Feb 18, 2009
In years past, we would produce these massive keeper overviews, yet I don’t think people even noticed them or if our work (probably 200 hours worth of it) was truly worth it, especially since our regular player previews for the upcoming season, to be released this year in late May, contained much of the same information and analysis. By the time things got busy in June, July, and August, we’re unable to update these massive overviews, anyway, so I’m trying to streamline things a little.
This year, I’m going to try to approach the off-season keeper coverage in this blog, and I’m going to approach it differently. For one, I’m going to approach each position similar to how I approach the Draft Plan, going over the various tiers of players and cover how I view them for the long-term. In addition, I’ll chime in here at least once a week with a keeper thought or two, typically covering a player who is in the news currently. So instead of us spending time writing about Drew Brees and how he’s a desirable keeper, which is beyond the obvious, we’ll have more time to discuss the merits of, say, Kellen Clemons. I also like the interaction capabilities with the blog, since readers are able to chime in with thoughts and questions here.
So let’s see how this thing goes and how it improves or takes away from our keeper coverage. Let’s, as usual, start with the QBs.
When you’re talking about any position for keeper leagues, the conversation, of course, has to start with the no-brainers, and I view the following as just that: Peyton Manning (33), Drew Brees (30), Tony Romo (29), Jay Cutler (26), and Tom Brady (32).
I’d list Brady higher, but I’d like to see him perform at something close to his typical level before moving him back up to the top of the list. He’s also quickly approaching 32, an age at which you have to start thinking about his skills starting to erode, especially coming off his devastating knee injury, although 32 is still young enough to be confident in his game remaining intact for another 2-3 years. Manning’s no spring chicken himself, and he’s coming off a so-so year (for him) and will have a new head coach this year. But any issues with him are offset by his reliability and durability. He’s obviously very safe. Brees is just now hitting his true peak and may be the cream of the crop. And while there’s an air of uncertainty with new Bronco head coach Josh McDaniels, over the long haul, I think McDaniels will be good for Cutler. He certainly did a good job in New England. It’s best to be cautious with the new coach and system in Denver, at least for this year. Long-term, however, Cutler’s an elite talent, and that’s my main criteria for a keeper league prospect. As for Romo, he’s a player who teeters on the brink of brilliance and the truly bizarre, but he is still young, is a proven playmaker, and most important, plays for Jerry Jones, so you know he will be surrounded by high-end talent. Although not without his flaws, like his late-season struggles, he is still clearly a player who can be a foundation at this position for a keeper league quad.
The next tier of players consists mostly of younger players who likely have their best football in front of them, and that’s always good for a keeper league. They are Aaron Rodgers (25), Philip Rivers (27), Joe Flacco (24), Matt Ryan (24), and also Carson Palmer (29).
First of all, I love Rodgers. Now that Cutler has basically proven himself to be a stud, I’ve moved on to Rodgers now as “my guy” at the QB position. I’m totally sold on his skills, his ability to run this offense effectively, his talent at the skill positions, and after he proved to be a tough cookie in 2008, his durability. I think he has an excellent chance to perennially account for 3,800-4,000 yards passing and 28-30 TDs. He’s also very young and won’t even be 26 until December. How can you not love this guy in a keeper league? Rivers I don’t trust quite as much, even though he has more experience, but the guy has proven a ton, dating back to the 2007 season playoffs. I pointed out last summer how I though he would have to key the offense more with LT slowing down, and that’s exactly what happened. What I didn’t necessarily expect was his erratic nature not coming to the surface much in 2008. That’s a testament to his progress as a pro. It doesn’t always look pretty, but Rivers has shown he can get the job done, and his receiving corps is still very strong. Palmer is a real wild card, but in the end, I still have faith in him, simply because I still believe he’s one of the more talented players to ever play the position. He’s not perfect, and we’ll have to see about the state of his receiving corps in a few months, but they did restock the WR position in the draft last year – and Palmer’s skills match up with anyone’s in the league, if he’s healthy.
Flacco and Ryan are already two of the better quarterbacks in the league, period, and while they still have some development ahead of them, their futures will both be bright, so they deserve serious consideration. Both do have some issues, however. Both teams need upgrades at receiver, and both teams aren’t exactly keyed by their passing games. In a dynasty league, both are excellent foundations, but there are a few players who will likely be better fantasy options in 2009.
