10 Best Keeper Prospects for Your Fantasy Football Team in 2014
Figuring out who to keep in keeper leagues can be tricky business.
Depending on league rules, fantasy football owners might have to give up high draft picks or forego keeping anyone above a certain round.
There are also a host of obvious names. It's a no-brainer to keep guys like Calvin Johnson or Jimmy Graham at almost any cost if given the opportunity. But who are some of the late-round gems who could lead your fantasy squad to glory down the road?
Here are 10 of the best options, culled from an army of would-be future fantasy saviors. They were selected based on talent, situation and future opportunity.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
After unexpectedly releasing DeSean Jackson—their leading receiver from 2013—the Philadelphia Eagles needed some help at wide receiver by the time the draft rolled around.
They found a nice replacement in Jordan Matthews out of the second round.
The former Vanderbilt receiver comes into the 2014 season behind Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin on the depth chart, but he could easily make noise in the fantasy realm as the third receiver. More importantly, Maclin is on a one-year deal, and Matthews could take over as a starter as early as next year.
So far, so good for Matthews. Per Andrew Porter of CBS Philly, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said of the Eagles' second-round draft pick on Angelo Cataldi and the 94WIP Morning Show:
I don’t know what he’s missing. He’s big, he can run, he can catch, he works as hard as anyone. He was just out here catching extra balls while some guys were eating breakfast. He works extremely hard. You know, and then, he gets it. I mean, you need more than a fishing license to get in to Vanderbilt. So, I mean he’s got the mental capacity you know? He’s got really what you’re looking for and you add that with the fact that he works as hard in practices and trains as hard as anybody. I think the future—it’s going to be a bright future for him.
That is high praise for a second-round rookie.
Matthews is solidly built at 6'3" and 205 pounds. He was productive in college, amassing 2,800 yards and 15 touchdowns in the air over the past two seasons despite a dearth of passing talent.
Just imagine what head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles might be able to get out of him.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
A preseason darling from a year ago, Seattle Seahawks running back Christine Michael spent the vast majority of 2013 on the bench behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin.
Lynch and Turbin will reprise their roles this season, meaning Michael may have to bide his time to shine. That time should come in 2015.
He could see the field a bit more than he did as a rookie, but the likelihood is Michael will be relegated to garbage time barring injury to Lynch or Turbin. Beyond this season, however, Michael could be a fantasy goldmine.
Lynch will be entering the final year of his deal as a 30-year-old with a ton of miles on those legs from recent years, assuming he is healthy for most of the 2014 season. It's quite feasible to see the Seahawks cut ties with an aging running back owed over $8 million.
We could even see Lynch retire, albeit a bit unexpectedly.
Michael has a higher ceiling than Turbin, so it is easy to see him winning the starting job after Lynch's departure. Even if he is stuck into a timeshare, Michael's explosiveness will be nearly invaluable in fantasy leagues going forward.
Of course, this hinges on Lynch not being around. Michael is being drafted as the 45th running back off the board in the 10th round, based on consensus average draft position (ADP) data on FootballGuys (subscription required). That isn't as cheap as some other keeper options, and there is certainly risk that Lynch comes back.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings
Having recently signed a long-term extension, Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is primed to blow in his fourth season.
Rudolph has always possessed the talent, but he has simply not been able to capitalize due to a woeful offense around him. That should change this season for several reasons.
The most prominent one as it relates to Rudolph, of course, is an upgrade at offensive coordinator. Norv Turner came over after just one season with the Cleveland Browns, where he helped the Three Stooges—Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer—combine to get over 4,000 yards passing.
More importantly, we saw Cleveland's Jordan Cameron light the NFL on fire in 2013 under Turner.
Then there is the fact that Rudolph's quarterback situation has improved. Matt Cassel may be penciled in as the starter, but rookie Teddy Bridgewater could overtake him before the season begins. The youthful upside could be a boon to Rudolph, who was already a red-zone threat.
Rudolph isn't quite the sleeper than most of his peers on this list, but this may be the last time you might be able to draft him in the seventh round or later for quite a while.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins
This is a bit of a deeper sleeper, but Jarvis Landry could prove to be a valuable fantasy asset in years to come.
Despite positive buzz coming out of college, Landry's draft stock took a tumble after his poor combine performance. The Miami Dolphins snagged him in the second round, which seemed like a reach even then.
His performance thus far in offseason and training camp is proving otherwise, at least according to ESPN.com's James Walker:
The biggest rookie standout so far has been second-round pick Jarvis Landry. The rookie wide receiver has displayed strong hands, solid routes and toughness. Landry is best in the slot where he can use his savvy and strong hands in traffic. He's made several of the most impressive catches so far of training camp.
Landry may well win the No. 3 job this season, meaning a return on a late-round investment may come sooner than expected. A slot receiver with great hands could see huge fantasy scores, particularly in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
Despite all the Johnny Manziel mania, his fantasy stock has failed to soar.
That would be because he isn't even the starting quarterback as of yet. That job belongs to Brian Hoyer until Manziel wrests it away.
