While snake draft plans depend almost entirely on draft position, auction plans are all about how you manage your salary cap. The additional flexibility is what many people love about auctions, but it can be dangerous. How and where are you going to spend your money? Me, I'll be passing on most of the big dollar players and grabbing (at value) a bunch of lower-tier guys with upside. My teams won't be sexy, but they'll be solid and deep.
If you take a look at last year's preseason top 12 based on Average Auction Values (AAVs), you'll find that a whopping nine of them (75%) disappointed. That's right, nine of them. Only LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, and Edgerrin James carried teams as expected, while Priest Holmes, Deuce McAllister, Randy Moss, Domanick Davis, Willis McGahee, Kevin Jones, Daunte Culpepper, and Julius Jones were all hurt and/or terribly disappointing. Even Peyton Manning, who finished with a very strong 3747-28-10 season, is labeled by many as a disappointment because they paid 40-TD money for him on the heels of his record-breaking 2004.
While nine is a bit high, you'll find that, over the years, at least half of the top 12 disappointing is pretty typical. Football is a violent game where players get hurt every week. Compared to baseball and basketball, football also requires the most amount of teamwork; so an injury to or an off-year from complementary players can hurt a player through no fault of his own. Throw in the effects of coaching changes, free agency, and the fact that they only play 16 games (relatively a very small sample), and you'll see why football is by far the most unpredictable fantasy sport. This inherent risk in the game is the reason I usually model my teams after the New England Patriots / Detroit Pistons Championship Teams – not a lot of star power, but solid and deep – again, a bunch of lower-tier guys with upside. Having this type of team will help you weather the inevitable bumps along the road much better than a top-heavy one.
Another thing to consider is that the top tier guys will rarely go for a bargain. Since you'll more likely than not be paying top dollar for those guys, what are the chances they will over-deliver? If you're lucky, you'll get what you pay for; and if not, you could be in for a very long season. If you get a deal on a lower tier guy with upside, then you are more likely to get the best possible return on your auction dollar investment. And that's what wins Championships.
Finally, a team full of depth will also put you in a much better position to consolidate talent via trade as the season progresses. As the trade deadline nears, your priority will shift from having the safety net of depth to putting together the best starting lineup you can for the play-offs. The only way you can do this is if you have starter caliber players on your bench. Top heavy teams (a.k.a. "Stars and Scrubs") tend to be the revolving door teams that pick up and drop the most players throughout the season. If their "scrubs" starters can't get the job done and they have no one on their bench, they'll have to break up talent instead of consolidate, essentially going the wrong way.
So what exactly will my teams look like? Assuming a 12-team, $200 salary cap auction with a starting lineup of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1K, and 1 DEF, a scoring system of 10 yards rush/rec = 20 yards passing = 1 point, passing TDs = 4 points, rush/rec TDs = 6 points, with standard K and DEF rules, my teams will look like the following (values based on the most recently published Average Auction Values (AAVs)).
While QB is the most important position in football, it really is only the 3rd most important in fantasy. The talent pool is deep and you only have to start one; so high supply + low demand = take my aforementioned strategy of skipping the big name players to an extreme. Unless any of the top seven guys (Peyton Manning ($38), Eli Manning ($25), Tom Brady ($20), Carson Palmer ($19), Matt Hasselbeck ($17), Donovan McNabb ($17), and Marc Bulger ($15)) go for a real bargain, I will be avoiding all of them.
I just think I'll get better value on the quarterbacks ranked eight to 18. I'll go after two or even three of the best bargains I can find from the following group: Michael Vick ($12), Drew Bledsoe ($11), Jake Delhomme ($10), Kurt Warner ($10), Ben Roethlisberger ($10), Daunte Culpepper ($9), Aaron Brooks ($9), Trent Green ($8), Brett Favre ($8), Drew Brees ($7), and Jake Plummer ($7). Note that these players are in order of their current AAVs, not my personal valuation of them. Given their current AAVs, I believe Bledsoe, Delhomme, Roethlisberger, Green, Brees, and Plummer offer the most value.
Every auction I'll be in this season will undoubtedly be different; so it's important not to fall in love with any of these players. Again, I just want to get the best value I can find. If I'm reasonably effective in picking their match-ups well, I should be able to squeeze at least 24-28 TDs from that group. Since they all have upside (some more than others), two – or if I'm really lucky, three – of the QBs I buy could crack the overall top 12, giving me trade bait for the teams that inevitably get hit with the injury bug.
