Editor’s Note: Check out all of our auction content including how to nominate, building a budget, and recent auction trends.

As peak draft season quickly approaches, owners are looking for every advantage they can find to build the best team possible for the 2018 season. In regular snake drafts, owners look for a player who might be dropping a round or two to call him a draft value. In auction drafts, the value is found by acquiring a player for a price lower than his expected price, or Average Auction Value (AAV). Average Auction Value (AAV) is similar to the often cited Average Draft Position (ADP) in snake drafts.

In a snake draft, you might see Aaron Rodgers have an ADP of the 3rd round, 6th pick (3.06). This tells us that owners, on average, are waiting to select the top QB in fantasy drafts until the middle of Round 3. Another way to present this is by showing him as pick 30 overall. If Aaron Rodgers falls in your draft and you select him in the 5th Round, many owners might say you were able to draft him with great value in comparison to his ADP. But here’s the rub; value lies in the eye of the drafter. If the rest of your league would not have drafted him until the 7th Round, you did not receive great draft value, you actually over-paid because you could have waited for one more round and still secured him to your roster in the 6th Round. How does this compare to an auction draft?

Until a player is selected in a snake draft, you have no idea where other owners valued that player. When you select a player, you have no idea how much longer he may have lasted. Unlike a snake draft, you actually do have the ability to see where each owner values a player in an auction. At nomination, each owner has the ability to bid on the player, up to the point they no longer see them as a valuable player for their roster. In an auction, you know exactly where the league values each player; his final acquisition price. If Aaron Rodgers has an AAV of $25, but your league is low on QBs, he might be acquired for just $16. Conversely, you might run into that one other owner who values him as highly, or higher, than you and the results are a bidding war with a final acquisition price of $35. At that point, you still know that someone was willing to pay $34 for him to be on their roster.

Auction drafts are the very best form of accurate player valuation. Every drafter has different player rankings and these rankings will influence the acquisition price in an auction. As I highlighted in my previous Auction Strategy Article, nomination order also has a dramatic impact on the players draft cost. By using nominations strategically, you can reduce the player’s valuation across the league and play a major psychological game with your fellow drafters.

When a player is nominated, owners will assess the value of the player, both in their ranks and in their perception of everyone else’s ranks, including the stock AAV presented on your draft platform. The bidding process will also impact that perception. As I highlighted in the nomination article, players nominated ahead of their ranking are often acquired for a price above their ranking. The example is simple: the 10th ranked RB, nominated as the 4th RB off the board will likely see a price higher than expected for the 10th highest paid RB, likely more in line with what RB6 is expected to cost. Conversely, nominating that same RB as the 14th RB off the board is likely to result in a price more comparable to RB12 overall. This is how you secure draft value on your team.

That article focused on players that should be nominated earlier than their ranking in an effort to get your fellow owners to “over-pay”, all the while pushing your targeted players down in the nomination rankings, lowering their price point. This articles will focus on the players who are seeing their perceived prices being lower than where the Fantasy Footballers are ranking them in the Ultimate Draft Kit. If you can acquire a player ranked higher on your list than their perceived draft cost, you are winning the value game. In auction drafts, scoring as much value as possible is the way to build a winning roster. Below is a roster I built using $195 of a $200 budget based on the Fantasy Footballers Ultimate Draft Kit Auction Rankings. At the end of this article, I will highlight this same team based on their ESPN AAVs.

POSITION PLAYER BALLERS UDK VALUE
QB Drew Brees $9
RB Melvin Gordon $43
RB Alex Collins $25
WR Amari Cooper $26
WR Marvin Jones $25
TE Kyle Rudolph $5
FLEX Sammy Watkins $16
DST STREAM D $1
PK WHATEVER $1
QB2 Case Keenum $1
RB3 Tevin Coleman $17
RB4 CJ Anderson $5
WR4 Allen Hurns $10
WR5 Sterling Sheppard $7
WR6 Nelson Agolor $4
15 PLAYERS TOTAL $195
Quarterbacks

Last year, this same format article nailed the QB positions. 3 of my 4 suggestions were hits: Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, and Matt Stafford. This year, the pool of QBs is so deep that it is hard to identify clear standout values. Much of the value will be reliant on individual leagues and personal preferences. Overall, the players identified below should be available at a draft cost lower than where they are ranked in the Ballers’ UDK. Using the nomination strategies outlined in my previous article, you are likely to be able to draft these QBs below their UDK valuations, making each of your $200 auction dollars go just a little bit further.

Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
With his move to Minnesota, Cousins is arguably in a better situation to score fantasy points, with better players at each skill position compared to his injury-riddled team in 2017. This year, sites like ESPN have Cousins ranked as QB9 at just $2, while the Ballers’ UDK shows him checking in at QB6 with an $11 valuation.