Five of those players who could/should be better options for the short-term are Kurt Warner (38), Ben Roethlisberger (27), Matt Schaub (28), Donovan McNabb (32), and Eli Manning (28). Warner would be the best option just for 2009, assuming he’s back in Arizona, and then I’d probably look at Schaub as the best upside and long-term choice from this group and someone who has value now. Roethlisberger’s a little more stable and safe, but he hasn’t exactly proven he can play at a consistently high level. McNabb’s set in Philly at least one more season, and he will likely be relevant for the next 2-3 years, no matter where he’s playing, so he is viable. He’s certainly not a foundation of a fantasy team anymore, but he’s viable. As for Manning, he certainly “is what he is” at this point. We can count on him for solid digits every year, and he’s durable, but he has little upside.
For many keeper players, like those in leagues that retain only 4-5 players or even fewer, the viable options at this position end here. There are some other guys to look at, and I will include them below, but there’s not much else out there that intrigues me, quite frankly. In larger leagues, however, there are certainly other players worth hanging on to.
Of the remaining options, I’d have to start with JaMarcus Russell (24), Tyler Thigpen (25), and Brady Quinn (24). Russell’s development has been stifled due to poor coaching, a lack of continuity on offense and with the coaching staff, and a poor supporting cast. I’m worried about his development being derailed, but there’s no question he’s an elite talent, and again that’s what I’d be looking for when searching for a keeper prospect. He’ll likely need another season before he’s ready to excel, but I still believe he’ll be productive. As for Thigpen, it remains to be seen if new head coach Todd Haley will adopt the same spread approach that keyed his success in 2008. Given the addition of Scott Pioli, who oversaw a similar approach in New England, I would think he will, so Thigpen is a solid prospect, one of the better ones in the league right now once you get past the clear choices. I’m not a big Brady Quinn guy, quite frankly. I though he wasn’t given as much respect as he deserved on draft day 2007, but now I see why he slipped. He has some skills and some intangible qualities that should translate to success, but ultimately I think he has limited potential given his shaky accuracy and unwillingness/inability to throw the ball down the field effectively. His supporting cast right now in Cleveland is also somewhat suspect (but it could easily be very good again, at least). He definitely has a place in the league as a starter, but he looks like a player who’ll typically toss about 22-23 TD passes a season – not exactly a fantasy stud.
Two others players to look at in deeper leagues are David Garrard (31) and Jason Campbell (27). Garrard, in a bad year, was actually 13th in points per game for fantasy and 9th in overall scoring, but he’s already 31 and still has a poor receiving corps. There’s no upside with him, but he is fairly reliable and stable, for now. Campbell played very efficiently for a while there in 2008, but until the team truly opens up the offense for him, he’ll continue to be mediocre. He’s not a bad player, but he doesn’t really excite me. He is at least still young, so he’s a better long-term option than about half the other starters in the league right now. He does have some hope in the form of second year wideout Devin Thomas, as well as Malcom Kelly.
If you’re looking for a young and viable prospect, then Kellen Clemens (26) is now someone to consider, for obvious reasons. Right now the team is saying that there will be an open competition for the job, but as long as the team doesn’t bring in another quality veteran like Derek Anderson, I fully expect Clemens to start over the likes of Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge. Clemens has a pretty good arm, he can make plays with his feet, and he has the skills/talent to be an effective NFL starter, but he has a lot of work to do. He’ll at least likely have a full season to prepare as the team’s starter. Matt Cassel (28) and his situation on the Pats remains uncertain. He was franchised by the club, but he could still be traded, so his value could still be high for a keeper league. But as of right now (2/18), Cassel’s fantasy value is in limbo, if not low since he plays on the same team as, you know, Tom Brady and all. I’m also not 100% sold on Cassel. He did improve measurably as the season progressed, but he did a lot of his damage throwing out of the shotgun, and he needs to show he can consistently excel in a more conventional passing attack.
