Saturday - Oct 24, 2020

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KEEPING AHEAD: Keeper League Prospecting in 2020

Well, well, well….fancy meeting you here.

As some of you may be aware, I used to roam these waters frequently a few years back, both with a weekly column here on the mothership and with a daily fantasy podcast published on our very own Fantasy Sharks radio. Then, like a missing Hemsworth brother, I simply disappeared. Vanished.

What happened, you may ask?

Well, to put it bluntly, a lot. I won’t bore you with the details (get to the fantasy stuff, MJ) but suffice it to say, I am back and better than ever.

Oh, and guess what else? I got married! Already have the wedding ring tanline to prove it. And fellas, she’s already giving me fantasy football advice. I think I did well.

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For those of you who are either new to the incredible Fantasy Sharks website, or to my previous columns of Keeping Ahead, let me do a bit of explaining. My job, and the focus of this article each week is to dig through film, game tape, and team reports to uncover the best and brightest keeper prospects for your fantasy team.

Wait a minute, what’s a keeper prospect? Don’t worry, I will explain.

Since my primary league, a 16-team, PPR, Auction Draft (more on drafting in a second) league entitled the Road to January (RtJ), switched from the more conventional redraft format to keeper format, I have been searching for good keeper fantasy insights and strategy, only to come up empty handed more often than not. This is not always a huge deal, as, in many ways, despite the shift, our league operates in the same way it always had; start with an exhausting draft, trade incessantly, talk copious amounts of trash, and leave either with a victory or wounded pride. But the addition of a keeper league fundamentally changed many of our weekly actions. Instead of looking for weekly, or even yearly performances, we began analyzing players for their potential impact in the coming years as well.

Yes, yes, that sounds a heck of a lot like a dynasty team right?

Most of the fantasy community would agree with your sentiment. Go ahead and do a (insert search engine of choice here) search for “keeper league strategy” and see what pops up. Other than my articles series from several years ago, most of what pops up are articles like “How to win your dynasty league” which, while having great information, doesn’t really cover the topic, unless the words are now synonymous (hint – they aren’t).

So what’s the big deal?

Simply put, a keeper league shares many similarities with dynasty with one glaring exception: instead of holding a player indefinitely, you have them for a much shorter period of time. In the case of RtJ, we can hold a player drafted outside the first two rounds of a draft for a max three years before they are thrown back into the pool. This means you need to do three things when analyzing your roster:

  • Look for talent that can help you win this year;
  • Scour your draft and waiver wire to identify potential year two/three breakout players not long-term projects; while also,
  • Maximize your trades by adding assets that other owners may undervalue.

Clearly, we all still want to win this year and every year. But the more you can do it with players who are on the verge of breaking out, and thus were selected at the back end of your draft or undrafted altogether, the more potent your roster can be the following year. If this means flipping a solid, consistent performer on the down-slope of his career (i.e. Odell Beckham, Jr.) for one on the rise (i.e. A.J. Brown) most of the time you run, not walk, to accept that deal.

So the purpose of this column each week is going to be to help you identify a few players whose performances on Thursday-Sunday warrant either targeting or ignoring in your keeper league. I will label these as Hits, Holds, or Folds, with Hits being immediate contributors, holds being players to keep an eye on, and Folds players that you can jettison at the nearest bus station. I will then conclude each week with a stock watch of fifteen players that I am focusing on all season long and adjusting their rankings accordingly due to their performances the previous week. These are players that had Average Draft Positions of 100 (or much lower) to either grab from your waiver wire or include in a trade with other owners.

Ready? Let’s go.

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Hits

Dariu…..

RECORD SCRATCH – MJ WEREN’T YOU GOING TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT DRAFTS???

Crap, that’s right. Ok, quick dive for those of you who have not yet had their fantasy draft this year.

This year is going to be weird, without a doubt. From the lack of fans, to concerns over COVID-19 testing and false positives, we are bound to have a TON of issues all season long when it comes to roster management and free agent acquisitions. Obviously many of these will be addressed throughout the year in this column, as they directly impact keeper pickups, holds, etc. but currently, the big question that seems to be on every fantasy player’s mind that I know is: “how do I adjust my draft strategy to accommodate for the coming year?”

MJ Free Tip #1: GO WIDE. In previous years, especially in an auction draft, the goal is simply to get the best players, at whatever cost, be it by capitalizing on your snake draft position or spending a large chunk of your auction money. This lands you the biggest studs at every position and, often, you can coast with that initial setup straight into the playoffs. But COVID stands to put a very large, vaccine-proof, wrench into that idea. Yes, you can spend $100 on Christian McCaffrey, but you will almost certainly leave yourself short on funds at the position should disaster strike at some point in the year. In previous years this often comes in the form of an injury, which can be mitigated by owning their handcuff (what’s up, Reggie Bonnafon), but COVID could shut down an entire position not just the player you drafted.

All this is to say, it will behoove drafters this year to go as wide as possible in your drafts. Instead of a single WR1, consider splitting that money between two WR2’s instead. While you may be far less excited to have a combo of Adam Thielen and Robert Woods than one Julio Jones, it may prove to be a league-winning strategy as the season progresses.

MJ Free Tip #2: AVOID TEAMMATES. This idea comes courtesy of my lovely wife (I told you all she knew fantasy) and it could prove to be a unique way to looking at your big draft board and targets. One of the biggest concerns with a COVID covered year is the possibility that not just players are shut down, but entire teams as well. We need to look no further than the shortened MLB season where multiple teams (Marlins, Phillies) have had to sit out a week’s worth of games due to an outbreak of positive tests. This obviously not only wreaks havoc on your roster, but could also dramatically change how the season plays out as the non-infected teams will lose games as well if they were scheduled to play.

So, the idea, as stated by my wife, is to “not double up on players from the same team, or divisions, when possible.” In other words, while it may make sense from a fantasy point of view to have both the QB and WR combo from the same team, you have now doubled your chances that a cancelled game could decimate your week, leaving you scrambling at two positions. This theory applies beyond just teammates too, as division opponents play each other twice throughout the year, giving more opportunity for one of those games to be cancelled and leave you without key players in an important, must-win week. Does this mean that you take a far worse player in your draft just to avoid having a teammate? Not necessarily – no one is telling you to take Dwayne Haskins over Matt Ryan just because you own Calvin Ridley, but it does mean it is something you should consider when weighing between two very close options. Call it the MJ wedding tiebreaker, if you will.

MJ Free Tip #3: TRY TO STAY CALM. This applies to all drafting, but especially those of us in an Auction league. As you see money get spent, there is an inevitable panic that sets in…what if I end up with no one? Why did I spend so much on [insert name of person you spent too much on]?? Who the heck is that name???

Breathe. The draft is literally one part of long, complicated, and intense season. The mistake you make this weekend will not be the last mistake you make this year. Promise.

About MJ Brown

MJ Brown has been an avid fantasy football keeper league enthusiast and player for over a decade. A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, MJ delivers weekly content on multiple platforms, bringing a combination of advice, humor, and tips to keep your team at the top of your league.