A championship fantasy football squad is built in the draft room, and that’s especially the case if you play in a dynasty, or “keeper,” league.
Keeper leagues allow fantasy owners to more closely simulate managing an actual NFL roster, as players drafted in one season can be kept on the roster the following year.
There are all sorts of variations in keeper leagues involving who you can keep and what it will cost you, but the ideal target remains the same: A talented player with a very high upside who can be a significant contributor in multiple seasons. Take, for example, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who barely was on the fantasy radar in 2014 but now is a consensus first-round pick.
Players such as Beckham are diamonds in the rough, but there’s still opportunity to strike it rich. Here are 10 players we believe will outpace their current projections, making them ideal candidates to keep on or add to your squad.
Derek Carr, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders (Bye Week: 10)
Don’t sleep on Carr and the Raiders, folks. The Fresno State product proved he belonged last season by throwing for nearly 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He’s still not in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks, but at just 25 years old, his stock is rising, along with his team’s potential.
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys (Bye Week: 7)
Rookies are ideal picks in keeper leagues if you back the right horse. (See Gurley, Todd.) Our money this year is on Elliott, an explosive runner who will be the starting running back behind one of the league’s best offensive lines.
Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Raiders (Bye Week: 10)
We’re going all in on Oakland this year. Cooper became just the 16th player in NFL history to top 1,000 receiving yards in his rookie season, and he looks like Carr’s new favorite target. This duo could be racking up the fantasy points for years to come.
Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars (Bye Week: 5)
Robinson hardly is a sleeper after his monster 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown campaign last season. But with Blake Bortles coming into his own as the Jaguars’ starting QB and the offense on the rise, there’s no reason to suggest a drop-off from Jacksonville’s top wide receiver.
Lamar Miller, Running Back, Houston Texans (Bye Week: 9)
Miller finally escaped running back purgatory in Miami to join the Texans, who actually should let him run the ball. Miller likely will be a hot commodity on draft boards, but there’s a good chance he’s worth the fuss in keeper leagues, especially since he’s signed with Houston through 2019.
David Johnson, Running Back, Arizona Cardinals (Bye Week: 9)
After bursting onto the scene in 2015, Johnson should be the main guy in Arizona’s backfield. He’s still just 24 years old, too, and his 4.6 yards per carry on a solid Cardinals offense last season suggests he’s a safe bet for plenty more fantasy points in the future.
Tyler Boyd, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals (Bye Week: 9)
Given the way the league is trending, there’s a good chance at least one rookie wideout will put up big numbers in his first few seasons. We’re going with Boyd, a talented 22-year-old out of Pittsburgh who very well could become the team’s No. 2 option behind A.J. Green.
Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Bye Week: 6)
If you’re looking for a franchise QB and Carr already is off the board, Winston isn’t a bad second option. The Florida State product took his lumps in his rookie season, but moments like his five-touchdown game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 10 suggest he’s only trending upward.
Martellus Bennett, Tight End, New England Patriots (Bye Week: 9)
The vaunted two-tight end scheme returns to New England this season with two Pro Bowl players in Bennett and Rob Gronkowski. Playing in the Patriots’ offense obviously should help Bennett’s numbers, and there’s a good chance that coach Bill Belichick will keep him around if all goes well this season.
DeVante Parker, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins (Bye Week: 8)
A foot injury delayed Parker’s NFL debut last season, but his 87-plus receiving yards in each of Miami’s last three games last season suggest big things could be coming from the 23-year-old this year. He figures to be Miami’s No. 2 target behind Jarvis Landry in an offense that’s much more effective through the air than on the ground.
Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images