If you’re looking to act as close to an NFL general manager as possible in a fantasy football setting, get yourself in a keeper/dynasty league. Unlike traditional snake-draft or auction redraft leagues, keeper/dynasty leagues allow you to keep a predetermined amount of players (sometimes as few as one or two, or, in the case of full dynasty leagues, your whole team). Keepers usually cost you draft picks or auction dollars, with better players “costing” more, but the variations of how to run a league are endless. After everyone designates their keepers, a draft is held with the unkept players and rookies. In a perfect world, you’ll be competing with the same owners in your dynasty league for years to come, perfecting your strategy for when to go for a title and when to build for the future.
Keeper/dynasty leagues encourage you to value youth and always be mindful of the way a player’s career is trending. In a dynasty start-up draft, rookies will be taken much higher than in a typical yearly league (for obvious reasons). The beautiful thing about dynasty leagues is that it operates much like the real NFL — some teams are in win-now mode; others are building for the future. Still others are stuck right in the middle of a lukewarm hell.
Just like seasonal fantasy leagues, dynasty leagues come in all shapes and sizes: Standard, PPR, two-QB, superflex, etc., so, as always, read the fine print of your league settings and be prepared to draft accordingly.
It’s difficult to give out dynasty/keeper advice because the differences in league settings can alter how one approaches the keeper process. If you have to forfeit the round in which you drafted a guy the previous year, is it better value to keep, say, Jonathan Taylor in the third or CeeDee Lamb in the sixth? Those are the decisions that keep the most dedicated dynasty leaguers up at night in March and April. Some leagues require “raising” the draft position/auction price (i.e. adding a round or two or $5-$10 to a player’s draft round/price from the year before). In our above example, that would mean Taylor would now cost a second-round pick and Lamb would be a fifth.
Even with all that said, there are some general tips that all keeper/dynasty leaguers can use, both before and during the season. Here’s our pre-draft and in-season checklist to help those who are making the switch to dynasty leagues in 2021 or those just looking for a refresher as they head into another season with their dynasty squad.
2021 Fantasy Football Keeper/Dynasty League Tips, Draft Strategy Advice
Preseason Strategy Decisions: Should you…
- Go for it all in Year 1? Often, you’ll notice one or two of your leaguemates taking older players in the thick of their prime early in the start-up draft. These guys are punting the future with the chance to win the championship right away, often resulting in a cash prize. A lot of the time, these owners will trade future rookie picks to position themselves to have more early picks in the start-up draft. With other owners opting to build for the future, they see Year 1 as an opportunity to possess a significant fantasy advantage early. Whether to go with this strategy depends on your existing base of keepers. If you have the right guys, by all means go for the ring. If your team is mostly mediocre with a few standouts, you might be better off trying the next strategy.
- Build for the future? As implied, this is essentially the polar opposite of going for it all in Year 1. This strategy often involves shipping away early start-up picks for future picks and/or more picks in the middle part of the start-up draft. These owners miss out on the creme of the crop at the top, but it’s all part of the plan. A lot of valuable young players will still fall to them. This can be risky, as many could bust, but when it pays off, it pays off huge. Think about last year’s group of rookie running backs. Someone implementing this strategy could’ve very well ended up with some combination of Jonathon Taylor, D’Andre Swift, Antonio Gibson, and JK Dobbins. At wide receiver, Justin Jefferson was also sitting around this territory. Sometimes, this strategy takes a few years to pay off, but in that case, it paid off in Year 1, with the future looking even more fantastic. But hey, even if this strategy leads to a league-worst record Year 1, congratulations — you now have the No. 1 overall pick in next season’s rookie draft.
- Play the middle? This is the combination of the two strategies listed above, and what you’re shooting for is a productive struggle. A “productive struggle” means you aren’t necessarily going to be a contender right out of the gate, but you aren’t a guaranteed bottom-dweller either. You’re likely a decent team with young players waiting in the wings ready to break out. However, as the season progresses, you might adopt one of the above strategies. If you’re a piece or two away from contending, you might look to sell rookie draft picks in order to acquire said pieces. If you’re near the bottom of the league, you may sell off valuable pieces that you don’t expect to hold value for very long. No matter how your first season is playing out, you’re being productive and flexible with your team management.
At last, it’s finally draft day. Dynasty drafts can feel like an extremely daunting task. It’s tough enough to plan for the upcoming season, never mind three or four years down the line? Don’t sweat it. Your leaguemates are feeling the same way.
With all of that being said, it’s important to know that you might need to adjust your strategy depending on how the draft is playing out. If top-tier redraft studs are falling further than they should, you may opt into a win-now mindset. If most of the other owners are aggressively going for the championship right away, take advantage by grabbing all the young value you can in a “build-for-the-future” strategy.
In dynasty leagues, you need to zig when others zag (and zag when others zig). You have the ability to be patient in these formats. Yes, it might be tough to wait two to three years for it all to pay off, but remember, this league goes on for many many years in your ideal scenario. Waiting three years to unleash a loaded roster — all reaching their prime at the same time — is better than almost winning your fantasy championship. Like Ricky Bobby says, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” Take that to heart in fantasy football and adjust when the time calls for it.
ADP (average draft position) is still something to be mindful of, but it’s less essential in a dynasty league. Yes, you don’t want to reach for a player who you could’ve gotten rounds later, but your team’s makeup is going to be different depending on your strategy. If you’re on the clock with the first pick in the third round, where Austin Ekeler is going via Dynasty Calculator ADP, he might be a super attractive option or someone you’re completely avoiding. Chances are, he’s not going to be fantasy relevant for too many more years, and if you’re building for the future, you may opt for a Travis Etienne or Javonte Williams (just a few spots later in ADP).
