Chris Wesseling

Offseason Low Down

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2011 Keeper Rankings

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Welcome to the fifth-annual Top-50 keepers spectacular. A few thoughts before we get to the proceedings:

1. We know that change happens quickly in the NFL. As a general rule, quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends offer more year-to-year stability than running backs. This offseason is a bit of an anamoly in keeper leagues, however, with a host of young runners ascending to stardom while sending last decade's feature backs into fantasy obscurity. As a matter of fact, the top eight fantasy backs (and 12 of the top 13) from 2010 will begin next season under 26 years of age. A competitive keeper team will have at least one -- and ideally two -- of these dynamic young bell cows as nucleus players.

2. The key to fantasy football success will always be acquiring as many difference-makers as possible. As we pointed out last year, roughly half of the Top-10 at any position will repeat their performance from the previous year. Any player can post a good or even great season, but it's the reliable studs that produce year-in and year-out. These players must be valued highly even if a flavor-of-the-month might post better stats in a best-case scenario the year before (i.e. Peyton Hillis).

3. These rankings are geared toward short-term keeper leagues where owners are generally keeping just a handful of players from year-to-year. While keeper leagues value stability more than redraft leagues, they also value short-term production more than Dynasty formats. Rotoworld's Dynasty ranks (QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs) necessarily emphasize talent over situation while projecting value beyond the next . Keeper rankings, on the other hand, must value talent and situation equally while focusing primarily on the upcoming season and secondarily on the long view.

4. I thought this was interesting: In the five years Rotoworld has produced the Top-50 keeper list, the average positional breakdown is seven quarterbacks, 23.6 running backs, 17 wide receivers, and 2.4 tight ends. This year's list is composed of seven quarterbacks, 23 running backs, 17 wide receivers, and three tight ends.

5. This weekend's prospect Combine is a handy reminder that player values are anything but static even when there are no games being played. Depending on the pace of labor talks, free agency and trading windows may be pushed into the summer. Regardless of this year's iffy schedule, those issues along with the draft and OTAs / training camp will keep player values fluctuating right up to the start of the fantasy drafts in August.

Will Brandon Jacobs rebound to take a bigger bite out of Ahmad Bradshaw's value in 2011? Will Knowshon Moreno be mired in a committee attack? Will the Bucs pair LeGarrette Blount with a dynamic young pass-catching back? If you keep your ear to the ground by following the Rotoworld news page, you will be prepared when it's time to finalize your keeper selections.

These keeper rankings assume the scoring is for a standard non-PPR league. PPR leaguers should make the necessary adjustments on receivers and pass-catching backs.

On to the near misses!

Editor's Note: For offseason NFL news and analysis, follow @ChrisWesseling, @EvanSilva, @AdamLevitan, and @Rotoworld_FB on Twitter.

Just Missed
Previous ranks in parentheses

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (35): If you're going to keep a QB, he has to be a weekly advantage. Big Ben's a great quarterback, but there's still very little separating him from Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and even Kyle Orton on a weekly basis.

Matt Schaub, Texans (25): With Arian Foster taking on a bigger role, Schaub fell to 13th in fantasy points per week even with four straight 300-yard performances to close out December.

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers: On the doorstep, but Freeman was a nothing more than a consistent QB2 all season long until a five-touchdown explosion in Week 16.

Matt Ryan, Falcons: Could make the leap to fantasy stalwart any year now, but he desperately needs a Roddy White sidekick with Tony Gonzalez no longer a threat.

Joe Flacco, Ravens: Like Ryan, he's already on the brink of stardom even with the slowest collection of receivers in the league. Expect GM Ozzie Newsome to deliver a downfield playmaker or two by summertime.

Dallas Clark, Colts (43): Turning 32 in June, his keeper value is starting slip.

Jason Witten, Cowboys (47): Last season's No. 1 fantasy tight end in a down year for the position. Witten owes a great deal of his success to Tony Romo's injury, increasing his fantasy points by almost five per week with Jon Kitna.

Mike Williams, Buccaneers: Impressive rookie season. Now let's see him do it again before we put him in with the cream of the crop.

Brandon Lloyd, Broncos: Josh McDaniels was the pass-heaviest play-caller in the league the past two years, running just over 40 percent of the time. Lloyd isn't going to come close to repeating his break-out year success under John Fox and possibly Tim Tebow.

Wes Welker, Patriots: The Slot Machine belongs in the Top-50 in PPR leagues, but he falls outside the WR1 category in standard scoring formats.

The Next 10: Percy Harvin, Steve Johnson, Austin Collie, Eli Manning, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Michael Crabtree, Jimmy Graham, Fred Jackson, Ryan Torain

Falling off the List
Ranking from last two seasons in parentheses

Randy Moss, Free Agent (22, 19): A man without a team after a 2010 season that Dr. Seuss would describe as a debaculous fiasco. I'm not ready to write him off entirely, but the statistics as well as the game film suggest he couldn't get open last year.

Cedric Benson, Bengals (23): Managed just 3.5 yards per carry for the third time in the past four years. Like Moss, he doesn't have a team.

Ryan Grant, Packers (27, 34): It looks like he'll avoid the chopping block in Green Bay this offseason, but James Starks looms as a committee partner -- if not job stealer.

Steve Smith, Panthers (31, 16): I'd love to see what he could do with a QB like Tom Brady or Matt Ryan. For right now, though, it's Jimmy Clausen slated to misfire to Smith.

Joseph Addai, Colts (37, 30): Far from a lock to return to the comfort of the Colts offense after an injury-marred season.

Santonio Holmes, Jets (38): One bad toke away from another suspension, not to mention Mark Sanchez is no Ben Roethlisberger.

Sidney Rice, Vikings (39): The recent "arthritic hip" report is awfully shaky, but that doesn't change the fact that Rice is a red-flag risk with no QB and two of the past three seasons ruined by injuries.

Steve Smith, Giants (40): Coming off serious microfracture surgery, Smith's knee doesn't have a chance to be back to normal by Week 1. He has to find a team first.

Beanie Wells, Cardinals (42): Beanie's balky knee held him back in 2010. While he remains a fine speculative "buy" in Dynasty circles, he's too risky to keep as a high-end RB2 in smaller leagues.

Pierre Thomas, Saints (45, 50): Passed up his shot at long-term security last year by over-estimating his value. Now he's a major injury risk looking for a starting job.

Ronnie Brown, Dolphins (46, 26): A timeshare back the past two years, Brown isn't going to land a feature-back job coming off 3.7 yards per carry in 2010.

Chad Ochocinco, Bengals (49, 42): Hasn't produced consistent WR1 numbers since 2007. Who wants to gamble on a 33-year-old receiver likely to be joining a new team?

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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
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