In my first article of this Auction Draft series I’ve given you the blueprint for how to give yourself a massive advantage over all of your league mates using something I like to refer to as leverage. The money you spend by drafting a cheap QB (equivalent to the Late Round QB strategy) is an incredibly efficient way to use your draft capital. The money you save by not drafting an expensive QB can then be reinvested in the RB and WR markets, which are much more efficiently priced (i.e. you don’t get “paid” much to draft lesser players). Whether you’re employing a Stars n’ Scrubs approach or assembling the All Value team, the leverage from your cheap QB will maximize your team’s potential in a way that an expensive QB never could. In this article I’ll give you some strategies to employ and some target players to help you get even more out of the extra dollars you’ll have from saving on your QB.
To me, there are three factors that make auctions (especially live ones) so much fun: chaos, fear, and greed. Snake drafts tend to be fairly regimented due to several factors: 1) ADP data is very readily available and is generally part of most players’ knowledge of fantasy football. For example, I think it’s much more common for someone to know that “Julio Jones is a mid-to-late 2nd round pick” than it is to know that “Julio Jones is going for about 18 – 20% of budgets.” Therefore 2) the extent of “reaching” is somewhat constrained simply because player market values – via consensus draft order – are so well known. And 3) the extent of “reaching” is further constrained by the incremental nature of draft picks. For example, $10 on a $200 budget might not seem like a ton of money, but if you put it into snake draft terms it can mean the difference between a 5th round pick and 9th round pick. Sure, people will reach a round or two here and there in a snake draft, but for the most part, reaching four rounds is pretty rare.
Conversely, auctions are like the Wild West. Because players can be nominated in any order the league chooses, they are much more chaotic. Even though you can find average auction values in online draft rooms and cheat sheets on plenty of websites, during the heat of the moment in an auction it’s not immediately obvious how much a player is worth. Every auction is slightly different and they all begin with some form of price discovery that sets the benchmark for the remainder of the auction. So, if you’ve been in one before, you’ll notice there a bias toward nominating top-tier players early so that people can make decisions based on whether or not they land a particular player and how much they’ll need to budget for other players relative to the top-tier guys. I find that the more the nomination order deviates from ADP the more uncomfortable your league mates get. And like most value investing situations, the best time to invest is often when it’s most uncomfortable. The more difficult a player’s value is to gauge, the better candidate he is for your first nomination. If you have your budget set for that player, chances are you could see him going for much less than he otherwise would if you wait to nominate him later. So, in that spirit here are some categories of guys to throw out early in your auction to try to find some “chaos” discounts.
The Handcuffs – One tactic I have used successfully is throwing out the high-quality running back handcuff early. It worked beautifully for me in 2011 when Arian Foster was battling his hamstring injury in the preseason. I knew I wanted Foster on my team, but I also knew I had to have Ben Tate as insurance. Tate is talented and has produced like a RB1 when the job is his alone and provides borderline flex value even when he’s only getting part-time work. So, I’d categorize Tate as a high-quality handcuff. Foster seemed to be getting an appropriate “injury discount” based on average auction values, but I had a feeling he’d be back to 100% health and end up looking like a great value. But, I didn’t want to be in a situation where I landed Foster early and was then left in a vulnerable situation later when Tate was nominated but my budget might have been constrained. It would have been sickening to outbid for the guy who could end up being the workhorse back in a “worst-case” scenario where Foster battled his hammy all season. Or worse yet, all my league mates would know I needed that Foster insurance and might bid against me to inflate Tate’s price and make me pay more than market value. So, I figured why not buy the insurance first?! If I won Tate for around the price I thought he’d sell, then I may not have gotten a “deal” on him, but it would allow me to take full advantage of the Foster injury discount since no one else could buy the insurance. And even in a scenario where the league didn’t believe in the injury risk and bid Foster up to full value, I’d still have a player in Tate that I bought for relatively cheap who had RB1 upside if Foster were sidelined by the hammy.
