Couple of emails have floated in over the last week or two regarding keepers. I’m frankly not a fan of the keeper format, I prefer to address a fresh group of faces on the first day of mini-camp.
Still, I serve at the pleasure of a loyal readership. Most keeper leagues are allowed to protect three guys, and most leagues have 12 teams, so over the next two weeks I’m going to give you the 36 top keeper prospects for 2009 drafts.
(Remember, age and health are big factors. Sure, I’d draft Kurt Warner before Matt Ryan next season, but who would you rather have in five years?)
1. Adrian Peterson (RB, Vikings)
Ok, he doesn’t catch passes (16 this season, 19 in 2007). He is still an injury threat (though he has been healthy all season and ranks second in the NFL with 225 carries). He still doesn’t have a QB to work with. But he is on pace for a 1,760-yard season and is just 23 years old. If you own Peterson he is going to be a keeper for the next seven years or so. I think he’s a 2008 version of Eric Dickerson (minus the goggles).
2. Marion Barber III (RB, Cowboys)
I was kind of surprised he finished this high, to be honest. But he’s the lead guy in a top-five offense, is never hurt and will be 26 at the start of the 2009 season. Barber is on pace for 1730 total yards of offense with 13 TDs in 2008, and PPR owners should note that he’s going to finish with about 55 catches.
(The Felix Jones Factor is a concern. I mean, the guy is averaging 8.9 yards per carry. But I think he’ll be Michael Turner to Barber’s LT over the next couple of years. Jones has to be the top handcuff choice next year. Put it this way: If Barber blows out his knee next week Jones is a first rounder in 2009. Any other backup in the league who can make that claim? Wait, did I just use 73 words to describe how great the second-ranked keeper’s backup is? Is it too late to move Barber to 15th?)
3. Frank Gore (RB, 49ers)
Gore or Barber at the two spot is a coin flip. Came down to Tony Romo vs. Shaun Hill (or Matt Cassel or whoever is under center for the Niners next season). Gore has had another outstanding season (on pace for over 1,700 yards of offense) and will be just 26 when the 2009 campaign commences.
4. Joseph Addai (RB, Colts)
I’m willing to write this off as a lost season for Addai, nothing more or less. He’s shown enough in spots (153 total yards of offense with a pair of TDs last week) to suggest that he’s not a major injury risk. The Colts still have Manning, Wayne, Harrison, Gonzalez and Clark in skill spots so they should have no trouble finding the red zone in 2009, giving Addai plenty of TD chances (and even though his 2008 season has been a disappointment, he still has managed to record six TDs in eight games).
5. Matt Forte (RB, Bears)
I know, I know. It just seems too high, right? I own Forte in both leagues I’m in and I keep waiting for him to slow down. But numbers are numbers, and Forte is on pace for 1,758 total yards of offense for the Bears. He’s the only back on the team with any significant carries (he has 205—next best is Kevin Jones with 34) and here’s what I like best-he’s on pace for 69 catches. Throw in that he’ll be 24 when the 2009 season starts and you could make the case that he should be higher on the list.
6. Jay Cutler (QB, Broncos)
If I’m allowing you to have any QB on your fantasy roster for the next eight years this has to be the guy. You can safely pencil Cutler in for 4,000+ passing yards and 25 TDs and leave him alone for the next decade or so (he’s on pace for 4,531 and 30 in 2008).
7. Larry Fitzgerald (WR, Cardinals) and Andre Johnson (WR, Texans)
Yes, we have a tie (it went to all the way to a fifth ballot). To me, these are the two best receivers in the NFL. Both are going to challenge 100 catches and 1,400 yards each season. They don’t need a top QB to produce (Fitzgerald has put up big numbers with Matt Leinart and Josh McCown, Johnson has done the same with David Carr and Sage Rosenfels) and both are still relatively young (Johnson will be 28 at the start of the 2009 season, Fitzgerald 26).
(Here’s a question: Why do you rank Fitzgerald in the top 10 when he hasn’t even been the best receiver on his team this season?
Totally fair query. What a season Anquan Boldin has had. He’s averaging 99 yards per game and has 10 TDs in his eight games. If not for a brutal Eric Smith hit Boldin could be looking at 1,700 yards and 18-20 scores. Without question the best WR in the league this season. And he’ll be on this list, somewhere in the teens. The only concern with Boldin is his contract status. Maybe the Cards are thinking they can move Boldin to a team in need of a top wideout (Baltimore, Washington) and get a couple of high draft picks in return. His value will never be higher, and do they really take a monster hit at WR if they plug Steve Breaston in opposite Fitzgerald?
If Boldin signs a long-term deal with Arizona he is right there with Fitzgerald and Johnson. If he is moved to a low-scoring team you have to move him down a few spots. It is crazy to suggest a 60-catch, 900-yard season from Boldin if he landed with the Ravens, for example?)
