The NFL's meteoric rise in popularity has without a doubt been buoyed by the rise in popularity of fantasy football. The thirst for a never emptying 12 month well of information and breaking news in the NFL has turned the previous 6 month season for the common fantasy footballer into a year long experience as well. Once reserved for the purists, keeper and dynasty leagues are becoming the norm, giving owners an opportunity to not only extend their season, but deepen the relationship with their teams and fantasy football in general. Much different than a standard redraft, keeper values bring a new dynamic for owners where age and potential take a much larger role in evaluating players and the struggle in balancing current output versus prospective results is further magnified. Much like the NFL franchise, which sets itself back years with fumbled early draft picks, keeper and dynasty leaguers can really hurt their team with poor management too. So if you are starting your own keeper/dynasty league, who should you build your team around? Who provides that ideal combination of production and age, keeping owners in the title hunt year after year?
- Aaron Rodgers : Only 28 years old, Aaron Rodgers is everything you want as your fantasy quarterback. Tremendously efficient, Rodgers has averaged 4 rushing touchdowns since he took over the starting job to compliment his already gaudy passing numbers (45 TDs in 2011, averaging 33 TDs/year). Rodgers' production, mixed with his youth gives any owner their starting QB for the next decade.
- Drew Brees : Deciding between Drew Brees and Tom Brady would not be easy for any owner, but I went with the younger of the 2 with the better environment. Since arriving in the friendly confines of the Superdome, Brees has averaged 612 passing attempts (compared to 552 for Brady) a year. Brees plays at least 10 games every year indoors, while Brady resides in the nasty Northeast. You cannot go wrong with either guy, but if I had a choice I would go forth with the Saint who just set the NFL record for passing yards in a single season.
Newton: The only thing preventing me from putting the 23 year old at the number 2 spot is his experience (or lack thereof). Where the pessimist will not count on 14 rushing TDs every year, the optimist hears NFL executives and scouts who, without hyperbole, mention Newton and 30/20 in the same sentence. Newton Newtonstruggled in the 2nd half last season, threw too many interceptions and was inaccurate, but need I remind you this was 's 2nd season (3rd if you count Blinn and I don't) playing QB against high level talent. If Newton merely replicates (and it is not hard to see him improving if even slightly) his rookie season, he becomes 1A to Rodgers 1. As teams are moving to running back by committee and devaluing the RB position for fantasy owners, Newton is fusing the QB and RB position into one. The future is here and he is 6'5" and 250 lbs. Newton
- Arian Foster : A strain and a tweet. Arian Foster's sophomore campaign got off to a rocky start, but any concerns about the undrafted free agent out of
replicating his numbers from 2010 were abruptly squashed. Foster returned from his hamstring issue in week 4 and if owners were not concerned about re-injury then the fact he was facing the Pittsburgh Steelers appeared daunting. 30 carries and 5+ yards a carry later, Foster had reaffirmed his spot as an elite RB. If you are lucky to nab Foster in a keeper league, his versatility, big play potential and nose for the end zone make the 25 year old my top overall keeper. Tennessee
- Ray Rice : The contract situation is a scary one, but the Ravens cannot afford (nor will they try) to not resign the 25 year old RB from
Rutgers. 2 of the past 3 seasons, Rice has put up 2000+ total yards, with the other a paltry 1700+. Like Foster, Rice is incredibly versatile, catching 78 passes in 2009 and 76 (including 104 targets) in 2011. The leading scorer in 2011 for RBs, Rice could just as easily be your foundation when building your team.
- LeSean McCoy: While
has always been a predominantly passing team under Andy Reid, LeSean McCoy proved there is tremendous talent in the Eagle backfield. Always a threat to catch the pass out of the backfield, McCoy added a new dimension to his game in 2011: goal line back. Just like Foster and Rice, the 23 year old is a perhaps the last of a dying breed of workhorse backs. There is talk of limiting McCoy's touches in 2012, but you will not find him slipping down any of my boards pre-draft. Philadelphia
- Calvin Johnson: I refer any and all questions (despite not believing there would be any) to Calvin Johnson's 23 yard TD catch in the 4th quarter with 3 Cowboys surrounding him in coverage. Johnson is as advertised and then some. For someone who despises nicknames, I cannot help but find one more fitting than the 26 year old Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.
- Larry Fitzgerald: Oh the numbers Larry Fitzgerald would have if only Kurt Warner was 10 years younger. Perhaps the best hands and body control in the league, Fitzgerald has managed to maintain results despite the immense QB talent drop-off in
following the aforementioned Warner retirement. Keep an eye on the QB situation in 2012, but rest easy knowing the results will be there regardless for the 28 year old WR. Arizona
- Roddy White: While not a fan of Falcon QB Matt Ryan as an elite QB, it is hard to argue with the chemistry between the 30 year old Roddy White and Ryan. Targets have always been high for White and the arrival of Julio Jones should lead to a slight drop in those, but not enough to scare me from targeting White as one of my top keepers. Consistency is key, especially at WR and WhiTEs 3 consecutive seasons as a top 5 producer are unmatched at the position.
- Rob Gronkowski : Had Rob Gronkowski been a WR last season, he would have been the #2 WR in standard scoring leagues. Let me repeat that, his 233 point output in 2011 had him trailing only Calvin Johnson amongst all pass catchers. There is something really scary about a guy who outscores opponents' #1 WR AND TE. Will his numbers regress? Probably. But not outside the top 10 of either, making Gronkowski the top TE to target for your keeper team.
- Jimmy Graham: Not to be completely outdone by the freak Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham came in at #6 amongst all pass catchers in 2011. In fact, the receiving yards title came down to the wire in 2011, with Gronkowski barely edging out Graham in the final week by a mere 17 yards. Continuing the scariness trend existing amongst TEs, Graham and Gronkowski are only 25 and 23 respectively. Just getting into their prime, owners can plan on owning the TE (at minimum) match-up for seasons to come.
Vernon : There was a time when immaturity and a struggling offense hindered Vernon Davis tremendously. Those days seem to be long gone as the match-up nightmare has finally found himself a place amongst the elite pass catchers in the league. New additions on offense, namely Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, not to mention a rare consistency in the offensive philosophy, have Vernon Davis primed for another big season. Not quite the level of Graham or Gronkowski, the 28 year old Davis will still provide an advantage in the TE match-up a majority of the time. Davis