It’s likely seeing a handcuff come out very early in a draft will throw your league mates for a loop. Should he go for $1? $3? What if he starts getting pushed up to $5? Those are valuable dollars people are still probably sitting on to use for their studs. Chances are he’ll go for less than he should, rather than more. Could the handcuff go for more than you expect if people are spend-happy at the beginning of the auction? Absolutely. All that means is you back away from the bidding. Now you’ve forced your league mates to overpay for someone, robbing them of valuable dollars they could have used against you on your core target players. The over-bid scenario is why I want to emphasize the “high-quality” part of high-quality handcuff. There are plenty of handcuffs who should probably only go for $1, since a guy like Daniel Thomas has almost no shot to replicate Lamar Miller’s production if he were handed the job by default. I don’t see much value in getting those kinds of guys for any more than $1, so throwing them out early might actually force you to overpay. But a high-quality handcuff will either go a little cheap, or way overpriced because of that perceived upside. In either outcome, you win.
Here are some guys I consider high-quality handcuffs. I’ve put their average auction value (as given by FantasyPros.com) next to their names. I think paying even a couple bucks over these prices is still money well spent. Any more than that deflates the value you’d be getting.
Andre Brown, NYG, $5 – Yes he’s injury-prone but he’s still talented and that Giants backfield situation is shaping up to be the timeshare I thought it it might. He might even exceed the “handcuff” threshold in terms of stand-alone production, but he’s still being priced as one, so keep buying.
Ben Tate, HOU, $3 – He’s on the list again this year since it may not be the curse of 370 but Foster is already giving us reason to believe he might not hold up a full season. Plus, Tate is still a breakout candidate in his own right.
Bernard Pierce, BAL, $3 – He may be the handcuff to own especially since the Ravens brought back Vontae Leach and they may run the ball even more with the injury to Dennis Pitta (and now Ed Dickson too?! Let’s resuscitate Visanthe Shiancoe’s fantasy value!).
Bryce Brown, PHI, $4 – He projects pretty well on the Sim Score App and he could even have stand-alone flex value with all the running they may do under Chip Kelly. Although, don’t sleep on dark horse talent Chris Polk who has been generating some buzz in camp.
Fred Jackson, BUF, $4 – Oh how the mighty have fallen. Just think about it though – Jackson could still have a role as it is. If Spiller were to get injured, FJax immediately becomes an every week starter in that offense.
Shonn Greene, TEN, $2 – As much as we love to hate Greene for lacking special physical qualities, he has been productive in the past and he’s probably going to be the Titans’ goal line back. An improved offensive line and an injury to Chris Johnson could vault Greene right back into fantasy relevance.
Another emotion you can use to your advantage (especially early in auction drafts) is fear. Nothing gives a fantasy football player more pause than hearing a player with some major red flags or question marks come up on the auction block. Your league mates fear spending too much on risky players and getting stuck with a bust. They may also fear losing out on a stud they’re budgeting for. I’m not suggesting these players are without risk by any means. There are good reasons why they’re going so cheap. All this means is the earlier you throw out these guys, the more likely you’ll be to get them for an even better price than their projected auction values because of this fear discount.
The Wounded – There’s absolutely nothing worse than an injury-prone player in fantasy football, so these guys already have a hefty fear discount baked in. But if they can stay on the field, they could deliver massive value at their respective prices:
DeMarco Murray, DAL, $21 – He continues to compile a long and colorful injury history that began during his days at Oklahoma, but if he can just stay healthy he’s a legitimate fantasy football stealth star and I think he could finish as a top 5 back.
Darren McFadden, OAK, $25 – As the poster child for the Injury Prone campaign, DMC is a very polarizing player. There are some who won’t touch him no matter what the price, and others (although dwindling) who think he still has that elite fantasy potential. Throw him out early and see if the supporters have the cojones to back it up. If they don’t, you could get a steal.
Jordy Nelson, GB, $18 – (Obviously this was written before the Jordy knee injury news. You can expect an even lower price on him now. Keep an eye on his status, as he could be an amazing value if it looks like he’ll be back in time to play early in the season). I’m not sure if it’s the Randall Cobb effect, or the fact that recency bias has people turning this stud into an injury sleeper but I’m definitely a glass half full guy when it comes to Jordy. Sure, he can be a little boom/bust, but that was before Greg Jennings left for the Vikings. Now, there are even more targets coming from, oh I don’t know, the best quarterback in all of football…throw him out early and see if people are all sitting on their wallets hoping to land Cobb for $9 more.