Consider the following QBs:
QB1: Tom Brady ($20), QB2: David Carr ($3) for a total of $23
QB1: Drew Bledsoe ($11), QB2: Jake Delhomme ($10) for a total of $21
To me, there's no comparison. Consider:
1. How big a drop-off will there be, really, between Tom Brady and the best weekly match-up between Drew Bledsoe and Jake Delhomme?
2. If one of them (or Terrell Owens or Steve Smith) gets injured, it won't cripple my team. If Brady goes down, however, my team will be in shambles with Carr at the helm.
3. Bledsoe and Delhomme are perfect examples of serviceable guys with upside. They have two of the best WRs in the NFL to throw to; so it would probably take an injury for either of them not to finish in the top 12. They also have enough upside that there's a decent chance one of them cracks the top 6. Let's say, for example, that Bledsoe-to-TO starts clicking and Drew becomes a consensus top 6 QB half-way through the season, while Delhomme hovers around 10 or 11. When the trade deadline approaches, I will then move Delhomme as part of a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 that will help me nab that difference maker who will carry me in the play-offs. In the Brady/Carr duo, Carr is really nothing more than a bye-week filler. If you try to throw him into a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1, people will either laugh at you or get insulted. Note, also, that Bledsoe/Delhomme is $2 cheaper than Brady/Carr. As I always say, that $2 could be the difference between that sleeper you covet and a "value pick" you could do without.
Before I continue onto the running backs, this is probably a good time to bring up one of the major drawbacks of this strategy: you will undoubtedly choose the wrong QB at some point during the season. You just have to be comfortable with that. Here's the worst case scenario: you have Bledsoe starting the whole week, then Sunday morning, for some reason (a weather report, something somebody said on a pre-game show, whatever) you switch to Delhomme. I'm sure this has happened to you before — Jake delivers a goose egg, single-handedly losing the game, while Bledsoe throws for 300 yards and 3 TDs. Is that the kind of thing that will ruin your week or can you shrug it off with the attitude of, "given the info I had at the time, it was the right call?" Of course picking match-ups is a risk, but those are the types of calculated risks that will add up to a championship. If you'll go crazy with these types of decisions, then this is definitely not the strategy for you. Consider yourself warned. I don't need to get any hate mail from you!
Running backs are still the most important position by far, but not as important as in years past. Last year, when commenting on an expert auction we hosted for a prominent fantasy football magazine, I wrote, "there isn't as big a drop off from the 4th highest paid player (McGahee) to the 34th (Jordan) as in years past. Although unlikely, it's not out of the question for Jordan to outperform McGahee this year." Sure enough, LaMont Jordan finished with 1588 total yards and 11 TDs while Willis McGahee had 1425 and 5.
I feel even more so about this year's group of RBs. The drop-off from the 4th highest paid player (most people would say that's Tiki Barber, Clinton Portis, or Edgerrin James) to the 34th (overall, not RB – someone like Jamal Lewis, Kevin Jones, or Chester Taylor) is not nearly as steep as it was three to five years ago. Who's to say the Cards' suspect o-line shackles Edgerrin James and Chester Taylor flourishes behind the most improved o-line in football? It's certainly possible, so I will continue with the same theme here – go with lower tier players with upside.
Remember, however, that you still need to have some quality starters at RB! Again, RB is the most important position, so you definitely don't want to get too gun-shy. At RB1, I think the best value can be had in those ranked 7 to 12: Steven Jackson ($45), Ronnie Brown ($43), LaMont Jordan ($43), Cadillac Williams ($42), Rudi Johnson ($41), or even Domanick Davis ($34, although I expect his value to go up as the season approaches). Again, I think this tier is where you'll get the best bang for your auction buck. Any one of the big three of Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, and LaDainian Tomlinson ($70-$75) will cost almost as much as two backs in that 7-12 tier ($34-$48) put together. I just don't think there's such a thing as a can't-miss prospect, so I prefer to hedge my bets.
At RB2, I like Chester Taylor for $21 a lot; but I also expect his value to go up as the season gets closer. The tier I'm trying to hit with my RB2 is in the $20 to $35 range: Domanick Davis, Brian Westbrook, Julius Jones, Willie Parker, Kevin Jones, Tatum Bell, Thomas Jones, and Reggie Bush (although I think someone will always be willing to pay more for Bush than I am). If I have to pay more for my RB2, like I probably will, then I will take it out of my WR budget.
