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So You Finished Last in Your Keeper League… Now What? (Fantasy Football)

by Vaughn Dalzell | @VaughnDalzell | Featured Writer
Apr 18, 2020

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Someone asked me how to make their fantasy football league more competitive outside of handing out a trophy. My response? Make the last-place finisher do something no one wants to do. Ever since that left my mouth, I’ve made it a goal to never finish last in any fantasy league, and not just football.

In this article, I’m going to show you examples of how to build a team in your keeper league, how to draft around your current keepers, and my favorite strategy to go from worst to first.

Two years ago, in the summer of 2018, a friend asked me to join a standard 12-man PPR keeper league. He told me I would be taking over the last-place team, and that I’d be keeping up to two of his players from any round. It was the first time I took over someone else’s team rather than starting fresh, and I knew some of the opponents, so I figured I was a shoo-in for a playoff spot — until I saw his team. No wonder why he finished last, so I quickly put my drafting strategy to use. It worked out better than I imagined, as I enter 2020 with the keeper options of Dalvin Cook (1st), Derrick Henry (2nd), Amari Cooper (3rd), Damien Williams (4th), and a few late-round options after the seventh-round like Drew Brees (7th),  Marquise Brown (8th), D.K. Metcalf (11th), Tyrell Williams (14th), and Darren Waller (16th). Not bad, huh?

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The Three-Headed Monster RB Strategy

For three years, I have played a system using three of my first four draft picks on running backs in PPR leagues. The first two running backs always come in the first three rounds, forcing your third and fourth-round selections to be a flex running back and your No. 1 wide receiver — in whatever order deemed necessary.

Entering 2018, I decided on Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook. The previous owner drafted them as rookies, and he obviously wasn’t planning on sticking around to see those picks blossom. In 2018, Cook missed five games, and Henry managed to record over 50% of his yards and touchdowns (585 and 7 to be exact) in the final four games of the season. With my first pick, I selected Leonard Fournette to be my third rusher. He also missed eight games, so my receiving corps had to carry the load with the hampered trio.

My season indeed ended early, just one spot out of the playoffs, and I felt hopeful entering 2019 because I had two top running backs despite injury concerns. Should I keep two of the three running backs again? They are premium backs in this league, and starting from scratch would certainly be a tremendous risk.

Ultimately, I decided to keep the two rushers for one final season, and Henry finished second in fantasy points and Cook sixth. The two selections I would have had if not keeping either player ended up being Le’Veon Bell (182.0) and Chris Godwin (249.0), so I definitely made the right choice despite Goodwin’s amazing season. I landed Brown, Williams, and Waller late in my 2019 draft, finishing with the second-most points in the league but missing a playoff spot by one game — losing five of my six matchups by four points or less — I swear I am not making this up.

Sometimes it’s not your year, but two of those players will be returning to my team for redemption. I prefer to keep two running backs to start this strategy unless you have a guy like Brown (8th) or Waller (16th) that you can get value on. Keeping a wide receiver or tight end can be instrumental to success as well, so we will go into how to build a team with mock examples of keeping Derrick Henry in the third and Marquise Brown in the eighth rounds.

Players To Target in First Year Using Strategy

I have the running backs broken down into tiers with five mock teams I drafted examples of on Yahoo Fantasy. The first two tiers (RB Tier 1 and 2) are my first and second-round options to target. I firmly believe in owning two to three elite rushers while waiting for a quarterback and tight end, starting around rounds 6 and 7 in PPR leagues.

Last season, two of my three leagues featured a three-man mixture of these six workhorses on four of my five teams (PPR, four 12-man, one 16-man); Henry, Cook, Fournette, Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley, and Damien Williams.

