For the uninitiated, keeper leagues let fantasy owners retain a select number of players for the following season’s roster, and sometimes for several seasons beyond that. There is a great diversity of possible rules for this type of league, from how many players owners can keep, to how long and at what cost (as expressed in terms of draft rounds or salary cap figures). Dynasty leagues usually let owners keep most of their players for as long as they want. Thus the latter plays out more like the ‘real’ NFL, in which rookies are a primary source of new personnel, once the league has gotten off the ground. In this article we’ll look at some key players for owners in leagues that offer long-range planning along these lines.
First, let’s take a look at the overall keeper/dynasty rankings of the Post’s partner site, Fantasy Pros. Their top 10 looks like this:
1) RB LeSean McCoy, 2) RB Jamaal Charles, 3) WR Calvin Johnson, 4) TE Jimmy Graham, 5) RB Eddie Lacy, 6) WR A.J. Green, 7) RB Adrian Peterson, 8) WR Dez Bryant, 9) WR Demaryius Thomas, 10) Julio Jones.
This is a list that has a shorter-range outlook than certainly dynasty leaguers would employ. For example, Peterson is 29 years old, which means he likely has just a couple of years left as a top back. In fact, running backs in general are devalued in dynasty, because their careers are relatively short. Generally, good backs last about seven to eight seasons and decline sharply after age 26-27. (That statistic you may have heard about the average career of a running back being less than three years is deceptive in this case, because it includes marginal players who had trouble making real NFL rosters and never sniffed a fantasy roster).
Good wide receivers are likely to retain value well into their 30s, and thus can help dynasty rosters for much longer periods. However, top running backs hold the highest relative value at their peaks, so they certainly can’t be dismissed, especially for owners looking to build a title favorite for the immediate future. Quarterbacks can have much longer careers than even receivers, but given the usual necessity of rostering many more RBs and WRs, QBs tend to fall out of the top 20.
With those thoughts in mind, here are my top 10 most valuable players for fantasy drafts in long-range ownership leagues:
1. WR Calvin Johnson, Lions
Megatron will turn 29 in September, which certainly starts the clock ticking toward his inevitable decline, but for now, he is the unquestioned kingpin of his position. Johnson’s size and role in a pass-happy offense (led by a quarterback who is just 26 years old), should keep him at or near the top for several years to come.
2. WR A.J. Green, Bengals
He arrived in the NFL as more or less a fully formed star receiver, but at age 26, is only now entering his peak. Green has no inherent red flags (unlike the next guy on the list), although owners may wish the Bengals had a better quarterback.
3. WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
Bryant is younger than Green by about three months, but has a cloudier outlook resulting from character concerns and back issues (for him and his quarterback). Plus, Dallas, which has badly botched its salary-cap management, may not even be able to keep Bryant after this season.
4. RB LeSean McCoy, Eagles
Having recently turned 26, McCoy is in the prime of a stellar career, and he appears to have gained an offensive visionary in Coach Chip Kelly.
5. WR Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
His age (nearly a year older than Bryant) is a factor, but perhaps a bigger factor is the age of his QB, as Peyton Manning is now 38. However, Thomas should be able to post good numbers even with average quarterbacking.
6. RB Eddie Lacy, Packers
He has the age (just 23) and size to be a high-scoring featured back in Green Bay for years to come.
7. TE Jimmy Graham, Saints
Graham lost his bid to become classified as a wide receiver, but that doesn’t mean he has to do much of the dirty work that can shorten tight ends’ careers. A converted basketball player, Graham might still have room for improvement, which is a scary thought for opposing defenses.
8. WR Julio Jones, Falcons
Jones is younger than any of the receivers above him here and right with them in terms of talent, but Jones has a glaring red flag in the form of multiple foot surgeries.
9. RB Giovani Bernard, Bengals
He doesn’t turn 23 until November, and flashed major skills as a rookie last season. This year, the team brought in Jeremy Hill, who could siphon off some fantasy points (especially touchdowns) but could just as easily help extend Bernard’s career.
10. RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
The consensus No. 1 pick in redraft leagues, Charles gets dinged here because he will turn 28 in December, and history tells us he doesn’t have more than a year or two of high-end production left after that, especially given his size (5-foot-11, 199 pounds).
Top Dynasty Draft Picks
Now, let’s look at this year’s first-year players. Who should go in the top 10 of a rookies-only draft?
1. WR Mike Evans, Buccaneers
Sammy Watkins is likely more ready to make an immediate impact, but Evans is a better bet for long-term fantasy production thanks to his much greater size (6-5, 231).
2. WR Sammy Watkins, Bills
The first receiver taken in the real NFL draft, and no one would be blamed for doing the same in this format. Buffalo paid dearly to trade for Watkins, so expect the Bills to give him every chance to become an offensive focal point.
3. WR Jordan Matthews, Eagles
He fits the profile of a No. 1 receiver, and got drafted into a top offense with question marks (Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper) above him on the depth chart.
4. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers
The Florida State star is a wide receiver masquerading in a tight end’s body, and he has very little standing in the way of immediately becoming Cam Newton’s favorite target.
5. WR Brandin Cooks, Saints
Another receiver who landed in an elite attack, Cooks already has New Orleans drooling over his big-play ability.
6. RB Bishop Sankey, Titans
Opinions differ on his actual talent level, but he will get a chance to establish himself as the No. 1 back on a team with a very good offensive line.
7. TE Eric Ebron, Lions
Picked No. 10 overall by Detroit, Ebron is very much on the pass-catching end of the tight end spectrum, and he could assume a Jimmy Graham-like role once Calvin Johnson starts slowing down.
8. WR Odell Beckham, Giants
He doesn’t have the size (5-11, 198) normally associated with elite receivers, and he has been slowed by injuries in training camp, but is thought to have an excellent all-around skill set.
9. QB Johnny Manziel, Browns
Manziel may not win the starting job right away, but there’s no doubt his time is coming soon (as long as he doesn’t do anything too immature), and running ability is always a fantasy asset.
10. RB Carlos Hyde, 49ers
Hyde should get some snaps right away, and could supplant the aging Frank Gore as soon as next season as the top back in a run-heavy attack with a very good offensive line.
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