An early list of keeper candidates for 2010

When Fantasy owners drafted Ray Rice in 2009 the hope was he would play at a high level and outperform Willis McGahee . As we know, Rice did more than that.

Rice was one of the best Fantasy running backs last year with 1,339 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and 78 catches for 702 yards and a touchdown. He has become the best keeper option in Fantasy heading into 2010.

In looking at our initial list of the Top 25 keepers, we put Rice in a category by himself based on his performance and where he was drafted. Rice was taken in Round 8 of most leagues on CBSSports.com (according to his average draft position), but he finished as the No. 3 running back behind Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson .

We like Rice as the No. 4 running back in 2010 behind Johnson, Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew , and he will definitely be drafted in the first round of all leagues. Even if McGahee returns to Baltimore, Rice will reign supreme again for the Ravens.

There are several types of keeper leagues, but we're focusing on the most widely-used format, where you would lose a draft pick in the round where that player was selected from in the previous season. For example, keeping Rice will cost most owners a pick in Round 8 this year (again, based on his ADP).

Dave Richard's take on keepers
Not every keeper league's rules are the same. In some leagues, you must forfeit your best pick(s) for each player you keep. Here are 10 non-obvious players worth hanging on to in that keeper format.
Miles Austin WR Cowboys
Cedric Benson RB Bengals
Jamaal Charles RB Chiefs
Ryan Grant RB Packers
Santonio Holmes WR Steelers
DeSean Jackson WR Eagles
Brandon Marshall WR Broncos
Rashard Mendenhall RB Steelers
Sidney Rice WR Vikings
Steve Smith WR Giants
Also, here are 10 potential keepers NOT worth hanging on to if it means losing a top draft pick.
Marion Barber RB Cowboys
Anquan Boldin WR Cardinals
Tom Brady QB Patriots
Vernon Davis TE 49ers
Thomas Jones RB Jets
Donovan McNabb QB Eagles
Chad Johnson WR Bengals
Steve Smith WR Panthers
LaDainian Tomlinson RB Chargers
Wes Welker WR Patriots

In making this list, we looked at players who saw the biggest increase in value. While there are several obvious names -- Cedric Benson as a keeper from Round 7, Jamaal Charles as a keeper from Round 13 and Sidney Rice as a keeper from Round 12 -- you'll also find some players who might surprise you like Justin Forsett , Kenny Britt and Jermichael Finley , who weren't drafted in the majority of leagues in 2009. You can probably keep them in exchange for your last-round pick in 2010.

We've also left off the players that didn't really improve their value in a big enough way, like Johnson going from Round 2 to No. 1 overall, Jonathan Stewart going from Round 6 to Round 4 and Joseph Addai going from Round 5 to Round 3. You should still consider keeping these players, but their value just didn't improve dramatically enough.

Quarterbacks

Matt Schaub , Texans
2009 average draft position: Round 5
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 2
Schaub finally made it through a full 16 games for the first time as a starter and he posted a career year, including a trip to the Pro Bowl. He passed for 4,770 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and he's easily capable of repeating those stats with Andre Johnson as his main target. If Owen Daniels , who missed the end of the season with a torn ACL, returns as a free agent as expected, then Schaub's value could increase. He is worth drafting as a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback.

Ben Roethlisberger , Steelers
2009 average draft position: Round 8
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 4
The Steelers showed in 2009 that they can be a dominant passing team, as Big Ben accounted for 4,328 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also added two rushing touchdowns and finished the season as a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback. While the Steelers will likely rely on their ground game a little more in 2010, Roethlisberger can still post outstanding stats. He has a solid receiving corps with Santonio Holmes , Hines Ward , Mike Wallace and Heath Miller .

Eli Manning , Giants
2009 average draft position: Round 9
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 6
We never expected Manning to become a starting Fantasy option, but he played well enough in 2009 and has enough talent in place heading into 2010 that his value is on the rise. Manning had a career season with 4,021 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also has the best receiving corps of his career with Steve Smith , Hakeem Nicks , Mario Manningham and Kevin Boss . Manning should no longer be considered a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback because the Giants are becoming a passing team.

Running backs

Knowshon Moreno , Broncos
2009 average draft position: Round 6
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 2
Moreno should take on more of a workload in his sophomore season after he had a standout rookie campaign. He didn't rush for 100 yards in any game, but he did have double digits in Fantasy points in five games while gaining 947 rushing yards and five touchdowns and 28 catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Moreno won't have to worry about sharing carries in 2010 since he will be the No. 1 option in Denver. And he should be a starting Fantasy running back in all leagues.

Cedric Benson , Bengals
2009 average draft position: Round 7
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 2
Benson has gone from sleeper to standout as the Bengals have now become a running team. Chad Johnson said as much during the Pro Bowl in an interview with CBSSports.com. "We changed up a little bit as far as being a run-first team now," he said. Benson carried the offense in 2009 as he ran for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns, and he should continue to improve this year. He had nine games last year with double digits in Fantasy points and is capable of being a No. 1 option again.

