“They want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”
Welcome back to the second installment of the Auction Nuthouse; that’s right, we actually made it back for a second go-around. Last time we looked at the auction draft from an overall perspective, pointing out a few strategies you may want to employ to ensure that you get the most bang for your buck. With the first pair of preseason games out of the way, now is a good time to think about how you want to spend that money in terms of position.
Here again is my disclaimer: I’m not here to hold your hand as you cross the street to the auction side of town. I’ve never been much of a number-cruncher, hence I don’t provide player values/projections or detailed budgets. When we discuss specific players, any rankings or projections that I use come directly from FantasySharks. Budgeting is fairly simple anyway, folks, especially if your league uses a $100 cap. In terms of budget planning, if you want to be stud-centric, the majority of your cap is going to be spent on three top players, followed by filling in the blanks with discount talent. If you prefer depth, you’ll avoid most high-priced players and then start gathering second-tier talent after the first 25-30 guys are gone, maybe never spending more than $25 on a single player. Or you could try a mix of the two: two studs and then midrange talent.
That all brings us to the quote at the top, one of many dandies uttered by Bill Parcells over his long and distinguished career. Thankfully, you are not in the Tuna’s position when he dealt with Bob Kraft. Here you get to buy your own groceries, and you can spend your cash in any way you choose. But how you choose to spend it can be a frustrating task on its own. It’s a matter of determining the position or positions you value most for your team and their relative value to not only the rest of your league, but to sensible auction cap management. In the auction arena, knowing when to spend your money–or when not to–is the key to surviving amongst the wanna-be sharks in your league.
Remember what Al Pacino says (or screams) to Jaime Foxx during their sit-down in Any Given Sunday? “You’re a quarterback! It’s the top spot.” Well, not in fantasy it isn’t. In fact, the deck is stacked against the QB position because they touch the ball on every play, losing points for fumbles and interceptions and only gaining a point for every 25 yards. So don’t waste your money on the QB position unless it’s a sure thing.
Last week I teased this column by wishing bad things upon you if you spent more than $10 on a quarterback not named Peyton Manning. That’s because Peyton has been the only sure thing at QB in fantasy over the last six years. Eric Karabell of ESPN addressed this topic last month in his Insider blog, laying out all the stats. Yes, I know that we here in Sharksville look down upon the ESPN boys, but this article was invaluable to my “Don’t spend on a QB” theory, so I’m using it. According to Karabell, Manning has not been the top QB once during the last six years; even during his amazing 2004 season, his stats finished second to those of Daunte Culpepper. So if you’re going to spend a decent amount of your precious payroll on a QB, spend it on Peyton. At least you know what you’re getting: In the range of 30+ touchdowns, few interceptions and mid- to high 3,000 passing yards.
On the other hand, I like to look at QBs another way. Most of the top 30 players named in your auction draft are going to be backs and receivers, with a couple top QBs and TEs thrown in. Hence there will be ample opportunity to get quality QBs at a low price. Last year in many $100 cap auctions, Peyton Manning went in the high $30 range. I bought his brother Eli for $1. In his first full season, Eli didn’t fare too badly compared with big brother (Peyton: 3,747 yds, 28 TDs, 10 INTs; Eli: 3,762, 24 TDs, 17 INTs). I also scooped up Ben Roethlisberger (2,385 yds, 17 TDs, 9 INTs) for $3 before trading for Drew Brees during the season. The original duo may not have been spectacular, but they provided a decent bang for the buck at only 4% of my cap.
Am I saying that the Brady’s and the Hasslebeck’s (two of the Top 4 Sharks QBs) aren’t good draft picks? Absolutely not; at $10, Brady’s numbers still made him a value pick. Also remember that Hasslebeck’s value was half that it was the year before–he cost around $8 compared with $17 in 2004 when he was hyped by the media. But the top QBs are never the same from one year to the next (save Peyton), so picking a QB or two out of the Top 8-10 for minimal amounts of money can be a low-cost, high-reward proposition. Donovan McNabb is sitting at #10 on the Sharks top 10, behind the likes of Jake Plummer and Eli Manning (who many Web sites have as a top 5 QB). McNabb has a gimpy Westbrook, a coach that likes to throw the ball, and the ability to pile up rushing points. Getting him for $8 or less might reap you the same rewards that Hasslebeck paid owners last year. Use the Sharks picks to find QBs that evade the ESPN/Sportsline spotlight.
Spend your money wisely here this year, people. RB depth is not what it once was thanks to injury and many teams using the committee approach. Everyone basically agrees that there’s the Big Three of Larry Johnson, Ladainian Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander, so look for all three to go $30 and up. One of those studs could reasonably deliver a championship for you. But take a look at the next tier of backs, specifically the next six on the Sharks list: Tiki, Portis, Jackson, Jordan, Edge and Rudi. A couple will go for less than $30, meaning their value will be excellent–especially if you can pair them with a quality #2 (of course, you should be wary of Portis’ injury and the fact that Edge does not have the greatest offensive line in the world). With these stud backs, make your decision early whether you want to handcuff their backups. That way you can budget to have enough cap space when your rivals try to bid you up for Maurice Morris or Michael Bennett/Dee Brown.