9. Clinton Portis (RB, Redskins)
Let’s assume that Portis plays in all 16 games this season (a minor leap, I understand, but go with me here). His current projections for the season (1,701 yards rushing, 11 TDs) hold up pretty well when compared to his other 16-game seasons. He’s got a lot of miles on his tires but his 4.9 YPC average this season would indicate that he’s got at least a couple of hugely productive seasons left in the tank. How many RBs in the NFL are capable of 1,700-yard seasons? Three, four at best?
10. Maurice-Jones Drew (RB, Jaguars)
See, Addai, Joseph. A down year for Jones-Drew to be sure, but he’s done enough to earn keeper status in any format. I was surprised to see that his YPC is 4.3 for the season, that is a strong number for any back. He’s never going to be a 300-carry guy, but he will run for around 1,000 yards, catch 40-50 passes and post double-digit TDs. And apologies to Ben Bradlee Bradford, but this (not his boy BenJarvus) is the best-hyphenated running back in the league.
11. Steven Jackson (RB, Rams)
Do you realize that Jackson will only be 26 years old at the start of the 2009 season? He’s actually a year younger than Michael Turner. I don’t know why that surprised me, seems like Jackson has been around forever. Jackson has been a little banged up over the past two seasons but remains a productive player when he’s on the field. Remember, he’ll start the 2009 just two years removed from a season that saw Jackson catch 90 passes and post nearly 2,400 yards of total offense. If he plays 16 games (which is a big if) he is a top-five RB in all formats.
12. Brandon Jacobs (RB, Giants)
I know about Bradshaw and Ward, but Jacobs is a clear-cut No. 1 back for the Giants (he’s 13th in the NFL in carries this season). I think he’s the most important player on that team, the critical piece of the offense. He has already reached the double-digit mark for TDs this season and is on pace for a 1,400-yard season. The one weakness in his game? Just five catches this season. Remember this: Jacobs will be 26 when the 2009 season starts with just two years as a starter under his belt. His time backing up Tiki Barber should give him an extra year or two of elite performance.
13. Brandon Marshall (WR, Broncos)
Maybe not Rice-Montana, Harrison-Manning or Timpson-Millen, but Marshall and Jay Cutler are going to be the NFL’s top WR-QB combo for the next half-decade. Marshall missed the first game of the 2008 season (suspended), but he’s still on pace to top the 100-catch mark for the second consecutive campaign. You might ask why Marshall is ranked behind Johnson and Fitzgerald. Let’s just say that he seems to have had some bad luck with the law (three arrests from March 2007 to March 2008).
14. Anquan Boldin (WR, Cardinals)
We already covered Boldin earlier (see Fitzgerald and Johnson), so let’s use this spot top ask (and hopefully answer) a few questions about Week 12.
Why is Lance Moore only starting in 42 percent of Yahoo! leagues?
No clue. It is clear that Marques Colston is not going to return to form this season (great buy-low option in 2009), so I think Moore is the top option in the league’s best passing offense. His last three games? 20 catches, 268 yards and three TDs. Moore is actually available in 33 percent of Yahoo! leagues. If he’s on your bench or you can pick him up make sure to get him in your starting lineup. I’m not sure that there will be five better receivers for the rest of the season.
Got a good waiver wire defense for the week?
Look, there are two things in this world that I am absolutely brutal at. One is Guessing That Ass at Barstoolsports. I’ve missed about 75 in a row. And it’s not like I’m guessing Kathy Najimy or Judge Judy every time, I give this serious thought. Take the Stacy Keibler picture from the other day. I thought it was Heidi Klum. Perfectly fine guess, right?
I also am awful at picking waiver wire defenses for starts (at least I have been so for in 2008). I picked up the Jets vs. the Chiefs and Tyler Thigpen went wild in Week 8. Stuff like that all season. Even last week I thought an anti-Raiders start with Miami was gold. Nothing. A whopping four fantasy points. So maybe I’m not the guy to ask. If I had to pick up a team this week I’d go with Kansas City at home vs. the Bills. Trent Edwards is struggling big-time and maybe the Chiefs return a pick for a score. The Chiefs are owned in two percent of Yahoo! leagues, so we aren’t looking at an every-week start.
15. Tony Romo (QB, Cowboys)
The finger should be fine for next season, and he’ll have Owens, Witten, Williams, Jones and Barber at the skill positions. If he plays 16 games in 2009 he should easily post 4,000 yards and 25-30 TDs. I ranked Cutler ahead of Romo simply because he is three years younger and because I prefer “overcoming diabetes” to “taking a homeless guy to the movies”.
16. Michael Turner (RB, Falcons)
He’ll be 27 at the start of the 2009 season but, like Jacobs, is still fresh from years as a backup (never carried the ball more than 80 times in a season before 2008). Turner has looked every part of a No. 1 back in his first season with the Falcons (leads the NFL in rushing) and clearly enjoys playing on the turf in Atlanta (111 yards per game at the Georgia Dome).
Part II Next Week…
Kirk Minihane, WEEI.com Contributor, is the resident Fantasy Football expert for WEEI.com.