INDIANAPOLIS --- The most fun I have every season in fantasy football is in a keeper league. If you have a strong group of friends or coworkers that enjoy fantasy as much as you, I would highly recommend establishing a keeper league.
I went to Hatboro-Horsham High School in the suburbs of Philadelphia. We started the HHFFL in 2005, my senior year of high school. It was an 8-team league. It then morphed into a 10-team keeper league and now a 12-team keeper league. The trophy is named after the school's longtime football coach, The Dave Sanderson Trophy. Draft picks get traded left and right twelve months per year. The champion picks where to hold the draft. It's insanely fun. Most importantly, this is the 10th anniversary of the HHFFL, and it's the single biggest reason all 12 of us have kept in touch.
The basic premise though is each team gets to keep any two players from their previous year roster. I have to decide between Montee Ball, Brandon Marshall, and Antonio Brown in this ½ point per reception format.
There are other keeper leagues that do not allow you to keep a player you drafted in the first three rounds of the previous year's draft. You can then keep players this year for the round you drafted them in the previous year. So waiver wire gems like Nick Foles, Julius Thomas, and Zac Stacy are gold and only cost a last round pick to keep in 2014.
Colts.com beat writer Kevin Bowen, Colts.com analyst Jim Sorgi, and I got together to offer our picks for the top keeper at each position group. We had to choose between short-term keeper value and long-term keeper value at some positions. That's the beauty of keeper leagues. Do you want to go all-in now or still plan for the future? We played fantasy general manager with our picks:
Steve: Aaron Rodgers (age 30) - The top three QBs in fantasy today: Peyton Manning is 38, Drew Brees is 35, Aaron Rodgers is only 30. I was really tempted to say Andrew Luck here. Frankly, I think Rodgers and Luck are 1 and 1a for best keepers at QB long-term, but I think Rodgers gets a slight edge because his offense is more pass happy in the present. The real question here is if Rodgers can stay healthy. Otherwise, I expect top-3 production for years to come.
Kevin: Andrew Luck (age 24) - It's pretty clear that this debate comes down to two signal callers. I'll go with Andrew Luck over Aaron Rodgers for a couple of reasons. One is age. Yes, quarterback's longevity can last well into the 30s (Rodgers turns 31 in December), but I'll take my chances with a soon-to-be 25-year-old Luck with a strong supporting cast of young talent. Luck might never be the gunslinger of a Drew Brees or Peyton Manning but he's a consistent 30 touchdown-quarterback for the foreseeable future. Taking a player like Luck means there's no need to worry about the quarterback position of your team for the next decade.
Jim: Peyton Manning (age 38) - He is the reigning fantasy points champion. Manning may have lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno but still has Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas. The Broncos added Emmanuel Sanders and will use Montee Ball to replace Moreno. I think after the Super Bowl performance teams will try and pressure Manning, leaving 1-on-1 match-ups. I don't think the numbers will quite reach 2013's historic levels, but even a little step back is okay since he averaged 25 points per game.
Kevin: LeSean McCoy (age 26) - When Chip Kelly took the Eagles job, he couldn't have asked for a running back with a better pedigree for his system than McCoy. He's the ideal package for Kelly's show on grass. McCoy is just 26 years old and is coming off the best season of his 5 years in the NFL. He's going to catch 50 balls a year and be a 1,300-yard rusher as long as he stays healthy. Not to mention he's going to get ample opportunities with a Kelly offense that wants to play up-tempo and run well over 65 plays a game. Plus, I like a running back that doesn't need to thrive in between the tackles and thus be a bit more susceptible to injury. McCoy does his best work in the open field.
Jim: Jamaal Charles (age 27) - Charles averaged 18 points per game last season. In the passing game, he was targeted 104 times, 38 more than his previous career-high. With potential offensive line issues, look for Alex Smith should hit Charles for a lot more check downs, and with Charles, we all know he can take it to the house at anytime. He also produced 14 plays of 20+ yards (3rd most among RBs), in his first season with Andy Reid.
