Riff Raff Football's Last-Minute Keeper Debates

The time for speculation is finally over here at Riff Raff Fantasy Football as owners are no longer exchanging hundreds of messages about questionable off-season trades or how much stud players will go for in the draft. Instead, the 2019 fantasy football season is upon us, and that starts on Monday, when GMRRFFA owners must submit their three 2019 keepers to the Commissioner’s Office.

This year, GMRRFFA ramped up a bit early with off-season trades, and in general, most rosters are all but settled. Your Commish spent countless hours analyzing these 14 rosters and players, hoping to expertly guide owners to an increased level of competition in 2019. That said, there are fascinating debates still to be had, making those last-minute keeper decisions below is largely based on comparing players head-to-head.

Its actually fun to dissect these players and choices, because as in every fantasy football league, the specific rules are unique, but generally speaking, the Player A vs Player B debates are transferable regardless of those specific league dynamics. Your Commish dives in to these legitimately tough choices ahead of Monday’s deadline and, despite always claiming to be a bonafide expert, I’m pretty confident there aren’t any correct answers (well, except for Makese).

A grave decision for Toby

Phillip Lindsey ($10) vs. Aaron Jones ($15)

Owner: Toby Kobach

Current Keepers: Juju Smith-Schuster ($20); TY Hilton ($66)

Draft Budget Minus Keepers: $239

After committing intellectual property theft and targeting TY Hilton from Carlos, Toby finds himself in a fairly strong position – two potential top-10 wide receivers for an average cost of $43 each coupled with two strong potential Running Back keepers in Lindsey and Jones. In May, he was all but certain to keep Lindsey, but the Commish’s glowing recommendation of Jones once again swayed Toby’s strategy.

I won’t dive too much in to Jones, but his 5.5 yards per rush over the last two seasons can’t be ignored. He’s currently the 23rd ranked RB in GMRRFFA, but health remains important for the Green Bay back. Since I know Toby’s not paying attention until next week, I’ll ignore this link about Jones sustaining a hamstring injury once again reinforcing the narrative that he is injury-prone. To really tap in to Jones’ potential in fantasy, the question likely surrounds his pass-catching opportunities. He averaged just two catches per game last year on just three targets, which is not very impressive.

Fortunately for Toby, that was much more about the archaic offense in Green Bay in 2018, which allowed the vile Aaron Rodgers to only target running backs 106 times all season, a paltry 6.5 times per game, which ranked the Packers at just 17th in the league, according to FantasyPros. By comparison, James White, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffrey all had more targets individually than the Packers and Alvin Kamara finished with 105 targets. New Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur is claiming the Packer running backs will be more involved this season, but its worth noting that Jamaal Williams actually outpaced Jones in targets last year.

Has anyone's stock dropped more than Lindsey?

In Denver and in GMRRFFA, fantasy football experts are clamoring with the arrival of Theo Riddick to the Bronco backfield. Back in June, your Commish noted the growing concern about a Denver RBBC, especially with Royce Freeman’s increasing role in the Denver backfield. Whether that makes sense or not, Riddick’s arrival actually does impact Lindsey. Historically a Riddick sympathizer, your Commish can’t help but note the former Lions’ back is the onlyrunning back with 50 receptions every season over the last four years.

In 2018, Lindsey was unquestionably the lead back over Freeman in Denver, averaging 13 carries and 2+ catches per game before going down with an injury late. If Freeman, who only had 20 receiving targets last year, is to get an increase in touches, its likely via the rushing game. Couple Freeman’s potentially uptick in attempts with the addition of Riddick swiping receiving targets in the backfield, then Lindsey’s value certainly has to decrease, right?

Verdict: Keep Jones

James White ($14) vs. Lamar Miller ($45) vs. David Johnson ($141)

Owner: Tito Galen

Current Keepers: Davante Adams ($30), Adam Thielen ($29)

Draft Budget Minus Keepers: $241

Obligatory Tito Galen/Robert Kraft photo

Leave it to Tito Galen to have too many solid choices for Keepers. I’m only including the three above in this debate, but the Tito could arguably keep Kareem Hunt or Emanuel Sanders too, and I wouldn’t blink. Your Commish made the argument he could keep the Indy D and not question it.

