injury. However, Penny is a talented back with a first-round pedigree, and I have to imagine Seattle plans to use him in the future. Penny could be a future fantasy hero – but he could just as easily be a fantasy zero.
Mike Williams, WR LAC
Mike Williams is another entry in the “Sometimes Young Wide Receivers Need Time” treatise. Pre-2014, we almost always talked about the third year breakout for wideouts, but then that Odell Beckham, Mike Evans class happened, and our expectations rose accordingly. Labeled a bust by many after a disappointing rookie season, the former first-round pick has flashed at times in 2018. And he’s flashed by doing exactly what he was drafted to do. He’s great at high-pointing the ball and using his size to win contested catches. He has a great quarterback in Phillip Rivers and a strong offense as well. 2019 will also be his third season. Stash him while you can.
O.J. Howard, TE TBB
I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Howard. I wrote a rookie profile on him in April of 2017 and left if feeling that perhaps he was a bit overrated. His measurables are absolutely off the chart, and he made huge plays at Alabama, but I felt a lot of his best plays came by way of scheme and/or busted coverage. All that being said, Howard hasn’t played since week 11, and he’s still the 14th scoring tight end. The position is an absolute mess, and Howard was a shining light within for much of the season. Perhaps his injury helps you hide him away on your keeper squad.
Seven-Eight Keeper League Targets
Marlon Mack, RB IND
The deeper we go, the more the risk rises. So it is with Marlon Mack. He’s currently the RB23 on the season, but that’s with a few lost weeks early. Since week six, he’s the RB14 in PPR. There were doubts about how the Colts felt about Mack, but they did not draft any early running backs to challenge him. He’s also consistently received a good portion of the touches in a strong Andrew Luck-led offense. Could the Colts draft a running back to replace him? Sure. Could they hand the keys to another back on the roster? Maybe, but if they were going to do that I think they would have already. Mack isn’t a sexy back, but he’s been productive.
Matt Breida, RB SF
I could very easily put another San Francisco running back here in Jerick McKinnon. And I also know what you’re thinking: “But they gave McKinnon a huge contract!” Yes, yes they did. But what do we know about Kyle Shanahan when it comes to running backs? He can always make room for two of them. There were many who doubted that McKinnon could be a true lead back, and with the emergence of Breida, he won’t have to be. Two-punch combinations at the position are the way of the league nowadays, and Breida can be the Devonta Freeman to McKinnon’s Tevin Coleman. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Who cares? The point is that both can be valuable in my opinion.
Hunter Henry, TE LAC
In case you didn’t know already, I’m a tight end guy. It’s a position I like to focus on and try to find the gems each year. I always try to snap up tight end prospect profiles, and I wrote the profile for Henry back in 2016. Hunter Henry jumped out at me when I watched the film. He was a good blocker, a good route runner, and had fantastic hands. And that all translated to the NFL. He was finally set to get his shot as the top TE for the Chargers, but he was felled by injury. I still see him as a top-ten tight end next year, so get him while the gettin’s good.
Tyler Lockett, WR SEA
Confession time. Raise your hand if you were on the Tyler Lockett hype train two years ago. Yep, I sure was. Guilty as charged. I bought the narratives about his impending breakout hook, line and sinker. It all made sense to me. But then football happened, and the expected breakout never showed up. Fast forward to this season, though, and Lockett is looking very good. He’s still not the WR1 we always hoped for, but just under 900 yards and nine TDs is nothing to sneeze at, and it also helps that the price is probably right.
Chris Carson, RB SEA
Enter the Rodney Dangerfield of starting NFL running backs. I realize I recommended Penny earlier, but part of me still sees a lot of hidden value in Chris Carson. There’s nothing fun about owning Carson, other than the fact that Pete Carroll just loves to feed him the ball again and again and again. I also would bet that you didn’t realize that Carson was the RB7 from week 11-16. That’s the kind of cheap running back production that wins fantasy championships.
Baker Mayfield, QB CLE
Let’s close things out with Cleveland’s quarterback dynamo, Baker Mayfield. He’s like 2018’s version of the punky QB, Jim McMahon, only Mayfield probably has more talent. People love to hate Baker, but many also love the guy. From a fantasy perspective, he had an awfully good rookie year. If you look at his production from week three, when he first landed the starting job, he was the QB14 on the year, as he was good for 3,300 yards passing and 24 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. In his first year, where he took over a team that looked very, very rough. Good times are ahead for Mr. Mayfield. Get on the train while you can.