Sneaky pickups entering Week 16

Wise keeper league fantasy owners should never stop thinking about the future, whether their teams are set for this season’s playoffs or not. We’re up to Week 16 and for the many keeper league owners whose seasons have ended -- always prematurely, of course -- it’s time to look ahead. Since in most leagues, the waiver-wire machine officially stops when the regular season ends, you’re running out of time to use that bench space for younger, upside players -- generally running backs -- who can and should impact teams next year and beyond. After all, we’re days before Christmas, so it’s tough to be particularly sneaky for this week. But for next year … go for it.

When I perused the free-agent listings in my keeper leagues -- so don’t ask about the likes of Cincinnati Bengals emerging star Giovani Bernard or others owned in all leagues -- whether my team was still playing for a championship or not, I found myriad attractive options with potential for relevance. Obviously it’s impossible to know whether your league keeps two players or six, or who has been released, but here are several grouping themes of players certainly worth taking a look at for next year. Perhaps you won’t consider them as keepers now or next summer, but then again, an injury or job description change to one of your top options could alter that. You could also find a fellow owner curious enough to trade a draft pick or make a 2-for-1 deal.

Injured stars: Houston Texans running back Arian Foster looked awfully productive late in the 2009 season, and if you snatched him up in a keeper league, he was certainly worth it. Well, he still is. Foster and Doug Martin were high first-round picks in ESPN average live drafts this season but neither made it to November due to injury. While Foster will be 28 for his next game and Martin was probably a tad overrated this season, it’s hardly a stretch nominating these guys as first-round picks again. In fact, it’s unlikely they’re available in keeper formats, just like Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, but look anyway. Same with Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin, New York Giants running back David Wilson or Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon (suspended, not hurt). There are obvious flaws with each, but it’s reasonable they could perform well in 2014 if healthy and trouble-free.