Keeper Leagues 101 | Drafting a Championship Team Every Season

by Matt Babich · Draft Strategy

Shake Up Your League

Keeper leagues, where you can re-draft or “keep” a player in the round where he was drafted in the previous season, are an exciting way to shake up your standard redraft league. Every season, fantasy ADP’s change drastically. Amon-Ra St. Brown was a 6th/7th round pick last season. Justin Jefferson was going outside of the first 10 rounds in his rookie season. Imagine going into your draft already having Tony Pollard in the 9th round, because you’re smarter than your league-mates. This is the allure of a keeper league.

The most interesting aspect of keeper leagues is how draft strategies change. Younger, highly-anticipated players carry a premium in drafts due to the possibility of rostering them at value for two seasons. The later rounds of drafts are mostly reserved for those who have a shot of being your keeper in the upcoming season. Yet, many keepers come from value arbitrage in the earlier rounds.

If you’re already in a keeper league, you know this. If you’re not, consider this my pitch to join one. Whether they’re old or new, let’s discuss the strategy behind drafting a championship-caliber team every season in your keeper leagues. The first step is knowing your league rules.

Know Your Rules

How many players can you keep? For how many years are you able to keep them? These questions, among others, will guide how you make your keeper league decisions. Typically, these leagues are one keeper for one year, so we’ll use this ruleset as we go through ideal candidates.

Identifying Keeper Candidates

Archetype #1: Rookie Receivers

Keeper candidates come in all shapes and sizes. However, the most popular and potentially the most valuable are rookies/sophomores with high upside going later in drafts. Garrett Wilson was a 12th/13th round pick in drafts last season. He is now an early/mid 2nd round pick. A similar story can be told for Chris Olave as well. Think back to the elite receivers from past classes, and you’ll see this trend hold, leading us to our first archetype. Target these youthful receivers in your 2023 drafts:

The market caught up with the trends in rookie production, making it more difficult to capitalize on arbitrages. Now I know what you’re thinking, “What about rookie running backs?” Rookie running backs with the clearest paths to touches in their first two seasons are often drafted in the earlier rounds. This lowers their chances of significantly increasing their ADP value the next season.

There are exceptions to the rule. Breece Hall, who was drafted in the 3rd round last season, would be a first round pick this season and a potential keeper candidate had he not torn his ACL. So, while I’m perfectly fine with drafting rookie running backs to my teams, they are not an ideal candidate for your keeper league team.

Archetype #2: Mid-Round Running Backs Primed for a Breakout

Mid-round running backs are often breakout candidates who show immense promise but don’t have the certainty in their range of outcomes to be paired with the elites. Tony Pollard and Rhamondre Stevenson are the best examples of this. Despite being drafted near the 10th round of drafts last season, both backs had the toolset to finish as top-10 RB’s (which they did). Pollard has been one of the most efficient since he was drafted in 2018, ranking inside the top-10 in Yards per Touch in three of the past four seasons. However, the presence of Ezekiel Elliott kept Pollard’s ADP in the middle rounds. Stevenson, a highly-efficient runner and pass-catcher, was also faded because he was projected to split time, despite a clear path to targets.

These breakout-primed, mid-round running backs are our second archetype. There is hardly any better keeper at value than Pollard this season. The upside is worth chasing. So who fits in this category this season?

White has league-winning upside this season. Opportunity is king in fantasy, and he’s about to have a truckload. Even in the event of Tampa Bay signing a veteran free agent, White is gearing up to clear a 60-percent Opportunity Share. Tampa will also be losing a lot of games, potentially setting him up for 80-plus targets this season. With that volume, he doesn’t have to be a superb rusher. He’s going to be a top-16 back.

If he levels up as a rusher, he could be a top-10 back in drafts next season. Javonte Williams has similar top-10 upside, but is a more proven rushing talent in a much better offense. Williams carries more health risk, but will spike in value next offseason after a full season post-surgery.

Archetype #3: Early-to-Mid-Round Veterans

Every season, veterans with elite upside see suppressed ADPs. Whether it be a change of scenery, incoming talent, or uncertainty in off-field situations, there are established veterans who will spike in value after the uncertainty passes. A.J. Brown, headed to a unknown situation in Philadelphia, held a third-round ADP in 2022. After a dominant season, he’s now a first-round pick. Josh Jacobs started a preseason game, suffered an ADP freefall, yet finished as the RB3. Let’s look at some players who best fit this mold in 2023:

Mixon’s ADP was pushed down due to roster cut rumors and legal concerns. The Bengals secured him for two more seasons, freeing drafters of concerns about legal sanctions. Yet his ADP is still in the fourth round. One of the few workhorses left, Mixon dominates Cincinnati’s backfield opportunities every season. DJ Moore is the latest example of an Alpha traveling to an ascending offense. Moore’s offense won’t be high-powered enough to push him into the Diggs/Brown tier, but his fourth round ADP will surely double by next season.

Bonus: Superflex Archetypes

Prolific Rookie Quarterbacks

In Superflex, the premium placed on quarterbacks makes any rookie quarterback a target. Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson were two later-round quarterbacks in their rookie seasons who shot up draft boards going into year two. Joe Burrow vaulted 30 spots in ADP after his first full season. Struggling prospects like Tua Tagovailoa won’t see the same ADP rise, turning a keeper candidate rotten. Given the disparity in value, there’s no point in chasing Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud in your drafts. Both Carolina and Houston project to be awful teams who will struggle to score points. If they finish outside of the top-24 QB’s, which is very likely, they’ll see only a marginal uptick in ADP the following season.

Go Get ‘Em

Now knowing the ideal archetypes to target in keeper leagues, the next step is to bring those players onto your rosters. Don’t stop at one archetype, target all of them. Each one offers a unique value both this year and beyond. If you bring multiple players that fit the mold onto your squads, you’ll be set up to compete for a championship every single season.