7 Players to Target for Fantasy Football Keeper Leagues
While most standard leagues have put a bow on the 2014 season, dynasty leaguers are just ramping up their off-season work. This is where the real fun is, at least in my opinion. The enjoyment of being in a dynasty league is that it’s as close as we can realistically get to running an NFL franchise -- and we don’t have to worry about being on the hot seat after a bad year!
In a dynasty or keeper league, the work never ends. One year rolls right into the next. Regardless of how the 2014 season went, there is work to do. Are you rebuilding and stockpiling draft picks? Are you already a powerhouse, possibly looking to sell high on a key player to stay at the top of the league? Or maybe you feel like you’re just a couple vital moves -- maybe trading a draft pick or young player away for a win-now piece -- away from having a championship-caliber squad.
No matter where you are, in a dynasty league, there is no time to stand still.
Here are some guys who, for various reasons, may currently be undervalued. Some of them may be waiver wire guys who are primed to step into larger roles next season. Others are established players who are performing a little better than what is being perceived. Either way, here are some players to pursue as we start preparing for 2015.
Donte Moncrief, Wide Receiver, Indianapolis Colts
Likely a late first- or second-round pick in 2014 rookie drafts, Moncrief has a lot of things going for him. He was top-five for receivers at the combine in the 40-yard dash (4.4 seconds), vertical jump (39.5 inches) and broad jump (11 feet), so athleticism isn’t an issue. He’s playing with a young star quarterback in a pass-first offense, and he’s not going to be the defense’s top priority with T.Y. Hilton's emerging as a big-time wideout.
The only thing standing in his way is opportunity. He’s played on only 33.3 percent of snaps this year, but that likely won’t be a problem in 2015. Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks are in the final year of contracts. Nicks has been a disappointment and probably won’t be back in Indianapolis while Wayne is running on fumes and has openly talked about retirement. The thought of Moncrief catching passes from Andrew Luck for the next few years is pretty enticing.
Moncrief's Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per Target was 0.73 this year, meaning each throw his way (Moncrief had 49 targets this year) added 0.73 expected points to the Colts's scoring output. This ranked sixth out of the 19 wideouts who saw between 40 and 60 targets, a promising mark for sure.
Joseph Randle, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys
The offseason in Big D is going to be interesting. Tony Romo’s top two weapons, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant, are due for free agency, and Jerry Jones is going to have to pull off some magic to re-sign both of them. Everyone knows what kind of year Murray is having, and Dez is Dez.
If Dallas elects to pay Bryant and let Murray walk, there is going to be a colossal opportunity in the Dallas backfield. Randle performed well with the minimal chances (51 carries on the year) and had the chance to run behind one of the game’s top offensive lines. Prior to his 4-carry, 69-yard, 1-touchdown game in Week 17, Randle held the posting the 24th-best Rushing NEP for backs with at least 30 carries. He also had a top-20 Rushing NEP per Play mark of 0.03, which was actually a touch above Murray’s. After factoring in the big run in Week 17, Randle finished 15th in Rushing NEP among backs with at least 30 carries, adding 5.44 points above expectation. Per-carry, he added 0.11, ranking seventh among the 90 qualified backs.
It’s difficult to draw much from a sample size of 51 carries, but he could see a significant role change in 2015, depending on how things shake out this offseason.
C.J. Spiller, Running Back, Buffalo Bills
I’m not a Spiller apologist by any means, but the bottom line is this -- his value is incredibly low, just way too low, for a player of his talent. It seems like decades ago, but it was just 2012 when Spiller totaled 1,703 total yards and eight scores, seemingly on his way to becoming a fantasy star with his electric open-field ability and dual-threat skills. He was still decent in 2013 (1,102 total yards) but only reached the end zone twice.
This season was going horribly -- a Rushing NEP total of -15.49 -- before a broken collarbone shelved him for two months. The Rushing NEP for two other Buffalo backs is similarly gruesome: Bryce Brown (-9.91) and Fred Jackson (-11.66). Anthony Dixon (-0.95) wasn’t too bad, ranking 31st of the 90 backs with at least 30 carries.