Those are the decisions you’re going to be challenged to make. What you don’t want to do is be stuck with half aging vets and half rookie projects who are going to take time to develop. This will lead you to a classic middling finish, and it’s likely you’ll have to do a lot of work on the trade market to reshape your team.
These tips aren’t to say that you should take all rookies. You need veterans for depth and provide some production while the young players develop. Often, you can get solid bridge players in the middle to late parts of the draft. Think Jimmy G while you wait on Trey Lance, or more indirectly, someone like Emmanuel Sanders while Josh Palmer develops. Cheap and productive veterans are valuable to fill places in your roster, but they won’t likely have much trade value going forward. If you’re in an extreme tank-for-the-future mode, you might just opt to ditch the veterans, taking young upside at all available spots.
Roster Management Strategy: Buying, selling, and stashing
An essential key to dynasty success is knowing when to make moves on the trade market. You have to get out from underneath fantasy assets that are about to fall off, especially if you aren’t in contention for a championship. There is a wide variety of perspectives as to when to sell players.
A popular sell is a running back on his second contract. As we know, when running backs fall off, they fall off hard. Of course, they are exceptions, but often, as running backs continue to take wear and take over four to five NFL seasons, they eventually fall off. That’s not to say these running backs can’t still be worthwhile starters in fantasy, but their dynasty prospects are much grimmer than they once were.
Take a guy like Derrick Henry. We saw what he did the first year of his new contract with an explosive 2,000-yard rushing season. However, assuming he’s available, he’s not someone you necessarily want to target early in a dynasty start-up draft unless you’re all-in for Year 1. Can we really expect him to continue his pace for the next handful of seasons? It’s a safe bet to say no. Instead, rookie and second-year running backs have much higher long-term upside. Contrary to conventional redraft strategy, now might be the time to consider selling Henry.
Wide receivers have a little bit more shelf life, with their primes usually ranging anywhere between age 23-29. For this example, we’ll use Keenan Allen. We all expect a great year out of Allen with Justin Herbert under center. Even so, if you’re aren’t looking to be a contender this year, you might consider selling him, whether it be before the season or during the season. You want to get value out of him before his inevitable drop-off. If you are a contender, you may opt to keep Allen and keep your fingers crossed that you win the championship. If you don’t win, though, you’re not likely to get the same value for him as you would’ve beforehand. It’s all a balancing act.
Of course, fantasy football is a lot of risk and reward. Sometimes your moves pay off; sometimes they don’t. Isn’t that the beauty of fantasy football?
You always want to be on the lookout for players whose values are primed to rise. After an unimpressive rookie season, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is cheaper than he likely ever will be. It’s a buyer’s market for him. Some can’t separate his rookie-year ‘failure’ from his future prospects. He’s in the top offense in the league with no major competition for touches, though, making him a classic ‘buy-low’ player.
There are also guys like Henry Ruggs III and Jalen Reagor who actually busted in their rookie seasons. If the price is low enough on these guys (it often will be), trade a bag of chips for them. They carry first-round, real-life draft capital, so they’re going to get plenty of chances. If someone is throwing around a former first-round player from just a season ago for almost nothing, take the flier.
In much the same way you shouldn’t totally write off a bust, you also shouldn’t automatically cut injured players. In dynasty start-up drafts this year, Cam Akers was going in the first or second round — and then he tore an Achilles’. At this point, you’re stuck with Akers. You can’t trade him because his value will be way too low. Throw him on injured reserve and hope like hell he recovers well. There’s only one scenario you could consider trading him: If you’re right in the thick of the championship race and another owner is calling its quits on the season. He might be willing to trade you an immediate impact stud for the future prospect of Akers. However, this is rare. Many owners will simply stay away from a player, especially a running back, with a history of injuries. Don’t sell Akers for dirt cheap in this situation. You’ll regret it immensely if he comes back to shine.
Deep Leagues and Taxi Squads
In deep dynasty leagues with lots of roster spots, you have plenty of room to roster stashes. Stashes are guys that are usually deep on an NFL team’s depth chart but could get fantastic opportunities should an injury happen. All high-end running back handcuffs will likely be rostered, but not all third-stringers. Especially in a season where COVID is once again threatening to thin out depth charts with little warning, these backups of backups could just as easily see significant touches if a starter goes out. Cleveland’s D’Ernest Johnson, New England’s Rhamondre Stevenson, Green Bay’s Kylin Hill, and Atlanta’s Javian Hawkins are examples heading into this season.
A more extreme example at another position is a player like Simi Fehoko, a rookie Cowboys receiver taken in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL draft. With the enormous level of talent in the Cowboy’s WR room, Fehoko is likely to do nothing in his rookie year and might even be a cut casualty. However, if he does make the roster and an injury to Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, or CeeDee Lamb happens, now all of a sudden he has value. Of course, a lot has to go right for Fehoko for this to happen, but it costs you next to nothing to draft him or pluck him from waivers. Dynasty leagues are often very deep with 30-man rosters. In a 12-team league, that means 360 players are rostered. Any player that’s assumed to have any value is going to be on a team.
In most deep leagues, there will be a roster slot called the “taxi squad.” This operates much like an NFL practice squad. You can put a deep rookie sleeper here, and it won’t cost you a “real” roster spot. A taxi squad is a perfect place to go for a guy like Fehoko who needs a lot go right for him to have value.