The fact that Tito Galen hasn’t moved David Johnson, who your Commish pontificated on last month suggests he’s considering keeping the stud RB. Since we discussed Johnson earlier, here’s a quick summary:

First, the good news: His less-than-stellar 2018 season most likely wasn’t due to lingering injuries, but in total, he averaged two fewer carries per game last season than 2016…But look closer as you’ll see the 2016 offense ran a whopping 11 plays more per game than last season’s Cardinals squad, including 40 more rushing attempts and an astounding 100 more passing plays. Ultimately, Johnson touched the ball five fewer times in ’18 vs. ’16, a season in which Pro Football Focus ranked the Arizona offensive line dead last…

If Tito Galen doesn’t keep Johnson, its all about the cost… That said, if he does, the once-and-former front runner can still field a competitive team to go along with Johnson, Adams and Thielen, so again your Commish doesn’t blink an eye one way or the other.

The case for the other two backs remains less-than-sexy. James White is cheap, and while more enticing backs could be available, the New England back is currently ranked 8th in GMRRFFA. His 2018 season was unbelievable; with a 41 year old quarterback, one quasi-credible wide receiver and a tight end being put out like old Yeller, White led the league in targets for running backs (123!!!) and 11th overall.

More impressively, while 2018 was a massive jump in targets and receptions (87), White averaged four catches on six targets per game over the last three seasons coupled with four rushes per game. Yes, there is a massive number of running backs in Pats’ camp this season, BUT Tom Brady is now 42, Gronk is gone and the wide receiver mix remains in flux, so suggesting White doesn’t play a massive role in the passing game is likely unrealistic.

As for Miller, there is literally no one who is excited about him in Houston. In his three seasons in Texas, the poor guy averages 66 yards per game on 16 rushes, but he only averages two catches per game in that same time. He’s ranked 22nd in GMRRFFA ahead of the season and, despite all the attention surrounding Houston cutting D’Onta Foreman, your Commish isn’t buying the Texans’ faith in Miller, particularly with Melvin Gordon and a ton of cap space lurking in Houston.

Verdict: Keep White

Calvin Ridley ($14) vs. OJ Howard ($15)

Owner: Coop

Current Keepers: Dalvin Cook ($61), Stefon Diggs ($60)

Draft Budget Minus Keepers: $204

For the league’s nicest smile, this is a tough decision. Your Commish argued that Ridley was maybe not worth keeping this season, even at his cost. Since the Smile doesn’t actually make trades, Ridley will be on his roster ahead of the keeper deadline next week. In weeks 1 through 9, according to FantasyPros, Ridley was a top-20 wide receiver thanks to his touchdown bonanza, but in the second half of the season, he dropped all the way to 35th overall. The strong first half afforded Ridley to be ranked number one among rookie wide receivers, but in the second half, the rookie only posted ten points per week.

Its expected that he’s primed for a breakout season but let’s be candid that a lot of players are primed for breakouts, so let’s push the hype aside. First, it’s tough to believe Ridley will break out when Julio Jones is in the picture, but its also worth noting that Mohamed Sanu outpaced Ridley last year in catches, targets and yards. Meanwhile, sleeper of the year Austin Hooper finished with four fewer targets BUT seven more catches throughout the season. In 2019, all four players are back, which is great news for a quarterback below as well as a returning Devonta Freeman, a running back who eats four additional targets per game over his career.

Ultimately, as talented as Ridley is, there has to be a ceiling for targets, which he likely hit early last year. Ridley is enormously talented so I’m likely wrong BUT there are only so many targets to go around, especially when considering Julio is the clear #1, Hooper continues to progress and a quality running back returns to action.

Meanwhile, OJ Howard is incredibly intriguing for a player who averages just 3.5 catches per game in 2018. Your Commish candidly thinks Ridley is better, but the tight end position remains incredibly murky after the big three, which is why some folks are very high on a guy who averages less than five targets per game. Yes, he missed the second half of last season, but he did make due with the opportunities he received when on the field. From weeks 1 through 11, he was top-6, averaging 12 points per week. Equally impressive, he averaged a 71% catch rate. For comparison’s sake, Travis Kelce hovered at just above 66% catch rate while Julie Ertz’s spouse was at 74% and George Kittle sat at 65%.

