There are a number of ways fantasy football keeper leagues can be run. In some, you keep as many players as you like from one year to the next. In others you can keep, say, three players, but only if they were drafted after Round Four. Et cetera. For the purposes of this exercise, however, let’s assume you are allowed to keep one player but it will cost you your pick in the round you originally drafted him. For instance, if you want to keep a wide receiver that you drafted in round seven, then in next season’s draft, you will not have a pick in Round Seven.
Every season, rookies turn out to be some of the most commonly protected players in keeper leagues, primarily for the reason that they are drafted later than their veteran counterparts and in some cases, can put up numbers well above their original draft standing. Take Cam Newton in 2011 for example. Newton had an average draft position (ADP) of Round 13. Same holds true for last year’s breakout rookie running back, DeMarco Murray, with his ADP also in Round 13. Both players showed incredible promise, and came at a very cheap price as rookies. They were pretty much off the board by the end of Round Two in 2012.
This year, we see the same scenario at quarterback and running back with Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin. According to Yahoo! Fantasy Football, Griffin III had an ADP in the Round Eight; Doug Martin’s ADP was Round Five.
Robert Griffin III is the highest scoring fantasy player in all of football with 242 points this season. He has done it through the air and on the ground, and unlike Cam Newton of last year, he hasn’t slowed down as the season progressed; defenses aren’t figuring him out. This bodes well for his chances next year, where it’s easy to predict that he will be among the top quarterbacks taken, mid-second round at the latest.
Doug Martin is the second highest fantasy scoring running back in the NFL and eleventh highest scoring player overall. He leads the NFC in rushing touchdowns and has the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL, while being the workhorse back for one of the most explosive (and young) offenses in the league. Also not showing signs of slowing, he should certainly be one of the first backs taken off the board, going late-first round at the latest.
This season has proven to be a unique one, because we do not see the same plateaus in fantasy points at certain positions as we have in past years. Usually, when it comes to nailing down a keeper, the running back gets priority. The reason for this is that you have a clear division between an elite group and a second tier of players. Conversely, at the quarterback position, there is generally a less defined plateau where the top ten quarterbacks aren’t separated by a large point gap.
This year however, we are seeing a new pattern forming. There are three running backs with more than 15 points per game (ppg) and 13 with more than 10 ppg. In this case, we see an elite group of three, and a second tier of ten that are not too far behind. At quarterback we have three with more than 20 ppg and 15 with more than 15 ppg. The gap that we generally see at the running back position is very small, while the gap between the top tier and second tier of quarterbacks has grown. There are seven players within five ppg of Doug Martin and eight players within five points of Robert Griffin III.
So, if we are basing our keeper decision solely on the results of this year, the choice is difficult. But, we have to view this season as an outlier. The safest thing to do would be to assume that next season will be more like the norm and there will be defined tiers at each position.
In assuming this, we can conclude that keeping Doug Martin is the smarter of the two. Keeping Martin, you will give up a Round Five selection and end up with Martin (a top tier running back), a First Round selection (another top tier running back) and a Second Round quarterback (who will still be projected as top-five at his position.