At RB3 and RB4, I'll be targeting a complete set of one of the many RBBCs this year. Bush/McAllister ($44) and Bell/Dayne ($38) will probably be too expensive as a 3 and 4, so I'm really looking at J. Jones/Barber ($32), T. Jones/Benson ($32), Parker/Staley ($30), Foster/Williams ($30), Dillon/Maroney ($29), or Addai/Rhodes ($27). If you notice, all the teams these RBBCs represent are legitimate play-off contenders (except for New Orleans), so cornering the market on one of their backfields could pay big dividends if one of the backs separates himself as the clear starter or gets hurt.
With a QB platoon of Drew Bledsoe and Jake Delhomme, here are a few backfields with which I would be very happy:
Steven Jackson ($45), Domanick Davis ($34), Corey Dillon ($21), and Laurence Maroney ($8) for a total of $108
Domanick Davis ($34), Brian Westbrook ($27), Reggie Bush ($28), and Deuce McAllister ($16) for a total of $105
Ronnie Brown ($43), Julius Jones ($26), Kevin Jones ($21), and Marion Barber ($6) for a total of $96
Again, the key thing here is that I'm spreading the wealth to lower-tier guys with upside. Even the last group above (which only cost $96) has two guys (JJ and KJ) who were consensus first round picks in '05. Maybe Julius Jones finally stays healthy and Mike Martz returns Kevin Jones to his second-half-of-2004 glory, who knows? We live in a very unpredictable age of fantasy football, so instead of complaining about it, just account for it in your strategy.
Like in my QB example above, if any one of these guys get hurt, it won't completely kill my team. I'll still have some room to maneuver. Also, if any of my backs realize their potential, I'll have some nice trade bait I can use to upgrade my team for the playoffs run. They can be part of a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 trade in week 10 that seals the championship. That one player I trade for will have 10 weeks of real NFL stats to back him up, so it won't be as speculative as top guys in August. As far as risk and reward goes, I think this is the best approach.
Wide receiver is actually the one position where I wouldn't mind going after a top guy like Steve Smith or Torry Holt. Part of the reason is that WRs usually get hurt less often than QBs and RBs, so the risk factor isn't there as much. I also think they are, in general, somewhat undervalued. Most of the money I save from avoiding the big name guys at the QB and RB position, I will put into WR.
If you take a look at the WR market this year, you have a top tier of Steve Smith, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, Larry Fitzgerald, Chad Johnson, Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, and Marvin Harrison. Any one of those guys could arguably be the top WR in the league. This group will run you from about $30 to $40, give or take a dollar or two.
The second tier is Reggie Wayne, Chris Chambers, Hines Ward, Darrell Jackson, Roy Williams, and Plaxico Burress. They're more iffy, but they certainly have enough upside to land somewhere in that top tier (except for maybe steady-as-he-goes Darrell Jackson). They will cost you about $18 to $25.
The third tier would probably be Santana Moss, Javon Walker, Joey Galloway, Donald Driver, Andre Johnson, Joe Horn, Koren Robinson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch, and Derrick Mason. Those guys will cost anywhere from $9 to $18.
While you might not agree about a few guys being in one tier or another, I think most would say this is reasonable. Now having spent $20-$25 on my top two QBs, $95 to $110 on my top four RBs, I have about $75 to spend on the rest of my squad. I will probably only spend $5 to $7 on TE, K, and DEF, so that gives me roughly $65 to $70 to spend on four or five WRs. So how do I spend it?
Notice that there are 24 WRs in the three tiers above. Although I'm a big proponent of "spreading the wealth," when it comes to WRs, I want to walk away with three of those top 24. I just think there is a big drop from the 24th best WR to the 36th. So I plan to spend about $30 to $35 for WR1, $20 to $25 for WR2, $10 to $15 for WR3, about $5 for WR4, and a $1 flyer if I need a WR5. Since 36 WRs have to start, I guarantee myself one of the better WR corps in the league. Here are some WRs I might end up with:
Torry Holt ($34), Plaxico Burress ($18), Joe Horn ($13), and Ernest Wilford ($5) for a total of $67
Randy Moss ($29), Hines Ward ($23), Koren Robinson ($12), Kevin Curtis ($5) for a total of $66
Chris Chambers ($23), Hines Ward ($23), Roy Williams ($18), Drew Bennett ($3) for a total of $67
Why do I want three of the top 24 WRs? The 12th best QB is going for $10-$12, which might get you someone like Drew Bledsoe, Jake Delhomme, or Kurt Warner. The 24th best RB is going for $19-$21, which might get you someone like Warrick Dunn, Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor, or Jamal Lewis. All these guys fall under the "serviceable with upside" category. If, however, you take a look at the 36th best WR, who is going for about $5, you can get someone like Ernest Wilford, Kevin Curtis, or Reggie Brown. While all these guys have upside, I definitely don't want to start any of them week one if I don't have to. They fall under the "development project" category, so I will be a little more aggressive with WRs and try to get three of the top 24.