Tier 1 are bonafide first-round picks, and if you land any of them, you’re off to a great start. Tier 2 will be second and third-round options. The second and third-round selections should be focused on landing any running back from the Tier 2 or Tier 3 groups to complement your first-round pick (RB1). Using your third draft pick is the key pick of the entire draft, as you can land that No. 1 WR that falls right into your lap, or you can grab another rusher as your keeper the following season. The Tier 1 wide receivers are your third and fourth-round selections, with WR/TE Tier 2 and 3 being your latter picks to focus on.

C. McCaffrey (CAR) A. Kamara (NO) D. Henry (TEN) S. Michel (NE) J. Smith-Schuster (PIT) T. Boyd (CIN) E. Sanders (NO)
S. Barkley (NYG) J. Jacobs (LV) L. Fournette (JAC) L. Bell (NYJ) A.J. Brown (TEN) B. Cooks (HOU) C. Samuel (CAR)
E. Elliott (DAL) J. Mixon (CIN) M. Mack (IND) K. Hunt (CLE) T. Lockett (SEA) M. Brown (BAL) H. Henry, LAC
D. Cook (MIN) A. Jones (GB) M. Ingram (BAL) D. Henderson (LAR) S. Diggs (BUF) T.Y. Hilton (IND) G. Tate (NYG)
N. Chubb (CLE) M. Sanders (PHI) D. Johnson (HOU) D.K. Metcalf (SEA) R. Woods (LAR) C. Lamb (ROOKIE)
A. Ekeler (LAC) T. Gurley (ATL) D.J. Chark (JAC) W. Fuller (HOU)
C. Carson (SEA) D. Williams (KC) C. Ridley (ATL) O.J. Howard (TB)
K. Drake (ARI) J. Conner (PIT) T. Higbee (LAR) D. Waller (LV)
J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State) A. Hooper (CLE) E. Ebron (PIT)

Last year in my 12-man PPR league, I made the critical decision to keep Derrick Henry in the third round rather than draft Juju-Smith Schuster, Zach Ertz, T.Y. Hilton, or Amari Cooper. I selected Alvin Kamara in the first and Leonard Fournette in the second, changing my entire season for the better with three-straight running backs to start the draft.

Your receiving corps starts immediately in round four if you go three-straight. Last season I landed Calvin Ridley (fourth), Alshon Jeffrey (fifth), and Robby Anderson (sixth) to give myself some talent out wide, but the Anderson pick hurt. When you make a pick you don’t immediately love, like I did, you had to find value picks as keepers for next season. I search and hit on gold with rookie Marquise Brown (eighth), Golden Tate (tenth), and rookie D.K. Metcalf (eleventh). Then thanks to HBO’s Hard Knocks, I added the icing on the cake with Darren Waller in the final round (sixteenth) because he was clearly the No. 1 TE in Oakland, now Las Vegas.

I added Carson Wentz in the seventh and the Ravens defense in the ninth, giving me a rather impressive makeshift lineup, in my opinion, after going RB the first three picks. If I didn’t find Brown and Metcalf, I wouldn’t have had keeper options at receiver that made me an immediate threat in 2020, and the same with Waller.

Let’s take a look at my mock drafts using my strategy. I mock at the No. 6 position to give you a neutral feel of what my system looks like. I mocked five times in a 12-man league, and I was quite impressed with the results. The draft picks for the first ten rounds, starting with the No. 6 spot is: No. 6, 19, 30, 43, 54, 67, 78, 91, 102, and 115. Which team is your favorite?