Also make sure to identify second-tier backs who fly under the radar but will likely put up good to great numbers. I’m talking about players like Warrick Dunn (great 2005) and Chester Taylor (a starting RB in a weak division). Taylor, in particular, will probably be available in the teens under a $100 cap and will be much more valuable in leagues that award points for receptions. Remember, many Web sites instruct their readers to go 50% of their cap and up on RBs. The cheaper you can get a starter who will not share the rock, the further ahead you will be.
You know which players will plummet in value: last year’s busts (Willis McGahee), injury-prone players (Brian Westbrook) and running back by committee participants (I could name a bunch). Do your research and form your opinion of these guys beforehand, that way when the time comes, you will have already identified if the player is a value pick. If you think Dallas is going to win the NFC East, plan to have enough scratch to get both Julius Jones and Marion Barber. Maybe you snatch two of the three Denver RBs and hope one pans out. Whichever way you decide, have a clear vision beforehand of how you want to establish a running game. RBs are still the lifeblood of fantasy football.
Last year in my auction league, there was depth drafter who hit the jackpot with his WR picks: Steve Smith, Plaxico Burress, Santana Moss and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Needless to say, he was in the playoffs. All of these picks were made later in the draft, and he spent in the teens or less for all of them. But he spent wisely; for his money, he got three #1 receivers and a top #2. The depth not only allowed him to dominate, but also opened the door for him to make trades to fill weaker portions of his team. Meanwhile, any one who invested in the teens for Nate Burleson, Andre Johnson, Michael Clayton and Drew Bennett got hosed. Veteran wide receivers usually come cheaper than these young up-and-comers, and pay much higher dividends. Rod Smith had another brilliant season, while we still make fun of the guy who spent $11 on Ashley Lelie.
I’m not telling you to forget the studs, most tend to produce week in and week out. This is just another area where hype can lead to overspending. Thankfully, there is a tremendous amount of depth at the position this year, which will make it easier to balance the purchase of a stud with some good depth picks. When I see names like Rod Smith and Joe Horn ranked lower than Kevin Curtis, I know there is an opportunity to get solid, No. 1 WRs for pennies on the dollar.
One last thought: More than running backs, a WR’s performance is subject to the performance of the QB. Andre Johnson went from stud to zilch because David Carr couldn’t complete a pass (for a variety of reasons). Eric Moulds was a consistent, solid veteran until having to perform with the likes of J.P. Losman and Kelly Holcomb. With the exception of Chris Chambers last year, most money wideouts are so because they have a decent QB feeding them the ball.
Tight end is yet another spot where depth at the position plays to your advantage. Again, there’s nothing wrong in choosing to spend your cash on Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez; just be prepared to pony up $15. But because we continue to look for value, we look a little further down the rankings. In the last column, I spoke about how Todd Heap and Jason Witten put up similar numbers last year, but went for $7 and $3, respectively. Well, Jeremy Shockey also put up similar numbers, and he cost $6. All three players will be drafted at similar times this year, but they may be cheaper due to the influx of talent at the position. With touchdowns at a premium in fantasy football, $1 bids for Chris Cooley (774 yards, 7 TDs) and Heath Miller (6 TDs) were pretty decent investments in 2005.
Even in a 12 team-league, you should be able to get a good tight end on the cheap. We haven’t even mentioned Alge Crumpler and Randy McMichael yet. Jerramy Stevens’ knee injury may enable you to scoop him up as a depth pick at the end of the draft who pays stud dividends. The No 12 and 13 tight ends in the Sharks rankings are L.J. Smith and Dallas Clark. Both of those guys (particularly L.J.) are in an offense that provides them with the ability to put up a monster season. And there are always young players that become phenoms like the returning Kellen Winslow Jr. and Vernon Davis. Average auction values will give you an idea about the going rates for TEs, which in turn give you a pretty good idea who will be available as a value pick.
KICKERS AND DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
I don’t think we need to go into too much detail here. Although the top kickers and defenses change every year, there still are a couple of folks out there who either a) get caught up in picking what they feel is the ultimate secret weapon (like the guy who in 2004 spent $6 on Mike Vanderjagt) or b) the homer who gets bidded up because he thinks his favorite team’s defense is the greatest. Simple strategy for kickers: Neil Rackers was a waiver wire guy last year. Hence, no kicker is really worth more than $1. I’ll allow you to go to $2 if you really like the guy.
DSTs are a little trickier because they’re not only based on yards allowed, but kick/punt returns, sacks, interceptions, safeties, etc. A good rule of thumb is this–look at a team’s schedule. If you think they’re going to play in a weak division as well as weak nondivisional opponents (see Bears, Chicago), they should be good to select. In addition, consider whether they have a history of excellent special teams or a top-shelf returner. A mediocre defense can enter the top 10 if buttressed by strong special teams.
That’s it for this week. Next time, I’ll give you my feelings on the draft itself–and the techniques your friends use to sabotage you–before I jump on the train for my auction league’s annual draft extravaganza in luxurious Baltimore, Maryland. Maybe I’ll even have enough time to get in a quick recap. If you have any questions, thoughts or comments, make sure to post them in the Article Discussions forum in the Shark Tank.