Pierre Garcon, WAS, $12 – It was quite a bummer when Garcon came down with that toe injury in that amazing first game with RGIII. Lower-leg injuries almost seem to be worse than ACL tears these days. But the point is, Garcon came back later in the season without having had surgery and put together his most efficient season yet. He’s had time to heal this offseason and reports coming out of camp say he’s showing no signs of being slowed down. RGIII has also had time to heal this offseason and is looking like he’s going to start week 1. I completely agree that Garcon is part of the ultimate power lineup. If your league mates still think he’s an injury risk, you could get him for a crazy-ass discount early in your auction.
Kenny Britt, TEN, $5 – He’s battled hamstring strains and ACL tears since coming into the league as a 21 year old. But when he’s been on the field and healthy, he’s been able to generate elite wide receiver efficiency numbers. Supposedly he’s the healthiest he’s been in a year and he’s playing for a contract. If your fellow auctioners are either asleep at the wheel or paralyzed by the fear of spending too early on “damaged goods”, you could steal a WR1 for a dirt-cheap price.
The Outlaws – I won’t bother re-inventing the wheel since Jonathan Bales did such an amazing job explaining it, but Josh Gordon ($4) and Justin Blackmon ($3) are two guys whose prices have dropped too far because of the fear people have about missed playing time due to suspension. That fear causes people to misprice the missed time and draft based upon their decreased overall projected points rather than their relatively static points per game. Gordon was a great redraft target even before the suspension news and he’s an even better one now. They’re both nursing injuries at the moment (Gordon – knee, Blackmon – groin) but they also have extra time to recuperate. Throw them out early enough and people will be too afraid to pay more than a couple bucks for guys who should probably go closer to $10 or more.
The Rookies – Generally you’re going to get a discount on any rookie because of the fear of the unknown. That strategy paid you handsomely in 2012 almost regardless of which rookie you were willing to take a chance on. I’m not going to stump for every 2013 rookie, because I’m not sure all of them will live up to the ridiculously productive 2012 class. But there are a couple I’d like to highlight:
Le’Veon Bell, PIT, $13 – I think Bell could be the biggest steal of 2013 fantasy drafts at this price. He’s basically a lock for fantasy success based on my running back projection model, he has an elite Agility Score, and based on what we saw from Dwyer and Redman last year, he isn’t even facing any competition for the starting job. Draftniks will warn you that “his pad level is too high” and “he needs to get upfield quicker” and those could very well be legitimate tape-driven knocks on Bell. But for me, the numbers suggest that in the end, that stuff probably won’t matter. Between his athleticism and his opportunity I think Bell could crack the top 10 at running back this season. He’s a screaming buy in my book and I agree with Shawn, that he’ll have value this year and beyond.
Giovani Bernard, CIN, $5 – While my running back model doesn’t love Gio, he does have an excellent agility score and clearly the Bengals like what he brings to the table. I do think that BenJarvus will continue to have a role in that offense this season, but I envision it a little bit like New England, where both can coexist. BJGE gets the early-down and goal line work (Ridley) while Gio takes passing downs and creates mismatches when split out wide from run formations, or motioned into the backfield from passing formations (Vereen). His cost is low enough and his upside great enough that I would take a chance on him at his current price.
Despite the low price tag I think Tavon Austin ($6) is one to avoid, considering Kenny Britt, Danario Alexander, Miles Austin (WOW! he’s cheaper this year!), and Golden Tate are all going for the same price or cheaper. There are too many other passing options in the St. Louis offense for me to take a chance on him over those other known (and productive) quantities.
Likewise with running backs I wouldn’t touch Montee Ball ($20), Eddie Lacy ($13), or Johnathan Franklin ($4). The fact that Ball is selling for more than Bell is just an abomination, considering that Bell is both more talented and by all accounts has the starting job all to himself. Ball may be a decent runner, but he’s all but guaranteed to split time with my breakout candidate Ronnie Hillman. Lacy and Franklin are not only stuck in an extremely pass-heavy offense, but neither projects to be all that successful, and if the Packers keep Alex Green, he has the talent to carve out enough carries to make sorting out that backfield pure misery. So, skip those rookies and make sure you put the money towards securing Bell.