Dixon and Brown are under contract for 2015, and Jackson is a free agent after this season. Spiller has a player option for 2015. A change of scenery could be a positive, but it’s hard to see him testing the open market after an injury. The more likely scenario is he comes back to Buffalo and tries to put some of the 2012 Spiller on tape before hitting free agency. Even if you don’t believe in Spiller at all, he could provide value as someone you flip as soon as he has a string of good showings.
Keenan Allen, Wide Receiver, San Diego Chargers
Heading into the fall, Allen was a top-shelf dynasty commodity. A second-year receiver coming off a 1,046-yard, 8-touchdown rookie campaign was gold, going in the second or third round in dynasty startups. Well, Allen has taken a step back this season in terms of production. Before missing Week 16 with an injury, he was on pace for 88 grabs and 895 yards on 8.6 targets per game.
He finished the season as the 51st-best receiver in Total NEP (which adds receiving, rushing, and passing), so there has been definite regression after finishing 17th last year. Also, last year, of the 88 receivers with at least 30 catches, Allen's Reception NEP per Target of 0.93 ranked sixth. This year? Allen's mark was basically cut in half (0.47), ranking 81st of the 90 receivers with at least 30 catches.
This is an opportunity to buy low on a young receiver who is getting targeted heavily in a solid offense. Plus, Antonio Gates has to slow down at some point (right?), so Allen will have a chance to become Philip Rivers’ top option.
Kenny Stills, Wide Receiver, New Orleans Saints
Stills came on strong over the final third of the season, so his price tag just went up a few ticks, but the second-year receiver could be in line for a big 2015. Stills led all receivers with at least 30 catches in Reception NEP per Target at a robust 1.04. Stills led the league last year, too, at 1.16 per target. Sustaining such numbers is rare, so Stills might truly be a special talent.
Thought of as a big-play guy, Stills is growing into a true all-around wideout. He caught 76.90% of his targets, which ranks third among the receivers with 30-plus catches behind only teammate Brandin Cooks and Wes Welker. Stills also finished with the fifth-best Success Rate (the percentage of catches that led to positive NEP gains for his team) at 95.24% and eighth in Target NEP (66.14).
His late-season spike in production does coincide with Cooks’ injury and Jimmy Graham’s funk, and I’d sell that point to Stills’ owner as I tried to pilfer the former Sooner.
Ryan Mathews, Running Back, San Diego Chargers
Mathews finally delivered in 2013 on his considerable promise, but he’s been plagued by injuries this year, suiting up for just six games. That opens a buy-low window for a guy who should be entering the prime of his career next fall. In limited action, Mathews posted 0.09 Rushing NEP per Rush (on just 75 carries) in 2014, placing him 12th in the league among the 90 backs with more than 30 carries.
His rookie deal is up after this year, so it’s unclear where he’ll be in 2015. Regardless, he’s still someone who is in line for a bounce back season.
Vincent Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In dynasty formats, it’s easy to become infatuated with youth, but there’s certainly a place for productive veterans, even if their careers are winding down. Often times, players who fit that billing are some of the most undervalued assets in dynasty, with owners willing to ship out the old trusty player for a shiny new toy.
Jackson is no longer the guy you brag about owning, yet he is still producing at a high level, accumulating a Reception NEP of 82.04, which ranked 24th. Rookie Mike Evans has stolen a lot of the headlines in Tampa Bay, and finished with a Reception NEP of 100.30, 14th among qualified receivers. Still, Jackson did have two more receptions (70) than did Evans (68) for 49 fewer yards (1,002 to 1,051).
The only thing holding him back is touchdowns, where Evans holds a commanding 12-2 edge. Jackson has been a solid red-zone target throughout his career, with at least seven scores in each of the previous three years, so some of his two-touchdown season can be attributed to bad luck. He now has four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, even with the Buccaneers’ train-wreck at quarterback -- something he has done throughout his career. Jackson figures to maintain WR2 value next season.