Tight End, Kicker, Defense
As I mention above, I will probably only spend about $5-$7 on my tight end, kicker, and defense. Tight ends are a pretty deep group this year relative to a few years ago, when there was a huge drop from the top guy to the 12th. Is Antonio Gates ($23), with brand spanking new starter Philip Rivers throwing to him, really worth that much more than Chris Cooley ($5), L.J. Smith ($4), Heath Miller ($4), or Randy McMichael ($4)? That's the group I will be targeting for the $3 to $5 I'll be spending at TE.
The kicker market, on the other hand, is too volatile to invest that much money into it. I refuse to spend more than $2 for a kicker. People spent big bucks on Mike Vanderjagt in '04 and Adam Vinatieri crushed the field. In '05, people spent big on Vinatieri, and it was undrafted Neil Rackers who carried teams in '05. This year people are shelling out cash for Rackers, while I learn from history and back off. I will most likely end up with someone like John Kasay ($2), David Akers ($1), or Lawrence Tynes ($1).
The defense market is pretty similar to kicker, I think, so I will probably not spend more than $2 or $3 on my starting defense. I'm looking to grab a team like the Steelers ($3), Eagles ($3), or the Seahawks ($2).
Putting It All Together
So let's put this all together and see what kind of team I might get (9 starters, 8 bench):
QB ($23): Drew Bledsoe ($11), Jake Delhomme ($10), Billy Volek ($2)
RB ($96): Cadillac Williams ($42), Julius Jones ($26), Kevin Jones ($21), Marion Barber ($6), Verron Haynes ($1)
WR ($73): Torry Holt ($34), Plaxico Burress ($18), Joey Galloway ($15), Ernest Wilford ($5), Reche Caldwell ($1)
TE ($4): Randy McMichael ($4)
K ($1): David Akers ($1)
DEF ($3): Seahawks ($2), Vikings ($1)
There are a few things I should point out here:
1. It's worth reiterating that these values are based on AAVs of three expert auctions we hosted for fantasy football magazines in May (because of their early print dates). The values will undoubtedly change between now and August, so we will update this article as more recent AAVs become available.
2. Since the values above are AAVs, I am technically not getting any of them for a bargain. If I do my job right and get even a 5% or 6% discount across the board, I will have $10 to $12 extra to invest into the team, which is significant. That would be like upgrading Julius Jones to Domanick Davis or Plaxico Burress to Marvin Harrison.
3. That said, I admit I chose the players above because I like their AAVs. I wanted to give you an idea of the type of team I would really be happy with, so here it is. You, of course, will not have the luxury of looking back at your auction and picking the values you like based on their prices. This is where the Art of Bargain Hunting becomes very important – and that is an article that will be coming soon.
Okay, so this is my "Plan A," but what happens if Larry Johnson, whose AAV is $75, is going once and going twice for $64? Or if Peyton Manning ($38) is going once and twice for $27? You better believe that I'm going to price-enforce and bid one more dollar. I like my auction draft plan, but there's no way I let someone get away with that kind of highway robbery. It would be worth going to Plan B for those types of bargains. Remember that you need a fluid strategy and should be ready to pull the trigger on a guy you might not have necessarily wanted. If I win Larry for $65 or Peyton for $28, that will obviously throw my plans out the window. So what then? Make sure you check out my Contingency Plans article to find out, which is also coming soon.
George del Prado is a syndicated fantasy sports writers for FantasyAuctioneer.com, home of the first and only real-time auction-draft software on the Internet. In developing and maintaining the website, he is convinced he has participated in more fantasy auctions than anyone on the planet and hope you can learn from his experience.