Top NFL Fantasy Keepers for 2014

Christian, here––also known as your source for premature fantasy football information. If you’re anything like me (I love cake and long walks on the beach), you probably feel the exciting buzz of the fantasy football season at an uncomfortably early date. To tie you over, why not scope in on some keepers for next season?
There’s a fairly simple set of base rules to determining a great sleeper. Firstly, they should be sturdy players who are likely to have a prosperous football career for several years to come. This is usually found through youthful players with a high ceiling. They also need to be in a solid surrounding with little competition for their jobs; in other words, they’re players who weren’t just great for a single, blowout season. This emphasizes the final point: they should be proven players. Although you want to keep the young stars, they should be somewhat proven in the NFL. Just take a look at some of the breakout runners from the 2012 season – some of them only played small chunks of the season and turned out to be duds the next year.

Here’s an in-depth look at a few players in different draft tiers to help you on your way to deciding your keepers:

Jamaal Charles: Tier 1 RB––Chiefs

Charles is an interesting keeper to snag due to his age. Going into the next fantasy season, he’ll be 27 (turning 28). In most career paths, this would seem like an excitingly young age. As an NFL running back, Charles is hitting his senior years. Despite the aforementioned rule of youth, Charles remains one of the top tier running backs to keep next season. He defies the rules by showing a consistency and resilience that is uncommon among most backs. Charles functioned as Kansas City’s (virtually) sole running back and also as one of their top receivers. He was basically the team’s entire offense last season. This disgusting workload was met without the slightest injury scare. To head back to our checklist, Charles is a proven back on a team that promises him all of the touches and who is healthy enough to play at a high level for years to come. He’s a top tier keeper.

Eddie Lacy: Tier 1 RB––Packers

Lacy steps into the top tier alongside Charles for a completely different reason: he’s young with plenty of potential. Potential is an understatement as Lacy’s rookie 2013 season earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl after rushing for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns; oh, he also earned the award for the offensive rookie of the year. His only injury on the season was a minor concussion which held him out of one game. To top off his huge upside, the Packers lack any kind of decent backfield to steal Lacy’s position. He’ll be getting all of the carries. Unlike Charles’ immediate production, Lacy promises to be relevant in fantasy football for years to come. Consider him another top tier option along with names like McCoy and Lynch.

Le’Veon Bell: Tier 2 RB––Steelers

Bell presents an interesting dilemma and may be a debatable pick as such a high tiered runner. On one hand, the Steelers seem set on featuring Bell as their top runner for years to come. Paired with his young age, this is good news. He also managed 860 yards and 8 TDs in his rookie season in just 13 games. But wait – just 13 games? Yupp, Bell’s rookie season led to a major concussion and a foot injury. Does this mean he’s injury prone? Not particularly; it does, however, raise some red flags. Also, Bell’s pounding backyard football running style fits the Steelers’ game perfectly. However, it means he’ll rely on large amounts of carries and large amounts of touchdowns to remain fantasy relevant. This could be cut by the recent acquisition of former Patriots’ runner, Blount. Blount is a goal-line bowling ball and will likely steal some well-earned touchdowns from Bell next season. Despite all of this, Bell is still ranked so highly as a keeper because he is one of the youngest featured backs in the league and will be getting touches (Blount isn’t exactly starter material). His tier is made up of names like the aging Matt Forte, and the young Giovani Bernard.

Calvin Johnson: Tier 1 WR––Lions

If it wasn’t for his adorable charm and ego-less play, people would probably be tired of seeing Megatron at the top of every list forever and always. But, as it stands, the holder of nearly every single wide receiver record in NFL history is a humble man who stays out of trouble. Johnson will be turning 29 near the beginning of next season which doesn’t bode well for him. However, the tall and lanky receiver somehow seems invincible to any sort of injury and, despite being constantly double-covered, has put up some of the top wider receiver stats for the last 6 seasons. Since his NFL debut, Johnson has racked up nearly 10,000 receiving yards and 67 touchdowns. He may be old, and he may be the target of every defense in the league, but it’s hard to pass on one of the greatest players of all time.

Julio Jones: Tier 1 WR––Falcons

Jones is a strange case of an “in-betweener.” This 25 year old receiver is young enough to have a long career ahead of him, but has enough experience under his belt to prove his worth. His teammate, Roddy White, had been a fantasy force for years. Jones’ talent is so dominant that he even managed to surpass White’s production as the team’s clear no. 1 receiving threat. Luckily, (yes, luckily) Jones was injured last season and missed all but his first 4 games. This will severely drop his stock for next season. If you can get him, grab him. If you have him, hang on tightly. Within those 4 games, Jones managed 580 yards and 2 Tds. He has also proven to be fairly sturdy and not particularly injury prone in the past. Barring any other unfortunate accidents, expect him to maintain top 10 production for years to come. He shows the qualities of a well-rounded keeper: good age, proven fantasy relevance and plenty of passes. Other top tier receivers include the likes of Josh Gordon, A.J. Greene and Dez Bryant (to name a few).

Keenan Allen: Tier 2 WR – Chargers

Allen’s fantastic upside comes from his incredibly young age: 22. Despite the young age and his incredibly low position on San Diego’s depth chart last season, injuries forced him into a starting role where he managed over 1,000 yards and 8 TDs. Those stats, despite not being a prime target until several weeks into the season, are incredible. His production and role on the team, however, were very situational. It remains to be seen if Allen will continue as a staple to the team and a large fantasy contributor. His fantastic season should have earned him a starting role. However, with other receivers surrounding him, he may not remain the team’s favored target. Keep him with cautioned confidence. He is tiered with other players who have large upside with a few questions such as Randall Cobb and Alshon Jeffery.

There’s a pretty obvious trend here – the most elite veterans and rookies with virtually no downside end up in a top tier. Older non-elite players and rookies with certain questions land in the second tier. As the questions rise, players start to drop into third and fourth tiers. Players in the top 2 tiers should qualify as keepers no matter what.

As for quarterbacks, the most elite are fairly obvious. Players like Manning, Rogers, Brees and Brady should be kept despite their age. They all have proven track-records that they’ve lived up to time and time again. Rookie quarterbacks often fall into a slump after great first seasons and should be treated with more caution (here’s looking at Kaep and RG3).

Tight ends offer a larger dilemma than all of the other offensive positions. Sure-fire keepers like Jimmy Graham are rare because history has shown that the top players of the position vary drastically year-to-year. Other notable keepers are Vernon Davis and Julius Thomas. Afterward, the list thins out pretty quickly. Focus your attention on other positions.

image source: Huffington Post

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