As the fantasy season winds down, we begin to look ahead to next year. In this week's installment of FantasyInsiderOnline.com's Fantasy Report, we focus in on "keeper" or "franchise" leagues those fantasy leagues that allow you to carry over a player into next season. Nevertheless, who do you franchise? What type of player is worth keeping for the coming year? The answer to these questions may not always be cut and dry, but your focus should most likely be concerned with the running back position. Depending on which direction you'd like to take your team, you may want to go with either a well-established RB or take a gamble with a rookie who you think will blow up in the next few years. Either way, you must keep in mind that your franchised player will build the base for you lineup next year so, inform yourself and be smart with your decision.
Weeks back, we talked about how a solid and consistent running back is the foundation for a championship-caliber fantasy squad. So, when thinking about whom you should keep on your roster for next season, look to your backs first. Look for that running back that has consistently proven that he will provide solid stats week in and week out. A good example of this would be Cincinnati Bengals RB Rudi Johnson, who is on pace to post his third consecutive season of 1,400+ rushing yards and 12 TD's. In most standard scoring leagues, only seven of the Top 20 players are running backs the rest are all quarterbacks. What this means is that of course you would love to keep someone like Colts QB Peyton Manning, but is it really worth it? As of right now, the difference between the top fantasy quarterback (Manning) and the 10th rated quarterback (Phillip Rivers) is roughly about 103 fantasy points. However, the spread between LaDainian Tomlinson (#1 rated RB) and Deuce McAllister (#10 rated RB) in most standard scoring leagues is 234 points 234 POINTS! Even if you factor out guys that skew the chart like Tomlinson and Larry Johnson (KC), the difference is close to 80, and McAllister isn't even rated in the Top 30. Therefore, the chances of acquiring a big-time back are much less than at any other position. There's a good chunk of quarterbacks who perform in somewhat of the same range and wide receivers won't give you the points you're looking for to build the foundation of your fantasy squad. So, if you have a solid running back, hold onto him. You don't want to take the chances of having a bunch of bums in your fantasy backfield because you decided to keep a top receiver like Marvin Harrison (IND).
Another good determining factor to look at when trying to figure out what player to "franchise" for next season is youth. When going this route, don't limit yourself to thinking about next year alone however. Let's take a look Saints rookie RB Reggie Bush no, he's not a Top 10 running back today, but the sky is the limit for a young gun like this in the future. He may be a second or third round pick up next year, but two years down the line (after some experience and the departure of Deuce McAllister), he might just be the next Steven Jackson (STL). The whole thing here is whether or not you're willing to gamble on next year in hopes of someone like Bush developing into a fantasy stud in years to come. There's a few guys like this in the NFL today players like Frank Gore (SF), Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX) and Joseph Addai (IND). These are great, young players who have huge potential that will lead to big payoffs in the future. And notice again, we're focusing on the running back position. It cannot be emphasized enough that the current trend is to build your fantasy team around the running game.
Most of all, before singling out a player to be your "keeper", think to yourself "Is this guy going to be a first round pick next year in non-keeper leagues?" If the answer is "no", then you may want to reconsider. Obviously, if you don't have any players worthy of a high pick next year, and you are still forced to franchise a player, then you take the best of what you have. However, if you have someone who is projected to go in the first round in non-keeper leagues, then hold onto him. You may have a player or two that you anticipate will have a good season next year, but isn't worth that top #1 pick. Hold off if you play your cards right, you can still focus in on snatching him up in next season's fantasy draft.
So, when scheming for next year's run to make the fantasy playoffs, keep the preceding points in mind when figuring out who to keep for next season. Focus on top-rated, young running backs. It goes without mentioning that studs like Tomlinson, Johnson and Manning should be franchised in any league. However, if your team wasn't built around these guys in 2006, focus on the players who did perform consistently for you this year. When all else fails, and you're not sure what to do, stick with keeping a running back. Doing so can only help you in years to come.
PATRIOTS FANTASY REPORT
In Week 16, the New England Patriots have a chance to clinch the AFC East with a win over the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Yet, this will be no easy feat, as the Jags are a near perfect 6-1 at home their only loss at Alltel Stadium coming at the hands of the Houston Texans in Week 10. At home, Jacksonville has allowed only 9.1 points per game, and has posted shutout victories against the Steelers and the Jets. They have arguably the best two interior defensive linemen in the NFL (Marcus Stroud and John Henderson), who anchor a stout defense ranked 2nd overall (3rd against the run and 7th against the pass). In 2006, this unit has allowed 80.1 rushing yards per game and 178.0 passing yards per game at Alltel Stadium. Basically, the Jaguars are tough to beat at home this year.
Nevertheless, it can be done. Why? Because the Jacksonville offense has been very inconsistent this season. For example, let's look at the differences in their last two games. In Week 14, Jacksonville took down the mighty Indianapolis Colts by a score of 44-17, while running backs Fred Taylor (131 yards rushing and a touchdown) and Maurice Jones-Drew (166 yards rushing and two touchdowns) had a field day. However, in Week 15, that same offense caused four turnovers (three INT's and a fumble) allowing the Tennessee Titans to win 24-17 without scoring an offensive touchdown. That has been Jacksonville's problem all year they cannot seem to get into an offensive groove. Therefore, the New England DEF/ST is the Patriots fantasy focus for Week 16.
This week, the Patriots defense will have to match the intensity of the Jags' unit in order to clinch the top spot in the AFC East. Tedy Bruschi & Co. will need to duplicate their performance in Week 15, when they held the Houston Texans to 7 points and only 198 total yards of offense. New England intercepted QB David Carr four times last Sunday, and can capitalize on turnovers in this week's contest. In the last four games, Jacksonville's offense has turned the ball over seven times (four INT's and three fumbles). The Pats defense will need to focus on stopping the run first, and force Jags' QB David Garrard to make plays with his arm. In doing this, New England will have more opportunities to make big plays and also be able to put the ball back in the hands of QB Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. If the New England defense can hold Jacksonville to short offensive series, which will keep the Jaguars defense on the field, the Patriots will have the opportunity to dictate the pace of the game and wear down the hardnosed Jacksonville defense. Look for the New England offense to spread the field and dump the ball off to receivers on short routes. Coach Bill Belichick may even use some no-huddle to try and keep the Jacksonville defense winded and off-balance.
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Patriots Insider has partnered with guest sports writers to provide insightful, expert advice for readers interested in fantasy football. This week's Patriots fantasy report is brought to you by Matt Hinzpeter at FantasyInsiderOnline.com. If you have any questions for Matt, you can reach him, or any of the other FIO experts, at TheTeam@FantasyInsiderOnline.com.
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