ROUND 1 Nick Chubb, RB1 Nick Chubb, RB1 Dalvin Cook, RB1 Dalvin Cook, RB1 D. Henry, RB1
ROUND 2 Josh Jacobs, RB2 Joe Mixon, RB2 Mike Evans, WR1 Joe Mixon, RB2 L. Fournette, RB2
ROUND 3 Le’Veon Bell,   FLEX, RB3 JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR1 Miles Sanders, RB2 Odell Beckham Jr., WR1 Amari Cooper, WR1
ROUND 4 Stefon Diggs, WR1 Damien Williams, FLEX, RB3 Marlon Mack, FLEX, RB3 James Conner, FLEX, RB3 David Montgomery, FLEX, RB3
ROUND 5 Calvin Ridley, WR2 T.Y. Hilton, WR2 Tyler Lockett, WR2 Stefon Diggs, WR2 Stefon Diggs, WR2
ROUND 6 Hunter Henry, TE1 D.J. Chark, WR3 Marquise Brown, WR3 Calvin Ridley, WR3 Robert Woods, WR3
ROUND 7 Curtis Samuel, WR3 Austin Hooper, TE1 Austin Hooper, TE1 Evan Engram, TE1 Aaron Rodgers, QB1
ROUND 8 Alshon Jeffrey, WR4 Carson Wentz, QB1 Baker Mayfield, QB1 Jarvis Landry, WR4 Tyler Boyd, WR4, FLEX
ROUND 9 Tom Brady, QB1 Brandin Cooks, WR4, FLEX Ravens D, DEF1 Tevin Coleman, RB4, FLEX O.J. Howard, TE1
ROUND 10 Patriots D, DEF1 Duke Johnson, RB4, FLEX Brandin Cooks, WR4 Tom Brady OR Daniel Jones, QB1 Chiefs D, DEF1

You can really hit gold on some wide receivers and tight ends late in this draft, like Brandin Cooks (Rounds 9-10), Jarvis Landry (8-9), Austin Hooper (7-9), O.J. Howard (9-10), and Will Fuller (10-12). I don’t value quarterbacks very highly in fantasy because you can get a Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, or Dak Prescott starting around the seventh round in most leagues.

I guarantee that you won’t finish in last place drafting with this system, and if you’re using keepers, I’ll show you how my team will look once August rolls around using Henry (third) and Brown (eighth).

ROUNDS PK NO. 3 (TEAM 1) PK NO. 8 (TEAM 2) PK NO. 11 (TEAM 3)
ROUND 1 Saquon Barkley, RB1 Nick Chubb, RB1 Joe Mixon, RB1
ROUND 2 Mike Evans, WR1 Josh Jacobs, RB2 Aaron Jones, RB2
ROUND 3 Derrick Henry, RB2 Derrick Henry, RB3/Flex Derrick Henry, RB3/Flex
ROUND 4 Marlon Mack, RB3/Flex Tyler Lockett, WR1 A.J. Brown, WR1
ROUND 5 Calvin Ridley, WR2 T.Y. Hilton, WR2 Robert Woods, WR2
ROUND 6 Hunter Henry, TE1 Kyler Murray, QB1 D.K. Metcalf, WR3
ROUND 7 Drew Brees, QB1 Austin Hooper, TE1 Tyler Higbee, TE1
ROUND 8 Marquise Brown, WR3 Marquise Brown, WR3 Marquise Brown, WR4
ROUND 9 Seahawks Defense, DEF1 Jarvis Landry, WR4 O.J. Howard, TE2
ROUND 10 Alshon Jeffrey, WR4 Eric Ebron, TE2 Tom Brady, QB1

Team 1 is by far the best team, in my opinion, but team Team 3 leaves a wide range of keeper options for the following year. Team 1 is the most battle-ready team to take home a title. If healthy, Team 2 is dangerous and PPR-heavy. Team 3 looks much worse than it really is because of the lack of big-name players, but Mixon and Jones are good PPR options with four high-upside wide receivers, two solid tight ends, and the greatest quarterback of all-time.

This strategy is not for the weak, but if you’re a good general manager and can find gems late — this is one way to switch up what you’ve been doing or tired of losing. This strategy provides solid keeper opportunities, and with so many talented receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft class, I’ll have to revisit this topic with updated rookie fantasy rankings, and my complete fantasy football rankings following the draft.

Remember, it’s never to early to start mocking!

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Vaughn Dalzell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Vaughn, check out his archive or follow him @VaughnDalzell.

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