By Greg Alan, 4for4 Founder
In addition to our general performance keeper league rankings below, we also provide custom keeper league rankings as part of our Full Impact tools. You give us your league rules and tell us how you would like to balance current vs. future team needs, and we'll provide customized keeper rankings. See more in the Full Impact section of the site.
Keeper league cheatsheets are a mixed bag. Good keeper rankings must carefully blend Art and Science. In addition, they should aid your roster management strategy. Before we dive into the rankings, I'd like to provide some context and offer up a few facts.
The scouting process is at the core of all NFL roster management. And frankly, scouting and evaluating NFL talent is often very subjective. A number of different factors go into grading a player's ability. For quarterbacks, arm strength, field vision, pocket awareness and throwing accuracy must be considered. For wide receivers, the ability to run designed routes, release from the line, block downfield, and gain yards after the catch are all analyzed. Objective measures are routinely documented at the combine. These include 20- and 40-yard dash times, vertical and broad jump distances, 20-yard shuttle speed and 225lb. bench press count totals.
Reviewing the data is the easy part. However, among athletes possessing the required physical skill, success is often determined based on one's mental game. Unfortunately, that's not so easily measured. When it comes to fantasy football, at 4for4, we leverage player durability, consistency and estimated workload data. We combine this analysis and consider each team's offensive scheme and how each player graded out in the previous season.
However, for keeper league rankings, that's only part of the puzzle. For keeper leagues, much like real NFL scouting, a number of intangibles (including a player's mental game) must be considered. We've all seen NFL players fade into the sunset after landing a million-dollar deal. Does the player really have a "fire in his belly?" How will he react to a coaching change? NFL football is a harsh reality. Hesitation, lack of focus and playing with partial motivation all spell trouble. And so, subjective factors come into the keeper league ranking process -- it's what we call the Art.
Time and injuries take a toll on all athletes. Age-performance correlation data is essential when it comes to keeper league player evaluation. A number of things need to be considered. Several measurable factors include:
- Typical Player Lifecycle. Getting a read on how most players increase, peak and decline over time is absolutely essential.
- Player Position. As you will soon see, standard NFL performance varies greatly by position over time.
- Individual Peak. The age a given player hits his prime contributes to determining his future value.
- Health. Historical injury status and current player health clearly correlate with NFL longevity.
- College Accomplishment. The round a player was drafted into the NFL factors into the equation.
Statistical analysis using years of actual player data has resulted in a library of player lifecycle curves. While not perfect, this normative data is very helpful in projecting a number of NFL career paths. Combining this analysis with other relevant information helps establish best case trends. This helps us project a player's value over a number of years. Below, you'll find a few essentials based on years of actual data.
QB: Less than 15% of all quarterbacks peak before the age of 25. In fact, almost 35% of all QBs have their best statistical season after their 30th birthday. History suggests if a QB can put up decent numbers while in his mid-twenties, things will only get better. The data shows most top-tier QBs reach their prime between 27 and 33. Over a three-year planning horizon, advanced age generally isn't that much of a factor in projecting fantasy point decline, unless the QB has already reached age 36.
RB: Unlike quarterbacks, most running backs typically reach their prime between 23 and 26 years of age. In addition, less than 5% of all running backs peak after age 30. In fact, once they reach 30, a number of running backs have trouble finding work. If they do, on average, their output is typically 1/3 the statistical level achieved in the prime of their career. Certainly there are expectations. However, the odds really do work against the 30+ year-old RB.
WR and TE: Overall, wide receivers and tight ends tend to reach their peak in their mid-twenties. WRs generally have their best single season performance between 25 to 28. However, in general, receivers tend to decline over time slowly. In fact, the average starting 30 year-old WR tends to be almost as productive as the typical starting 25 year-old. However, on average, productivity greatly declines once a receiver hits the age of 33.
To get the most from your 4for4 keeper rankings, you'll need to do some work. In addition to studying the ratings, you'll need to think about your own unique situation, adapt accordingly and exercise good judgment come draft day. Like an NFL GM, you'll need to address a few philosophical issues. You'll need to come to grips with balancing short- and long-term success. Should you aggressively seek out a roster of aging studs to win now at the risk of running your team into the ground in 2-3 years? Or, should you sacrifice a few wins in the short-term in an attempt to build a true dynasty in 2-4 years? Clearly a number of variables come into the mix and no one strategy or philosophy can cover all fantasy football situations. Clearly, "proper strategy" is a function of your league format -- so know your rules! However, I don't think your going to let me off the hook quite that easily! Personally, I've seen both extremes work to varying degrees. Actually, if you think about it, all keeper league rankings must address current vs. future value.
I'd like to share an insight based on how several NFL organizations have balanced the need to win now with the need to remain competitive down the road. This philosophy is actually very similar to the one built into the 4for4 keeper rankings. As far as I know, former Dallas Head Coach Jimmy Johnson was the first person to champion the logic. In fact, Jimmy often applied this "rule of thumb" while wheeling and dealing during the NFL draft. The thinking is rather straightforward and goes something like this: a 4th-round draft pick this year has about the same value as a 3rd-round pick selected next season. Likewise a 4th-round pick this year has the same value as a 2nd-round pick in two years. Finally, a 4th-round pick this year is essentially worth a 1st-round pick in four years. In general, delaying a draft pick one year, equates to moving up about 30 spots next year.
Loosely translated to fantasy football, Jimmy's philosophy suggests you value upcoming player accomplishment as follows: Y (x1.0), Y+1 (x.50), Y+2 (x.25), Y+3 (x.12), Y+4 (x.06) and Y+5 (x.03).