So much is dictated to you by the first couple rounds of a snake draft. The only thing you can do is react and go with the flow. Even when you “reach” early in a snake draft it really only comes down to a handful of spots. But greed really becomes a factor in auction drafts. The cache that comes from owning the “it” player will make those incremental dollars in the bidding war seem much less valuable than they truly are. The best thing you can hope for in an auction are a bunch of over-hyped players who are bound to disappoint based on their price. Percy Harvin was probably going to be one of those players, but unfortunately for you that’s no longer the case. Because of the “sexiness” of stud players and the fact that they usually get nominated early in drafts, you have a golden opportunity to snag the workman-like fantasy stalwarts who might not generate the “oohs and ahhs” from our league mates but who you will later use to grind their weak-ass teams to a pulp.
Matt Forte, CHI, $37 – He’s never been a big touchdown guy, but that hasn’t stopped him from being perennially productive (especially in PPR leagues). Our resident Marc Trestman expert, Charles Kleinheksel, has expounded on the boost that the new offense could have on an already productive Forte. Your league mates probably won’t think Forte is studly enough to pony up for early in the auction when other stars are still on the board, so throw him out there and see if you can get him at an even bigger discount.
Steven Jackson, ATL, $34 – He’s not young or dynamic or blazing fast, but he’ll run a fool over. Like Forte he’s another guy who hasn’t been a huge TD producer over the course of his career but that’s likely going to change this year. I don’t need to explain to you how the Atlanta offense is more productive than what St. Louis has been these past few years. Throw in the fact that the coaching staff has done nothing but spew about how good a receiver Jackson is, and you’re looking at an every-down old-school workhorse back who could be the fantasy MVP of 2013. Your competitors will still be staring greedily at Doug Martin on their cheat sheets and quickly abandon the bidding on SJax.
Marques Colston, NO, $21 – He’s like autumn. He never seems as cool as summer but every year he sneaks up on you and you enjoy him more than you realized you would. It keeps him perennially underappreciated and undervalued. I mean, what more do you want? He’s the number one wide receiver for one of the top stat-producing offenses in the NFL! How is he not worth more?? Hey, fine by me. I’m going to pick some apples, jump in a leaf pile, crack an Oktoberfest, and join Fantasy Douche in putting him on my Top 10 Redraft Target List.
Dwayne Bowe, KC, $14 – Opinions on Bowe vary…sometimes even on the same fantasy website…sometimes even on the same day…Personally, I tend to side a little more with Charles’ cautiously optimistic take over Davis’ cautiously pessimistic take. I think I probably lean that way because he ranks #1 on the Stevie Johnson All-Stars metric. The point here is precisely because there aren’t many who are willing to chase after Dwayne Bowe, you might be able to get an even deeper discount on him if you nominate him while most of the sexier wide receivers are still on the board.
Steve Smith, CAR, $14 – Another guy who is pretty old but who can definitely still ball. For some reason, even though this is redraft (not dynasty) you seem to get an age discount on a lot of these players. Weird. Pretty simply, he’s #7 on the Stevie Johnson All-Stars (can you tell I liked that piece?) and now he could even be Cam’s little slot machine. Sure, Brandon LaFell could finally break out. But I’m not holding my breath. He’s no Julio, but that’s exactly why you can probably get Steve Smith really cheap.
Mike Williams, TB, $6 – This is just dirt cheap, people. Get involved! His value is definitely on the rise. Maybe it had something to do with him signing the contract extension, maybe people have rediscovered their love for Josh Freeman’s upside? Personally, I think it all started when he made this top 10 list. Whatever the reason, his value in snake drafts and auctions is starting to tick up. Be sure you nominate him early in your auction draft before his price goes up a few more bucks.
All of these guys are probably good values at their projected auction prices. I would recommend targeting them at any stage of the draft if it looks like you can get them around these prices. As I’ve stressed though, if any of them stand out as your favorite, try nominating them early on the potential for an even bigger discount.
That’ll wrap up the auction draft series for now. Hopefully I’ve armed you with some helpful concepts, team construction techniques, and player targets for your upcoming auction drafts this season. If there’s anything I haven’t covered here that you guys would like to hear about, let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can get to it. Best of luck and happy bargain hunting!
Also, stay tuned for a follow-on series with some $20 upside players to target with those last few $1 bids at the end of your auction.