Two other younger players to have on the keeper radar are Trent Edwards (25) and Derek Anderson (26). Edwards really impressed me late in 2007 and early in 2008, but he hit a wall and struggled in all areas, so he has to prove he can gather himself and return to being a player who shows excellent poise in the pocket, who can managed the offense effectively, and who can make some big-time NFL throws both to the outside and downfield. It’s way too early to give up on him, but he won’t have much upside on the current Bills. Anderson obviously stumbled last year, and while it wasn’t all his fault, he’s not a player without some issues. But this is a QB who accounted for 32 TDs in just his first season as the starter in 2007, so he cannot be discounted. He should eventually get another opportunity to start somewhere, and this tall passer with a rocket arm does still have potential. We’ll just have to see if they find a way to move him, or if they opt to have him compete with Quinn in 2009.
Next up, we have some aging veterans, guys who have a chance to produce solid numbers the next 1-2 years, but also players who might quickly fade away, so they aren’t great keeper options. They are Jake Delhomme (34), Matt Hasselbeck (33), Marc Bulger (32), and Chad Pennington (33). Delhomme is entering the final year of his contract, so we will soon learn about the team’s plans for him. They may be hard-pressed to break out the checkbook to sign him to a long-term contract, so he could be looking for a new job in 2009. You really can’t count on him for more than this coming season, and he’s an average option to begin with. Hasselbeck is a better option, for sure, but his situation isn’t exactly ideal right now. He’s expected to be healthy, and he is the guy, though, so unless a younger free agent veteran falls from the sky for the Seahawks, Hasselbeck should be set here for 1-2 more years. I have little faith in Bulger. There’s been talk of the team letting him go, but the cap implications may be too severe, so the Rams should try to win with him for another 1-2 years. Still, I wouldn’t get too excited about his prospects for the long-term, even for 2009. Pennington was brilliant in 2008, but I don’t think much of his future potential. The team really got by this past year with trickery as the foundation of their offense, and that’s not really sustainable, plus youngster Chad Henne has the tools to be a quality starter.
Speaking of Chad Henne (24), he would be someone to look at, for sure, in a dynasty league. He was pushing for the starting job before they acquired Pennington, and from all accounts is still well on track to take over the starting job in 2010. He’s one of the few current bench players that I can confidently say has an excellent chance to not only start soon, but to also excel. Kevin Kolb (25) is now destined to sit on the bench for a third season, but it’s only a matter of time until he’s the guy for the Eagles. A year ago, I know they were very high on him, but I’m not sure they are now. Still, as long as the current system is in place, he’s definitely one of the better young guys at the position to stash away for the long-term.
There are some other young quarterbacks out there, but I’m not exactly optimistic on any of them. They are: Shaun Hill (29), Tarvaris Jackson (26), Kyle Orton (27), Vince Young (26), and Matt Leinart (26). Hill has a solid understanding of the game, but his physical tools are limited, mainly his weak arm, which should prevent him from securing a starting spot for the long-term. I’m not excited about him for the long-term, and he may also still have to deal with Alex Smith, who might stick and battle for the starting job again in 2009. Jackson’s future is in limbo. He may get another chance to start this year, but if he does, it will be more because the team was unable to acquire a replacement, not because he is still clearly their QB of the future. Jackson is, at best, a guy to take a flyer on as a #2 QB in a dynasty league or a very large keeper league. Orton is a solid field general, and he was quite good early in the season in 2008. But he was never the same after suffering an ankle injury near mid-season, and I don’t think he has shown he has the ability to hang in the pocket and complete passes down the field consistently. He can manage the game well enough, but he limits what you can do on offense, so I would expect the Bears to look for another option. As for Young, he was a train wreck in 2008, obviously. He has a lot to prove, and if Kerry Collins re-signs with the team, it may be more than one more full season before he’s able to prove it. You simply can’t count on him, but he is still young, and he does have some tools with work with. Leinart I’m not totally writing off. He has some limitations, but he does still have some of the “it” qualities I like to see. As long as he does everything he needs to excel, I can see him eventually turning into a solid enough NFL starter. He’s certainly learned from one of the best ever in Kurt Warner. Leinart is actually a viable bench option in a dynasty league.
I’ve gone about 35-deep at the QB position so far, and quite frankly I don’t see too much left.