Given the lack of tight ends with upside, is keeping Howard at such a cheap cost worth it? Probably.

Verdict: Keep Howard

Matt Ryan ($12) vs. Robert Woods ($22)

Owner: FIL

Current Keepers: Julio Jones ($136), Todd Gurley ($78)

Draft Budget Minus Keepers: $50

Data analysis be damned, GMRRFFA owners (namely Fredo Maisel) remain perplexed as to how a team can be made with just $50 draft dollars. I’d counter with FIL’s strategy from his 2018 Owner profile:

Get the best players available player based on quantitative analysis using predictive analytics. The skeptics thought my draft strategy of getting the players I targeted even if it meant filling the remaining positions with dollar players was laughable and I needed help. Besides the current standings, if you do an analysis of which team has the most consistent bench players scoring points each week my team is up there.

Ok, strategy explained… (and this just because the Unicorn recommends I break up aricles with pictures and videos)

Now, given his sparse draft capital, does FIL go with Woods, the best receiver in the Rams grouping? The cheap cost for the 11th best wide receiver in 2018 seems like a steal. Woods’ season was incredible, averaging five catches on eight targets per game. Despite the over-hype for Brandin Cooks and the return of Cooper Kupp, Woods remains ranked 11th in GMRRFFA, ahead of Keenan Allen, Cooks, TY Hilton, OBJ, and Amari Cooper. Yet again, I remain dismayed he doesn’t end up as someone’s keeper.

Meanwhile, according to FantasyPros, Matt Ryan finished as the 2nd best quarterback last season and there’s little doubt he’s top-five again this year, as noted by the talent at skill positions in Atlanta (who needs Defense???).

The question becomes can FIL find a high-performing quarterback for less than Ryan’s $12 keeper cost (the answer is yes)? If so, he has to keep Woods, who will undoubtedly go for significantly more than $22 in an open draft. Given FIL only has $50 to compile his roster, this is a legitimately interesting debate; is a top-12 WR for $22 worth more than a top-3 quarterback at $12?

Verdict: Keep Woods

Courtland Sutton ($10) vs. Jarred Cook ($11) vs. Jordan Howard ($30) vs. DeSean Jackson ($11) (PICK TWO)

Owner: Makese

Current Keepers: Sony Michel ($26) (Commissioner’s Note: I mean, I think Michel is a keeper. We literally have no idea though)

Draft Budget Minus Keepers: $199

Makese attempting to understand how he got here...

Good news! Makese has a litany of CHEAP keepers to choose from! Even better news, ONE of them is ranked in the top 20 at their position!

This is literally painful – aside from Makese being an unapologetic Eagles fan, I’m not sure why Howard or Jackson are even in this conversation. Howard is ranked 21st in GMRFFA while Jackson hovers at 40th among wide receivers. As a Bears fan, your Commish still harbors close sentiments with Howard, his first keeper all the way back in 2017. That said, these players could be free as keepers and I’d still be reluctant to keep them (seriously, there are about 30 players not slated as keepers across GMRRFFA I’d value more).

Courtland Sutton is also not in the top 20… he’s actually not even in the top FIFTY wide receivers (he’s #52 for those keeping score). With the return of Emanuel Sanders and the emergence of a decent wide receiver core, Sutton is not even close to being considered a #1 wide receiver. With Sanders gone after week 12 last year, Sutton was prematurely anointed the #1 in Denver, and he finished 34th in fantasy points, averaging just ten points per week. In those games, he posted just 3.5 catches on six targets, bumping up his season totals by just one catch and target. Yikes…

Aside from all being slightly mediocre at best, do you know what all three players have in common? Makese acquired all three via TRADE with FAAB this offseason. You read that correctly – Sutton, Howard and Jackson were all traded for this summer… Let’s have a drink…

That leaves Jarred Cook, the Saints’ new tight end who could be incredibly useful in New Orleans. Paired with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara, Cook could be a top five tight end after a few solid seasons in Oakland (he’s projected as #5 currently). In 2018, Drew Brees targeted tight ends 89 times for 63 receptions, which combined was a top-ten performance at the position and that was with the aging Ben Watson as the primary tight end.

Jesus, this felt dirty and sort of like a pile-on, but I can’t condone homerism of any form in GMRRFFA.


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