- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Time to get sneaky again! Week 15 has already begun, and while one might think we've run out of angles to cover in the weekly Friday Sneaky Additions blog entry, that's just not true. In recent weeks we've discussed planning ahead for the final playoff rounds, looking at backup quarterbacks that might be called to duty and searched for potential home run hitters among barely-owned wide receivers. Today we'll delve into a topic that one might think isn't as pressing, but it is: Planning ahead. Not for Week 17 necessarily, but for next August.
A year ago this week I was one of the final four teams in a deep league and, to be honest, my lineup was pretty much filling itself out. I didn't have decisions to make each week, with mostly obvious choices. However, I saw a few names on my bench that didn't seem to matter anymore, and decided to think about the following season's keepers. Trust me, it's OK to look ahead to the next season even when the current one hasn't ended. I grabbed running backs Dexter McCluster and Ryan Grant and wide receivers Steve Smith and Victor Cruz. I ended up making the Green Bay Packers running back and the Carolina Panthers wide receiver two of my eight keepers in August 2011.
Well, entering Week 15 of this year, Smith is tied with Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers as fantasy's No. 5 wide receiver, and Grant has been a dud, but you take your chances, right? Heck, I should have kept Cruz, but who knew he'd be fantasy's No. 4 wide receiver! The point is, a sneaky pickup can be for the long-term future as well, and I'm already thinking about it even in leagues in which I'm still filling out lineups. And by the way, if you wait another week or two, more people in your league, as they get eliminated, will think about it. In most leagues, free agency closes when the season ends. You can't add in February.
In general, my keeper selections come from the running back and wide receiver pools. In that league I referenced above, I've kept Eli Manning the past few seasons, but haven't felt great about it. In a more standard keeper league I'd say perhaps four or five quarterbacks are worth it, and you can draft fellows like Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub -- second-tier fantasy passers -- later. I also tend to eschew tight ends unless it's Antonio Gates, or this season, the record-setting Rob Gronkowski and very good Jimmy Graham. I'm not keeping solid Jason Witten or ever any defenses or kickers.
So, here is my top 10 of notable players on my mind today as potential keepers for next season -- depending on the size of your league, of course -- and they might be sitting on your free agent wire. They don't need to help you this December to matter next December, and perhaps you won't need them at all. But then again, do you really want to keep Joseph Addai or Ryan Torain owned? I think not.
1. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: Here's the obvious one to me, a top-3 pick on draft day this season that produced 11 fantasy points before tearing his ACL. Will he ever be the same? Perhaps not, but I'm pretty sure nobody on the current Chiefs is standing in his way, even McCluster. Remember, next summer a peaceful NFL will allow Charles to rehabilitate with his team.
2. Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans: Another victim of the torn ACL, Britt was selected as a top-20 wide receiver this season, but lost his season a week after Jamaal Charles did. Britt's future quarterback is on board, so get ready.
3. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys: Yep, he broke your heart when he broke his ankle last week. He was dropped in one of my keeper leagues and I actually used a waiver pick to get him. Even if I don't keep him, the fact is Murray proved he's good enough to thrive, and I can always trade him for a draft pick later.
4. Peyton Manning, QB, Miami Dolphins: See what I did there? Look, if Andrew Luck is a comin', then this Manning is probably a leavin'. But regardless of where this Manning performs -- and here's to hoping he at least plays again -- he's a potential top-5 quarterback when healthy. Add him now just to see what happens.
5. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts: Yep, he looks done, right? Well, so did Steve Smith a year ago. Having a legit quarterback makes a difference, and whether it's Peyton or Luck, Wayne would have one if he returned to Indy. Even in 2010, the numbers weren't that bad. Don't blame the age, blame the situation.
7. Montario Hardesty, RB, Cleveland Browns: I can't imagine anyone is activating him. I'll be honest, I don't know if Hardesty can play. He's always hurt. But I'm sure Peyton Hillis will be anywhere but Cleveland next season, and Chris Ogbonnaya isn't a budding star. Denver Broncos disappointment Knowshon Moreno could be enticing as well, I suppose.
8. Kahlil Bell, RB, Chicago Bears: A sneaky pickup for useful reasons this week and the rest of the season, Bell has run well, though he's clearly behind Marion Barber for touches. I think Bell can play, and let's face it, the Matt Forte situation with him returning to Chicago didn't get clearer when he got hurt.
9. Jon Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: It's too early to tell if he really can play, and he'd need a quarterback, but Dwayne Bowe can walk after the season. Baldwin is a real-life, first-round talent we cannot ignore. I found about 10 other young wide receivers with bright futures, ranging from Riley Cooper (DeSean Jackson is not coming back to Philly!) to Arrelious Benn in Tampa Bay and Titus Young, but I didn't have enough room, and I'm going to side with running backs.
10. Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams: It's a lost season for this former top overall pick, with seemingly more regression by the week. Just shut him down already. But if you liked Bradford a few months ago, don't let his awful play this season derail you. As keepers go, he's really no worse than the Christian Ponder or Jake Locker types for 2012.
Best of luck in Week 15 and beyond!
Eric Karabell on some players who won't help you in the playoffs this season, but might get you there in 2012.