If you’re looking for someone to help you this year, there may be some options, like Kerry Collins (36), Daunte Culpepper (32), Jon Kitna (36), and Jeff Garcia (39), but they are rental players at this point, and one-year rentals at that, although Culpepper is still young enough to stick as a starter for a few years. It remains to be seen what the team will do with him and Kitna; they could keep one for 1-2 years as a stop-gap to their QB of the future. Collins would have the most tangible value for 2009, assuming he is re-signed and set to start for the Titans again this year. Of course, he doesn’t have much value. Garcia won’t play for the Bucs this year, but might actually get a chance to start somewhere else, yet again, so he could have some value in 2009. But he’s 39.
Otherwise, we’re scrapping the bottom of the barrel, but for those in dynasty leagues there are still some options. First up, it’s Luke McCown (28), who will have a good chance to win the starting job in Tampa Bay. McCown is very slight, so durability is an issue, but he does have a strong arm and showed some game back in 2006. He’s now worth a shot in deeper keeper or dynasty leagues. If they re-sign Antonio Bryant, McCown would have a legit #1 wideout – although if Bryant is a true #1, it’s on the low end. Also keep in mind the Bucs could go QB in Round One of the 2009 draft.
Some other options would be Brodie Croyle (26), J.P. Losman (28), Alex Smith (25), and Matt Moore (25), all long-shots. Croyle has a strong arm, but he’s going to need some luck if he’s to get another chance to start in KC or anywhere else. He hasn’t shown much, and durability is a major questions mark, but I can say the team was quite pleased with him last off-season and summer, so that counts for something. Losman will likely have to move to a backup situation and hope to get a chance. He has all the tools, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he excelled for a year or three in the right situation, but he does have to play more consistently and with more patience. I wouldn’t hold my breath with Losman, but let’s see where he ends up. Smith’s career in SF isn’t over just yet, and he may get a chance to battle Hill once again in 2009. He also has some tools to work with, and he’s more talented and athletic than Hill, but he hasn’t shown he can effectively manage an offense, and his arm strength is average. Durability is also an issue. Not holding my breath with him, either. Moore in 2007 showed that he can throw the ball accurately and with good timing, read coverages, and make due with limited weapons on the outside, so he has a chance to grow into a decent, mid-range fantasy QB if the team decides to part ways with Delhomme in 2010. But it’s far from a lock that he’s viewed as the team’s QB of the future.
Although he’s a much older than the four mentioned above, Sage Rosenfels (31) needs to be in the conversation this deep. I felt he was exposed last year as only a quality backup – in other words not a viable starter – but he could be the answer for 1-2 years for a team like the Vikings, who tried to trade for him last off-season. At the very least, he’s one of the best backups in the league.
And finally, there are only a few other players I can currently think of who have at least a semblance of a chance to make some noised, mainly down the road. You have the two Lion guys in Drew Stanton (25) and Dan Orlovsky (26), but I don’t think either is the future in Detroit. John Beck (28) had some definite potential, but after doing his Mormon work out school, he’s already pushing 30, and his career does not appear to have much trajectory. You have Colt Brennan (26) in Washington. We don’t think he’s a legit pro prospect, at least as a starter, but he did put up monstrous numbers in college, and he did impress in training camp last year, so he’s not the worst long-shot this deep, and we are very deep. You also have
Brian Brohm (24) in Green Bay, but he fizzled in practice for the Packers last year, and of course is behind Rodgers. Brohm looked like a nice prospect, however, coming out of college, so it wouldn’t be a shock if he left in a few years when his rookie contract is up, if you can wait that long. John David Booty (24) is still on the radar in Minnesota, but he’s not expected to be ready to play in 2009, and the team may be looking for a better prospect for this year, and if they get someone it will likely be someone who also fits in for the long-term, so Booty may never get a chance.
I’ll also throw Chris Simms (29) on the list. He’s not exactly young, but he was solid enough for the Titan this past year that he might be in the mix if Collins decides to retire and/or is not re-signed. If that’s the case, and if Young continues to disappoint, Simms could get a chance, believe it or not.
I’ll be tweaking this overview throughout the off-season, and I’ll add to it and subtract to it as things shake out.
Next up, I’ll cover the RB keepers, likely right after the first wave of free agent activity.