Beanie Wells , Cardinals
2009 average draft position: Round 7
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 3
Wells will likely continue to share carries with Tim Hightower , but Wells came on at the end of his rookie year last season and showed he can be a workhorse. He had five games with double digits in Fantasy points in his final eight games and finished the season with 793 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The Cardinals will likely lean on Wells more in 2010 now that Kurt Warner has retired, and we think Wells will respond well with more touches.

Felix Jones , Cowboys
2009 average draft position: Round 8
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 5
Marion Barber is expected to return, but Jones should still take on a bigger role. Jones was a star to end 2009 with Barber dealing with a knee injury. He had 91 rushing yards and a touchdown against Philadelphia in the season-finale and 178 total yards and a touchdown against the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs. He also had 91 total yards in the playoff loss at Minnesota. If Barber is cut, Jones would become a star, but Jones should be considered a solid No. 3 Fantasy running back regardless of what happens with Barber.

LeSean McCoy , Eagles
2009 average draft position: Round 10
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 3
McCoy would be drafted in Round 2 if Brian Westbrook decides to retire or gets released, but even if Westbrook returns in 2010 look for McCoy to play a big role in the offense. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb spoke highly of McCoy in an interview with CBSSports.com at the Pro Bowl. "He's an outstanding talent," McNabb said. "I think he can (do well as the starter)." McCoy had four games in double digits in Fantasy points during a five-game stretch last year when Westbrook was out.

Rashard Mendenhall , Steelers
2009 average draft position: Round 11
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 2
Mendenhall took over for Willie Parker last year and showed he can be an elite Fantasy running back. He will enter this season as a potential first-round pick in all leagues. Mendenhall had 1,108 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and 25 catches for 261 yards and a touchdown last year, including nine games with double digits in Fantasy points. And the Steelers will likely lean on him more in 2010 in an attempt to become a more run-oriented offense.

Shonn Greene , Jets
2009 average draft position: Round 12
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 3
Greene showed in the playoffs he can be a star when he ran for 304 yards and two touchdowns in three games. The key for Greene is what the Jets decide to do with Thomas Jones . If Jones is released then Greene would be drafted in Round 2 because the Jets have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. Greene will still get plenty of carries with Jones on the roster so he's worth drafting as early as Round 3. And he's definitely worth keeping based on his draft status from last season.

Jamaal Charles , Chiefs
2009 average draft position: Round 13
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 2
Charles became a Fantasy sensation last year when he took over for Larry Johnson . He had double digits in Fantasy points in seven of his final eight games and finished the season with 1,190 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and 40 catches for 297 yards and a touchdown. If you project what Charles did in his final eight games for the entire season he would have had 320 carries for 1,936 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is worth drafting in Round 1 in 2010, but he won't slip past the middle of Round 2.

Jerome Harrison , Browns
2009 average draft position: Round 14
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 4
The Browns finally let Harrison show off his skills in the final three weeks of the season, and he earned his job for 2010. Harrison had 106 carries for 561 yards and five touchdowns against Kansas City, Oakland and Jacksonville. For those lucky Fantasy owners who added him off the waiver wire, he was clutch during the playoffs. He had double digits in Fantasy points in four of his final five games and heads into 2010 with the chance to be a starting option in all leagues.

Justin Forsett , Seahawks
2009 average draft position: Not drafted
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 5
The Seahawks need to release Julius Jones or make it clear that Forsett is the primary running back. He showed in 2009 that he has more upside than Jones, and new coach Pete Carroll should lean on Forsett. Since he went undrafted in most Fantasy leagues you can likely keep him for a last-round pick. That makes him a no brainer when it comes to his value for 2010. At worst, Forsett will share carries with Jones until the new Seahawks regime realizes he has more talent.

Wide receivers

DeSean Jackson , Eagles
2009 average draft position: Round 6
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 2
We'll include Jeremy Maclin here as well since he was drafted in Round 12 last year based on his average draft position. Maclin should be used as a No. 2 or 3 wide receiver depending on the size of your league. But Jackson has become a Top 5 Fantasy wide receiver and is worth drafting in Round 2. And he expects to improve in 2010. "I just have to keep it going and keep putting in the hard work and demanding to be great," he told us at the Pro Bowl. "I just have to keep pushing myself to the limit."

Michael Crabtree , 49ers
2009 average draft position: Round 11
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 6
Crabtree only played in 11 games as a rookie last year due to his contract holdout, and he finished with 48 catches for 625 yards and two touchdowns. But tight end Vernon Davis expects Crabtree to improve in 2010, and we agree. " Michael Crabtree is still learning," Davis said. "He'll get better. He'll be better next season. He's a tremendous talent. I've never seen anything like it. Skills and ability, he's got it." We like Crabtree as a No. 2 Fantasy wide receiver this season based on his upside.