Even if he does, his draft stock may not rise all that much given there are so many quality fantasy quarterbacks. Proven commodities might keep Manziel's fantasy shares down, but that just means he will be an excellent investment opportunity.
Drafting Manziel means getting a potential stud at the position at a discounted price. His rushing ability should be tantalizing enough on its own. Johnny Football did get his nickname running roughshod through SEC defenses in college, accumulating 2,169 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns in just two years at Texas A&M after all.
There is also a chance receiver Josh Gordon turns his career around and gets on the straight and narrow, which would be a huge boost for Manziel whenever Gordon returns from his looming suspension.
Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars may still be a year away from truly competing—particularly on offense—but receiver Marqise Lee is certain to be a part of that future success.
The former USC star fell a bit in the draft after an injury-hampered and quarterback-challenged junior season, and the Jaguars were happy to oblige the rest of the league and take him in the second round. They may have gotten one of the best receivers in the draft.
Lee has been impressive already, and he is likely to win a starting job opposite Cecil Shorts III. The problem is the Jags offense still needs work, particularly at quarterback.
The Jaguars plan to let No. 3 pick Blake Bortles sit and learn this season, meaning Chad Henne will be chucking footballs to Lee and his cohorts. This may come as a surprise, but Henne is no Peyton Manning. Heck he may not even be Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Bortles is the quarterback of the future, and Lee will be a big-time target for him down the line. He could produce some nice lines as a rookie, even.
Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants
The Hall of Fame Game gave us our first glimpse at football for the 2014 season. It also gave us our first look at rookie running back Andre Williams.
The Boston College product flashed his potential, averaging 6.9 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown, albeit much of that coming against Buffalo's second-team defense.
The problem with Williams' fantasy value for the 2014 season is that one man stands in his way—Rashad Jennings. The 29-year-old was signed away from the Oakland Raiders during the offseason, and he is currently the starter.
Jennings should command the majority of playing time this year, leaving little beyond, perhaps, goal-line touches for Williams. But next year and beyond? The landscape in New York could tilt in Williams' direction by then.
Williams doesn't possess any pass-catching upside, but he is an explosive athlete who could overtake Jennings for the starting job with some NFL seasoning.
The Giants rookie led Division I football in rushing last season, after all, and he averaged a healthy 6.1 yards per carry while doing it. Perhaps he will mature into a better pass-catching weapon by 2015.
Hopefully his preseason performance won't cause his fantasy stock to rise too much—it spiked a bit after his Hall of Fame Game performance—but it's likely Williams will be available in the 10th round or so in fantasy drafts.
That makes him a nice keeper option.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Last year's second-best prospect at tight end barely saw the field.
Travis Kelce was a deep sleeper as a rookie for the Kansas City Chiefs, but a knee injury wiped out his rookie year as it was getting started. A year and microfracture surgery later, Kelce is ready to deliver on some of that promise.
Kelce has done little beyond practicing his long-snapping skills as the backup thus far in camp, per The Kansas City Star's Randy Covitz, and Anthony Fasano is still around as the starter. Kelce has far more upside, though, and it is even easy to see him overtaking Fasano at some point this year.
Predicting wild success like Gronkowski has seen would be a bit much, but Kelce could well be on his way to a productive career with the Chiefs. He is also going to be a rather cheap pickup in the late rounds, should you want to throw a dart at the position.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons had an aging back who looked it last season and a disappointing change-of-pace back who has hit his low ceiling.
Drafting a running back was inevitable, and Devonta Freeman was a pretty good choice. The fourth-round pick out of Florida State has a bright future if he can cash in on potential.
More tantalizing is the likelihood he will be the starting running back in 2015. Steven Jackson will be 32 with a ton of mileage on those legs, perhaps even off the roster if the Falcons see fit to cut bait in his final year.
Jacquizz Rodgers hasn't shown much in his three years in the league, either, amassing just 1,830 total yards and eight touchdowns in that span despite competing with the likes of geriatric Michael Turner and injury-hampered Jackson.
A starting gig is gold in fantasy football, and Freeman should have one ready and waiting after 2014.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota Vikings
It wasn't that long ago that Teddy Bridgewater was being dismissed after a poor pro day. He nearly fell all the way out of the first round, and few expected him to see the field early in his career.
A few weeks of practice later and suddenly Bridgewater could be a starter come Week 1.
He still has to win that job over the presumed starter, Matt Cassel, but it's clear Bridgewater is the quarterback of the future in Minnesota. He also has plenty of good, young talent around him.
Guys like Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Adrian Peterson—assuming he sticks around and continues to produce at superhuman levels—should buoy Bridgewater, even as a rookie.
Most importantly, Norv Turner will be his offensive coordinator, assuming he stays on for more than one year. As we discussed earlier, Turner did wonders for Cleveland's quarterbacks last season, and he has a great track record as an offensive coordinator in general.
Bridgewater's talent combined by that of those around him could strap a rocket to his fantasy value once he sees the field.
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