Mid-season keeper league prospects

Now that we’ve completed five weeks of the season, there are probably a few of you in keeper leagues who are nearing the point where you already chalk this season up as a loss and move on to preparation for next year. Maybe your team of Jon Kitna, Ocho Cinco, Ryan Grant and Braylon Edwards just isn’t doing it for you (and there’s not a whole lot of reason your luck is going to change anytime soon!) Anyways, as we get closer and closer to the fantasy trade deadline (if your league has one) or the point where teams start clinching the playoffs, it might be time to start considering some names that you’ll want on your roster come next season, so here we go…

(Note: I didn’t include players such as Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton, or Matt Forte, who are already contributing in a big way for their teams and are almost guaranteed to be on a fantasy roster already this year…but by all means you’ll want to keep them too!)

Running Backs

  • Felix Jones, Cowboys: I’ll admit, if you’re in a keeper league where everyone is not completely brain-dead, Jones is probably already on a fantasy roster. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from trying to pry him from the unsuspecting grasp of an owner who is focused on winning this year. Jones looks like the real deal and as he’s averaging 9.0 yards per carry at this point, there’s no way the Cowboys can have him riding the pine as much as he has, even with Marion Barber on the team. Next season the team will probably name Barber the starter again, but I expect a pretty even split in the number of carries and they should both put up serviceable fantasy numbers.
  • Tim Hightower, Cardinals: Again, with the number of touchdowns Hightower already has (5) this season, there’s a pretty good chance he’s on a fantasy roster already…but it’s not guaranteed. Edgerrin James is not getting any younger (he’s 30 already) and it looks like Hightower is the future of the Arizona running game. He already has the goal-line carries nearly locked up and I expect him to see an expanded role (including being the third down back) in the offense later in the season and next year.
  • Michael Bush, Raiders: After Justin Fargas’ big year last season and all the hype about Darren McFadden, Michael Bush has quietly stepped up and become one the Raiders most consistent running backs. After missing all of last season recovering from surgery, Bush has come into this season ready to prove that he’s more than capable of shouldering the load for the team. The fact that he was used so heavily in the passing game in week four (seven receptions for 80 yards) increases his stock even more as he carves out a niche for himself in the team’s game plan. Although he just signed a new contract, I see Fargas being the odd-man out in the near future with Bush and McFadden being the future of the team.

Wide Receivers

  • DeSean Jackson, Eagles: After two huge games to start the season (and one major screw up!), Jackson has seemingly come back to earth over the past few. While he’s most likely on a fantasy roster in your league, now is probably the best “bye low” situation for the rookie after last week’s one catch, eight yard performance. Jackson looks like he will be the team’s number one receiver for a while and would be a great asset to have on your squad next year (I got him on mine!).
  • Robert Meachem and Lance Moore, Saints: Although the Saints passing game seems pretty saturated (when everyone is healthy) with Marques Colston, Reggie Bush, and Jeremy Schockey, receivers Robert Meachem and Lance Moore are finding time to develop some important chemistry with quarterback Drew Brees right now. New Orleans will be a pass-first offense for years to come as long as Drew Brees is the quarterback and Sean Payton is the head coach and I expect Meachem and Moore to be a big part of the game plan even when Colston is back. I could see the offense turning into some semblance of the 2004/2005 Indianapolis Colts (Harrison, Wayne, Stokley, James, Shockey = Colston, Meachem, Moore, Bush, Shockey?)…but maybe that is just wishful thinking.
  • Eddie Royal, Broncos: In his third year, quarterback Jay Cutler is turning into one of the premiere passers in the league and all of his receivers are benefiting. Royal was taken in the second round of this year’s draft as the man to start opposite Brandon Marshall for years to come and he has already proven that he has some serious skills (30 receptions, 321 yards, 2 TD) through the first five games. Get Royal on your squad for next season and expect he and Marshall to become one of the best receiver tandems the league has to offer for years.
  • Mike Walker, Jaguars: Although he only has 12 receptions in his young career so far, Walker is quickly becoming the most consistent receiving threat the Jaguars have to offer. Considering the number of issues (arrests, dropped passes, etc) and the turnover rate that the Jacksonville receiving corps has seen over the past year or two, you know they are looking for some sort of consistency. Walker started opposite Brandon Marshall at UCF and while he doesn’t have quite the same size advantage (he’s still 6’2″, 208 pounds), the rest of the Jaguars receivers (see: Reggie Williams, Earnest Wilford) have proven that in fact size may not matter. Walker is worth picking up and stashing on your roster to see how he does the rest of the season. If he continues to put up numbers anywhere near like he did last week (six receptions, 107 yards) than he’ll be a great keeper for next season.

Quarterbacks

  • Matt Ryan, Falcons: So far in his rookie campaign Ryan is looking like everything the Falcons expected when they took him third overall in the draft this year. Through five games, Ryan has led the team to a 3-2 record, better than anyone could have expected coming into this season. Now that the team has a quarterback to build around, I can only expect that his numbers will get better and better as he gains more experience. While I wouldn’t go into next season with him as your definitive starter at the position, depending on your league settings it might make sense to stash him as your backup with the hopes that you’ll be starting him more than just one week.
  • Kyle Orton, Bears: Over the course of the first few years of his career, Orton was viewed as a quarterback who could manage the offense without trying to do too much, while the defense (and Devin Hester) won games for them. This year though things have apparently changed. Orton has been given the keys to the “passing game” castle as the team moved away from a rushing-focused offense and has used rookie running back Matt Forte’s skills as a receiver…and Kyle gotten better with each game. Orton has been a major waiver wire pick-up the past few weeks and it looks like he might be the quarterback Chicago has been looking for all these years. If you still have the chance, pick him up immediately (I’ve already started him over Roethlisberger in one of my leagues!) As with Ryan (but not so much) you might want to go into next season with Orton as your backup, but you should feel pretty safe and won’t need to waste a top pick on a top tier quarterback.
  • Brady Quinn, Browns: Unlike the rest of the guys on this list, you shouldn’t be immediately go out and scoop Quinn up. However, he is someone to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. When the Browns realize that they are out of contention, I have a feeling they will make a switch to Quinn pretty quickly. The team has the offensive weapons to win ball games, so the fact that they aren’t with Derek Anderson at the helm means the team might decide to see what Brady could do with the same weapons at his disposal. I’d advise they do this sooner than later so they can get Quinn some experience while at the same time deciding what they should do in the future. Just keep an eye on Brady Quinn and when he gets the call to start, don’t be afraid to stash on your bench to see what he’s capable of.