Welcome to the Nuthouse, Season 2. I am your host, Nick Pavlou. Last year, I started the column with a quote from ESPN’s Bill Simmons espousing the value of the auction draft. But we don’t need to validate the format anymore. We auction drafters are everywhere. Auction drafting continues to proliferate throughout the fantasy world, and a weekly perusal of the Shark Tank finds an increasing number of newbies looking for guidance in getting acclimated to the format. Luckily, I happen to provide such guidance.
So enough tooting of the horn and let’s get to the basics. The auction draft enables participants to be fantasy GMs in the truest sense of the term. You determine the players that you want and their value, rather than being locked into a specific draft spot in a snake draft. Everybody has a shot at LaDainian Tomlinson, not just the fortunate soul who drew #1 out of a hat. The auction format is even better when integrated into keeper and dynasty leagues, because you get to keep stud players that you may have bought at a bargain price – avoiding inflation. For an example, see Jones-Drew, Maurice.
An important disclaimer: this guide does not provide you with auction values. Don’t complain; I couldn’t care less. The number of teams and salary cap sizes vary from league to league, as do the scoring systems. There are plenty of places on the Web that offer auction values, and we do get to Average Auction Values (AAV) later in the series.
Keep in mind something very important when determining player values: personal and regional tendencies. For example, a fantasy GM on the East Coast may prefer Brian Westbrook to Frank Gore, while a GM who predominantly watches NFC West games not only prefers Gore, but also one of the Arizona WRs to their NFC East contemporaries like Plaxico Burress and Reggie Brown. Every year I draft with a whole crew from Baltimore, and Ravens players like Todd Heap go for more money than they should. Use that information to your advantage. Believe me, you may be in a league with people you think are your buddies, but those savages will be merciless in bidding you up when the best player on your favorite team is named.
If you really want projections; you have the BEST here at Fantasy Sharks. And they are FREE. Tony and his staff have been ahead of the curve for years. Take these projections and apply your own preferred values to them, whether they are directly from an individual Web site or through an AAV formula. By doing this, you just made your draft preparation a whole lot easier.
Again this guide isn’t about telling you who to pick and for what amount. If it was, I’d be a) lying, b) rich or c) getting paid to write full-time at ESPN – which means you’d have to pay for this. What this column does is offer an overall view of the auction draft, detailing strategies that I’ve used or learned to use through trial and error over the past few years. At the very least, this should steer you toward a clear vision of what players you will target in your pursuit of auction glory.
THIS AIN’T EBAY
On eBay, value exists in abundance, from getting an out-of-date CD or book for half-price to taking concert tickets you’ve already purchased and selling them to finance the purchase of better seats. Not so in the auction draft, where finding value is key in an environment of constantly escalating prices. So what is the best approach to take to finding value in the draft? Here are a few paths that you should consider following:
You get what you pay for: Choose the best players on the best teams. Before all of you wiseguys hit send on that e-mail, yes, I know it’s going to be nearly impossible under a $100 salary cap to get 13 decent players to fill out a roster after getting Peyton Manning, Tomlinson and Steve Smith. Think of this as a rule of thumb when deciding between certain players. Updating my example for this year, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown cost more in many leagues than Rudi Johnson and Willie Parker. Why? Because they were the flavors of the month. Well, we all know how that turned out. The Bucs stunk and Dolphins were mediocre, hence the Auburn boys’ performances suffered. Rudi and Parker, on winning teams (8-8 still counts), did just fine. The best players on the best teams perform consistently throughout the season. Keep in mind what teams you think will make the playoffs. Saving a few bucks by picking a solid player on a playoff contender rather than a high upside talent on a borderline stinker will help your draft in the long run. Speaking of which…
In Veterans We Trust: Remember that the fantasy writers for major sites like ESPN or Sportsline are no different from their beat reporter counterparts when it comes to publishing stories. They are simply looking to scoop each other and come up with the next big angle or sleeper in order to attract as many readers as possible. If the ESPN guys look consistently smarter than the rest of us, then more poor saps will ante up for their draft kit. Avoid the media hype machine. Again, that’s how you end up with Mike Bell instead of Rudi Johnson. Sit back, relax and let the rest of the schmoes in your league bid up young hotshots while you take established fantasy producers for less. Laugh all the way to the bank like I did three years ago, when Curtis Martin cost me a whole $3 and led the NFL in rushing.
The NBA Corollary: In the NBA, teams are built behind two or three stars, like Shaq/Wade, Duncan/Ginobili/Parker and Nash/Marion/Amare. The rest of the team consists of complementary role players who support the stars. Now while some of this supporting cast will have great games or periods of play, it is the studs that have to carry the team day in and day out. Many apply this same strategy to the auction draft, spending the majority of their salary cap on two or three stud players that they think will provide weekly dominance. The one hitch is that these studs have to work out. If you’re going to spend $40+ on a Larry Johnson or a Shaun Alexander like last year, your team will be irreparably damaged if one of them happens to injure his foot. Case in point: a few years ago, I decided to go for a three-headed monster of a stud QB, RB and WR. I spent nearly 75% of my salary cap on Matt Hasslebeck (bought into the hype machine), Clinton Portis and Marvin Harrison. It was an unmitigated disaster. Hasslebeck was a bust, and Portis and Harrison didn’t get cranked up until the second half of the year. By then, I had already traded Portis. Keep that in the back of your head when you start getting into high bidding this year.
Depth can be a blessing and a curse: Many “depth drafters” tend to let the majority of studs or high-priced players go by the wayside, preferring not to start actively pursuing players until after the top 25 to 30 players have been selected. Then they start shopping for proven veterans and players with upside when others cannot afford to outbid them. It is a solid strategy, especially when it comes to accumulating second-tier running backs. I was one of those who followed this strategy last season – I didn’t acquire a player until after 32 others had gone. This plan enables you to build depth that the majority of the teams in your league will not have, which leads to trading for buy-low studs later in the season. With an injury to your star player always one tackle away, having solid depth in a 12-team league is the first step to a triumphant season. Those that argue against this strategy pay homage to the line from Rounders: You can’t win what you don’t put in. This can be applied two ways: First, remember that one LaDainian Tomlinson or Peyton Manning can surpass the production of two mid-tier players. And please don’t be so budget-conscious that you leave unused money on the table at the end of the draft; money not spent may end up being money not earned. And that’s what we are all in this for – to take money from our friends and then rub it in their faces for an entire off-season.
That’s it for the first installment. Next time, we go over position-by-position strategies, including a revision to my $10 or less QB theory. See you then.
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