Steve Smith , Giants
2009 average draft position: Round 11
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 4
Hakeem Nicks is a solid keeper as well since he was drafted in Round 13 last year based on his average draft position. Nicks should be used as a No. 2 or 3 wide receiver depending on the size of your league. But Smith became a Fantasy star when he set the Giants record for catches in a season with 107, and his 1,220 receiving yards were the second-highest total in team history. He also added seven touchdowns. His goal for 2010 is to catch more deep balls, and that would only enhance his value.

Sidney Rice , Vikings
2009 average draft position: Round 12
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 3
Percy Harvin is another wide receiver worth keeping since he was drafted in Round 10 based on his average draft position. But Rice and Harvin's value is tied to what happens with Brett Favre . If Favre returns in 2010 then Rice would be considered a No. 1 Fantasy wide receiver and Harvin a No. 2 option. But if Favre retires then Rice should be considered a No. 2 option and Harvin a No. 3 wide receiver. Still, both are worth keeping based on their draft status from last year.

Miles Austin , Cowboys
2009 average draft position: Round 13
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 3
Austin had the biggest breakthrough of any wide receiver in 2009, and he should be considered a No. 1 Fantasy wide receiver in 2010. He finished last season with 81 catches for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns and has established himself as one of Tony Romo favorite target. "It's just a lot of work," Austin said in an interview with CBSSports.com at the Pro Bowl. "I've always been trying to get better. It's a lot of work, a lot of practice and a lot of extra stuff. I'm going to continue to try and do it."

Kenny Britt , Titans
2009 average draft position: Not drafted
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 9
Britt showed that he's capable of being a quality Fantasy wide receiver during a three-game stretch last year against Houston, Arizona and Indianapolis when he had 14 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns. This year, Britt should be a useful No. 3 Fantasy option, and he has great value since he went undrafted in the majority of leagues as a rookie. "He's going to be a good guy for us," Titans quarterback Vince Young told us at the Pro Bowl.

Pierre Garcon , Colts
2009 average draft position: Not drafted
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 7
You can never go wrong with one of Peyton Manning favorite targets, and two of them are great keepers in Garcon and Austin Collie , who also was undrafted last season in the majority of leagues. Anthony Gonzalez is going to play a prominent role in the Colts passing game, and don't forget about Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark . But Garcon and Collie are worth holding onto heading into 2010 if you were able to add either one off the waiver wire.

Robert Meachem , Saints
2009 average draft position: Not drafted
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 6
Meachem was one of the best third-year breakouts last year with 45 catches for 722 yards and nine touchdowns. He had eight games with double digits in Fantasy points and became the No. 2 option in the passing game behind Marques Colston . Meachem said in an interview with CBSSports.com that he wants to improve in 2010, and he's a great keeper since he wasn't drafted in the majority of leagues. "Just keep going," Meachem said. "You try to go up and not go backwards."

Mike Sims-Walker , Jaguars
2009 average draft position: Not drafted
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 6
Sims-Walker was another standout third-year wide receiver who came on in 2009. He had 63 catches for 869 yards and seven touchdowns, and he was a star at home with six touchdowns and six games with double digits in Fantasy points. We'd like to see Sims-Walker play better on the road in 2010, but he's a great keeper since he wasn't drafted in the majority of leagues. "He's a great receiver and a great guy to work with," Jaguars quarterback David Garrard told us.

Tight end

Brent Celek , Eagles
2009 average draft position: Round 12
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 4
Celek had the breakout year we were expecting in 2009 with 76 catches for 971 yards and eight touchdowns, and he should continue to improve in 2010. Donovan McNabb will return as the starter, and Celek benefits from plenty of single coverage thanks to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin . Celek is the red-zone target for the Eagles, so he has the chance to reach double digits in touchdowns in this pass-happy offense. I like Celek as the No. 2 overall tight end.

Vernon Davis , 49ers
2009 average draft position: Round 13
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 4
Davis will struggle to duplicate his 2009 stats, but it's definitely worth finding out if he can at least come close. Davis tied the NFL record for touchdown receptions for a tight end with 13 and added 78 catches for 965 yards in a breakout season. The reason for his turnaround? "Just having somebody to throw me the ball," Davis said. He was talking about Alex Smith , and the two finally started to connect. That should continue in 2010, and Davis will be a Top 5 tight end.

Jermichael Finley , Packers
2009 average draft position: Not drafted
In 2010 he will be drafted in: Round 7
Aaron Rodgers spoke highly of Finley at the Pro Bowl, and for obvious reasons. Finley was a go-to target for the Packers in 2009, and that will continue this season. He went from undrafted in the majority of Fantasy leagues last year to a Top 10 option after he had 55 catches for 676 yards and five touchdowns. Green Bay has a dynamic passing game with Greg Jennings and Donald Driver , and Finley is definitely a big target for Rodgers.

You can email your Fantasy Football questions to DMFantasyFootball@cbs.com. Be sure to put Attn: 2010 Keepers in the subject field. Include your full name, hometown and state, and we'll get to as many as we can. Also, follow me on Twitter @jameyeisenberg.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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