Evaluating Keeper Decisions

How to use Footballguys tools to evaluate potential keeper players

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"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

One of the biggest questions that I see each and every year revolves around keeper leagues. The question usually goes something like this:

".... I can keep Player X for a 5th round pick this year, or I can keep Player Y for a 7th. Which one should I keep?"

After years of answering these types of questions, it became apparent that a lot of people had similar questions. The role of a writer here at Footballguys is to be the guide for each and every fantasy team owner and to provide help whenever possible to make their team better. Using that thought, it became clear that if there was a way to use the tools here at Footballguys along with an article to explain how to do the evaluation, it would be a great resource for keeper league team owners. That’s the goal here, so let’s get rolling.

Step 1 - Know Your Keeper Rules

The first question that has to be asked and answered is this: "What players on the roster are worth keeping?" Now, not every keeper league is created equal, because some leagues reward patient owners that keep rookies or younger players for several seasons until they emerge (hopefully) as top-caliber fantasy players. For the sake of simplicity, the assumptions for this article are as follows:

  1. The keeper league rules allow for keeping 1-5 players from the prior season

  2. The cost for keeping a player is a draft pick of some kind for the next player draft

Those two rules should encompass most keeper league settings. Some leagues have two keepers, some three, some more, some fewer. Most keeper leagues use a "higher draft pick" cost structure for each keeper player, such as any player drafted (or kept) in a particular round last year costs a draft pick this year a few rounds higher. For example, if you picked up Lamar Jackson in Round 10 in 2019, you might be able to keep him for a pick in Round 7 or Round 8 this year.

Now that this baseline is established, what is a reasonable approach to evaluating a player’s keeper value?

Step 2 - Getting Familiar with ADP

Footballguys keeps (and updates) ADP lists between the NFL Draft and NFL Week 1. Here is a link to the current versions for both PPR and non-PPR. Take a look at both your roster and this list, and look for obvious values. Any player that can be kept for a pick lower than their ADP represents value. To go back to the earlier example, Lamar Jackson for a pick in Round 7 and Round 8 is a great value, since Lamar Jackson is a Top 25 player on the ADP list.

Repeat that process for your entire roster and identify any player(s) that would be valuable keepers, then proceed to the next step.

Step 3 - Leveraging the Footballguys’ Draft Pick Calculator

One of the best tools to use for keeper evaluation is the Footballguys’ Pick Value Calculator. The normal way to use this calculator is to get the values for each draft pick that might be included in a potential trade. What is being recommended here is to treat each and every keeper evaluation as a single-team trade, or a trade with yourself. What that means is that you are essentially trading the value of a draft pick in an upcoming fantasy draft for a player to keep. Since you know the value of the player and the price (draft pick) to keep him, a one-team trade can be evaluated by using the player’s ADP value and the draft pick value.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Continuing from earlier, Lamar Jackson has a lot of keeper value in most leagues for 2020. Jackson’s 2019 ADP had him anywhere from Round 8-11 last season, but let’s say he was selected in Round 9 last year and you have the option to keep him for a seventh-round pick. Taking a generic pick from the middle of each draft round in a 12-team league (Pick 78, 7.06) leads to asking the calculator the value of keeping Jackson with an ADP of 22 overall for Pick 78:

Figure 1 - Trading a Pick (Round 7) for a Top 25 Player (ADP 22)

Based on Figure 1, the keeper value for Lamar Jackson this year is very high. Based on the pick and ADP selected, Jackson shows a 200% improvement in team value by keeping him for a pick in Round 7, since his present value is a later Round 2 pick.

Repeating this process for your entire roster should be straight-forward, but for simplicity, it may be better to just focus on Top 50 players on the ADP list and possibly your late-round selections from last year if they include potential fantasy starters for the coming season.

Now that the simple math is under our belts, let’s get a little more advanced.

Step 4 - Simple vs. Advanced Evaluations

The first example above is an example of a "simple evaluation method" - meaning it is comparing a player’s ADP against the cost of the draft pick, as shown earlier. To get a more complete value for potential keeper players, it is important to look at the true value of draft picks in a keeper league. One method to modify the value would be to devalue draft picks by the total number of keepers for the league. In this example, Round 1 picks in a league where three players are kept are considered to be Round 4 value picks. The concern with this method is that it does not fully reflect the true value of each pick. The true pick value in a keeper league is summarized by this simple statement:

In a keeper league, the true value of a pick in the next fantasy draft must be based upon the Worst Case ADP Player likely available at that pick.