Steve: Jamaal Charles (age 27) - Having covered Chip Kelly at Oregon and seeing what his system produced for running backs, then watching LeSean McCoy win the rushing title last year, it's hard to argue with Shady. He's also younger than Charles. However, when I'm looking at a keeper, I'm looking at if I can get top value for a guy for the next 3 years. It hard to look any deeper into the future than that. Charles still has three more seasons, until his age 30 season. He's also a PPR machine in Andy Reid's system that made Brian Westbrook a household fantasy name in Philadelphia. Charles has also never carried the ball more than 300 times in a season. So, I'm not concerned about him wearing down any time soon. Lastly, he outscored McCoy 266 to 246 last season, and McCoy has to contend with Darren Sproles potentially taking some touches away.
Jim: Calvin Johnson (age 28) - Since 2011, he has over 1,000 more receiving yards than the next best wideout. He did finish 3rd among fantasy WRs last year, but I attribute that to knee and finger injuries that required surgery but still finished with 12 TD and almost 1,500 yards. He will again be the focal point of the Lions offense at 100%, and he has 150+ targets each of the past three seasons.
Steve: Calvin Johnson (age 28) - I almost went Dez Bryant here because he's only 25, but I don't know how stable the Cowboys QB situation will be after Romo, and WRs aren't like RBs. They don't historically break down after they turn 30. Megatron is a stud. He has super stability at QB long-term as well with Matthew Stafford. He can sometimes single-handedly win you fantasy match-ups, evidenced by his 329 yard game versus Dallas last season. And he would have likely been the top fantasy WR again last season if not for sitting out a meaningless week 17 game.
Kevin: A.J. Green (age 26) - The obvious pick is Calvin Johnson, but I'm going to go with A.J. Green. The Lions have added some impressive playmakers in the past few offseasons and I could see Johnson's production go down (although Johnson's numbers would still be elite). Green is the main threat for Andy Dalton and in a division that is built to stop the run, the tandem of Dalton and Green should continue to flourish. The 26-year-old Green has been extremely consistent with his numbers over the last three years. His big play potential is oozing. Since 2012, Green leads the NFL with seven touchdowns of at least 50 yards. You can't go wrong with really any of the top receivers but the young Green intrigues me.
Steve, Jim, and Kevin: Jimmy Graham (age 27) - Duh...moving on...
BONUS COLTS PLAYER WITH HIGHEST FANTASY CEILING
Kevin: T.Y. Hilton - The argument for Luck as a potential fourth round pick is certainly enticing, but I'm going with the electric game breaker. Hilton has re-written the Colts records books for young receivers. In his two NFL seasons, he has 10 100-yard games (only six players have reached that plateau after two seasons in NFL history). I'm looking big picture with Hilton and he easily could be the Colts No. 1 receiver as quickly as next season. I see Luck's draft position as a bit too high in terms of taking a keeper quarterback. Hilton could be had with great value in the seventh round and is a guy that will be Luck's big-play threat for the next decade.
Steve: Trent Richardson - If you've been reading this weekly column, you know I'm all aboard the TRich bandwagon. He's still somehow being drafted in the 9th round of 10-team leagues and 7th round in 12-team leagues on NFL.com. So far in training camp, Richardson has look crisp, explosive, and most importantly healthy. He's set a goal for himself, and he says 1,000 yards rushing just isn't it for him. His goals are set higher. Don't forget as well this is a back that caught 51 passes in Cleveland as a rookie. The problem is if he's on your roster, you probably spent a 1st round pick on him last season, which doesn't make him a viable keeper. However, target him when you draft, beginning in round 5 as a RB2, after you have your RB1, WR1 and WR2 established. His ceiling in 2014 is where he was picked in fantasy drafts in 2013...potential first round value.
Jim: Andrew Luck - The offense just revolves around him. He was 4th in fantasy points among QBs last year with losing Reggie Wayne and all those guys. If the Colts can stay healthy and with all those weapons, I think his marks just go up.