There is a subtle difference between the above rule and the first definition. If you are on the clock in Round 1 with the first overall pick in a standard fantasy draft, every player is available. In a keeper league, (up to) 36 players are already gone - but there is a distinct chance that a few of the players being kept by all of the team owners are NOT in the Top 36 on ADP lists. Sometimes fantasy team owners keep Player #61 overall for a later round pick, which is still a great value but has zero impact on the first 60 players to be chosen. Further, some players that are in the Top 36 will not be kept because their keeper value is not good enough. This typically happens when veteran players are selected in the first few rounds of the prior season’s draft and then returned to the player pool. As a possible example, consider DeAndre Hopkins, a Top 20 overall player who enters his eighth professional season this year. Odds are that anyone who drafted him back in 2013 or 2014 may have kept him for a few seasons, but the price got too high so now he is a top pick with little keeper value. This often happens with veterans with established high-end value with a lengthy career.

Not to get too technical or advanced, but there are three approaches that should be considered for discounting draft pick values in a keeper league:

Option A ("Demoted Pick Method") = Demote all draft picks by the number of keepers for each team in the league. If it is a "Keep 3" keeper league, for example, a pick in Round 1 is considered a Round 4 pick, Round 2 is worth a Round 5 pick, and so on. This is the most straightforward method, but least exact.

Option B ("Modified Demotion Method") = This method takes a generic approach to modify Option A due to the potential flaw of additional higher value players still being available early in a draft. For example, in a "Keep 3" keeper league, demote each pick by two rounds rather than three to account for oddities like the DeAndre Hopkins example above.

Option C ("Exacting Demotion Method") = Looking hard at your ENTIRE LEAGUE and making reasonable keeper player assumptions for all teams. This projects where all keeper players will slot into the upcoming draft.

Now Option C is the clearest path to true value, but it also takes more work and time. Option B is close to the original viewpoint, but it gives a general modification to not demote early-round selections too much, as they are more valuable than Option A suggests since top-notch talent should still be available at those selections.

Step 5 - Comparing Advanced Keeper Evaluations

Let’s introduce one more example player from 2019, DK Metcalf. Metcalf had an explosive rookie season and is now a projected fantasy starter this year based on his ADP (59 overall in PPR). Last year he was going in Round 9-11, so we can select the average (Round 10) and a generic Round 8 (8.07) pick for keeper purposes. Using both players and the various methods discussed above (including the original "simple valuation" method) gives us several ways for evaluating Metcalf and comparing to Lamar Jackson:

Method
Player
ADP
ADP FBG
Calc Value
2019 Selection
(Example)
Keeper
Pick
Adjusted
Keeper Pick
Adj Keeper
Pick Value
% Value
Increase
Relative
Player Value
Simple
22
998
Round 10
7.06 (78)
7.06 (78)
333
200%
171%
Simple
59
500
Round 11
8.07 (91)
8.07 (91)
231
116%
Option A
22
998
Round 10
7.06 (78)
10.07 (115)
103
869%
153%
Option A
59
500
Round 11
8.07 (91)
11.06 (126)
75
567%
Option B
22
998
Round 10
7.06 (78)
9.06 (102)
161
520%
135%
Option B
59
500
Round 11
8.07 (91)
10.07 (115)
103
385%

Table 1 - Comparison of Two Keepers with Three Methods

Table 1 summarizes the values of keeping Lamar Jackson and D.K. Metcalf based on the simple method (no adjustments for keepers for draft-pick values), Option A (discounting picks by three rounds), and Option B (discounted by two rounds). Jackson is always a better value than Metcalf due to the higher ADP, but if you look at the last column, "Relative Player Values", the differences between each player using each method are summarized. Under the simple method, Jackson is 1.71 times more valuable as a keeper than Metcalf, but that number goes down to 1.53 with a fully discounted method ("Option A") and even lower at 1.35 with the modified method ("Option B"). (Note - Option C is too league specific, so it was not included here).

Conclusion

Evaluating potential keepers can be tricky. Footballguys is certainly here to help, and two basic tools can be combined to provide answers for nearly any keeper evaluation. The key takeaways are that:

  1. With a good ADP list and a Draft Pick Value Calculator from Footballguys, most keeper league team owners can independently evaluate the value of players to potentially keep

  2. By comparing different valuation methods (subtracting 0-3 rounds for draft pick value), a relative value among potential keepers can be determined

No method is perfect or exact, but using the ADP list and calculator combination can give relative strengths of keepers to consider. This can also be used for breaking any close calls amongst several options, as well as identifying potential players to trade before the draft to capture more value. Looking league-wide for teams that lack strong keeper options often presents potential trade partners that may improve your draft position for the chance to have a better keeper.

Questions, suggestions, and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.

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