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
First the first time in a Saints uniform, Drew Brees is not ranked as a top 5 QB in fantasy football. In fact, he’s fallen all the way down to QB11 on ESPN ranks, valued at only $2. Considering that all the data points to 2017 being an outlier for a player who consistently ranks at the top of the passing charts each season, Brees is highly likely to return value for fantasy owners in 2018 with his depressed draft cost.

Case Keenum, Denver Broncos
The early career struggles during stints with the Texans and Rams gave way to a strong 2017 season, where Keenum emerged as a quality NFL QB and Fantasy Football asset. His QB14 finish was highly unexpected. He parlayed that performance into the starting job in Denver for 2018. Early reports are that he’s looking great and connecting well with his WRs, Demaryius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders. The Ballers’ QB20 won’t appear on ESPN draft ranks until QB27 as an undrafted QB in most leagues, essentially locking him into a $1 acquisition for owners looking for great value.

John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
His name is synonymous with poor NFL QB play. But fantasy football and real football are not totally in lockstep. While being the punching bag for many analysts, Blake Bortles has twice finished in the top 8 QBs (QB4 in 2015 and QB8 in 2016). In 2017, Bortles was at the helm of a team with one of the most feared defenses in the league and a strong run game to rely on. He also lost multiple receiving options to injuries. This team make-up allowed the play callers to be more conservative with Bortles which lead to a career low number of interceptions. All told, Bortles finished the year as QB13, just one spot shy of being a QB1 for a third straight season. If we removed the name and looked strictly at his performances, you might expect to find him ranked in the 10-15 range, yet he checks in at QB28 on ESPN’s rankings, the last “full-time” starter before we get into the teams who drafted a QB in the 2018 draft. If you’re a QB streaming fan or looking for bargains in a 2QB/Superflex League, Blake Bortles for $1 is sure to out-perform his ranking.

Running Backs

As I highlighted in my 2018 budgeting article and my fellow auction aficionado Eric Ludwig pointed out in his 2018 Auction Trends article, RB spending is going to be higher this year than previous seasons. This season is going to be imperative that you find value in the RB position wherever you can.

Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
Before you start questioning how a top 10 RB belongs on a value list, you need to look at his history. Melvin Gordon saw statistical increases across the board from 2016 to 2017. More carries, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards. The only thing that was the same was his 12 combined TDs. After an RB7 finish in 2016, he improved with an RB5 finish in 2018. However, we find Gordon falling in at RB10 at a $39 valuation on ESPN. The Ballers have him at RB6 with a $43 valuation. If the big name RBs and a few players like Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook can get nominated ahead of Gordon, you are likely to land an RB with top-5 upside at a price point suited for the 10th-12th ranked RB.

Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens
Many draftniks expected the Ravens to choose an RB in the early part of the 2018 draft. After the Ravens made 12 draft picks and not one was an RB, the fantasy community should have immediately taken Alex Collins more seriously. Yet here we are, looking at last year’s RB8 from Week 8 on, sitting at RB23 on ESPN, with an AAV of just $13. The Ballers’ are slightly more aggressive ranking him as RB17 at $25. No one is projecting Collins to finish as a top 10 RB, but he proved last year that he is most definitely capable of helping your fantasy team win games.

Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons
Coleman is the ideal mix of stand-alone flex value and upside handcuff, at a great value price point. With two consecutive seasons in the top 22 (RB19 in ’16 and RB22 in ’17), Coleman’s RB32 ranking on ESPN’s listing is screaming value at just $4. Coleman checks in at RB25 in the UDK with an AAV of $17, showing you $13 of value between the rankings.

C.J. Anderson, Carolina Panthers
One of only nine players to rush for over 1,000 yards in 2017, C.J. Anderson finished as RB18 in PPR leagues. He proceeded to leave Denver and sign with Carolina in the off-season. Most analysts are expecting him to replace Jonathan Stewart, who saw 198 carries. Anderson is unlikely to repeat his 2017 stats with Cam Newton stealing goalline work and Christian McCaffery seeing significant playing time. However, as the RB47 with a $0 AAV on ESPN, Anderson should see enough work to easily provide a solid floor as a spot flex starter for just $1 in your auction.

Wide Receivers

Many owners will head into 2018 auction drafts expecting to seek value players at the WR position after spending big money at the RB position. With most of the league looking for deals at WR, it will take savvy auction owners to find the real values in the upper-middle tiers of WRs to round out their starting roster spots.

Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Many owners forget that Amari Cooper was one of the youngest players to enter the league in the 2015 draft. After two consecutive seasons surpassing the 1,000-yard receiving threshold, Cooper had a very disappointing 2017 campaign. In fact, 31% of his receiving yards and 23% of his receptions came in Week 7, where he erupted with 11 receptions for 210 yards and 2 TDs. Unfortunately, Cooper had preceded that Week 7 outburst with 5 consecutive weeks of sub-33 yard performances, including 3 weeks under 10 yards. At that point, many fantasy owners were burned and had Cooper on their bench when he blew up. Even after his outburst, He put owners through two more weeks of sub-10 yard games, including a dismal 0-0-0 stat line in Week 12.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Now is the time to strike and get a “spurned lover” discount on one of the truly elite talents in the NFL. It’s widely known that QB Derek Carr was playing injured in 2017, which impacted Cooper’s production. With his former teammate and red-zone favorite, Michael Crabtree moving east to Baltimore, Cooper has the rapport with Carr to be his most trusted option. Owners who draft Cooper in 2018 are getting an elite WR1 just hitting his prime at a major discount at WR21 for just $20 on ESPN. Do not fall for the “what have you done for me lately” trap. Draft Cooper accordingly, like the Ballers do with his WR13 ranking.

Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
For some reason, certain players never get the respect they deserve in the rankings and Marvin Jones is one of them. Many ranking sites have pigeonholed Jones into the WR3 zone and cannot let him go higher than a borderline WR2 ranking. However, Marvin Jones finds himself on one of the most WR friendly teams, with a still surprisingly young and in his prime (30 years old) Matthew Stafford at QB. Stafford is expected to again be one of the league leaders in passing attempts. In his second year in Detroit, Jones hauled in 61 passes for 1,101 yards and 9 TDs finishing as WR11 in 2017. Very little has changed in his surrounding cast to project any major changes, yet he checks in down at WR22 for just $20 on ESPN.

Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs
Joining his 3rd team in less than a calendar year, Sammy Watkins is looking to repair his image as one of the games most exciting players. Injuries plagued his time in Buffalo while a mid-August trade to the Los Angeles Rams sunk his 2017 season. Sammy Watkins proceeded to sign a very lucrative contract that indicates that the Chiefs will be looking to maximize Watkins’ talent. Having proven capable of monster games, a 1,000-yard season, and two seasons with at least 8 TDs, it’s easy to see the upside for 2018. Watkins could be a major draft day steal and league winner for auction owners. ESPN is ranking Watkins as WR32 at just $6. This is the type of upside value play that you must get on your roster!

Honorable Mentions
All of the players that I will list below are likely to only cost you $1-$2 in your auction, while all of them have plenty of positives going for them to be worthy of a roster spot at the end of your bench. By targeting players like those listed below, you are getting some upside while maximizing your auction funds at the key starting positions. If these players don’t pan out, you can easily drop them and their $1 salary for the hot waiver wire additions in the early weeks. It’s much easier to drop a $1 player in Week 2 than it is to drop a $10 bench player.

PLAYER, TEAM BALLERS UDK RANK ESPN RANK ESPN AAV
Allen Hurns, DAL 35 51 $2
Sterling Shepard, NYG 36 39 $4
Nelson Agholor, PHI 41 49 $2
Cole Beasley, DAL 62 98 $0
John Brown, BAL 63 74 $0
Quincy Enunwa, NYJ 67 86 $0
Tight Ends

The TE position for 2018 is really messy after the top 3 big names. There is a second grouping of players who are ahead of the rest, so the goal is really to find the player you like and get them as cheap as possible.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings
I’m going to start this one off by stating that both the Ballers’ UDK and ESPN are ranking Kyle Rudolph at TE9, so the discount on him is really going to boil down to the nomination process. If he’s nominated earlier in the process, he’s likely to be a $6-$8 player. But if he’s ignored and is nominated after some or all of the other teams have acquired a TE, you’ll likely land 2016’s leader in TE targets for just $1-$2. Many owners have forgetting Rudolph’s fantastic 2016 season, which he followed up with a TE8 finish last year. New Vikings QB Kirk Cousin has shown plenty of trust in throwing to TEs during his career and should have no problems connecting with “Rudolph the Redzone Reindeer” in 2018.

Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders
During his first year in Oakland, Jared Cook quietly finished as TE12. It was nothing exciting, but considering the loss of Michael Crabtree, Cook is likely to have a bit more rapport with his QB than incoming veterans Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant. If you’re looking to win a TE with upside for just $1 at your auction, wait until the end of the draft to nominate ESPN’s TE20.

Ricky Seals-Jones, Arizona Cardinals
The star burned bright for two weeks for the 2017 rookie TE. He (literally) came out of nowhere with a Week 11 performance of 3 receptions, 54 yards, and 2 TDs, finishing as the #2 TE that week. He followed it with a 4-72-1 performance in Week 12, resulting in a #6 TE finish. Unfortunately, he would catch just five more passes over the next three weeks and no more TDs. If you’re really digging deep for upside at the lowest cost, Seals-Jones is an interesting target and guaranteed to be available at the end of the draft when you only have $1 remaining, considering he is listed at TE23 with a $0 AAV.

Luke Willson, Detroit Lions
With Eric Ebron leaving Detroit, the Lions brought in the former Seahawk to fill in their TE role. He’s never held consistent fantasy value but finds himself in an interesting position where Ebron finished as TE13 last year. At this time, he’s outside ESPN’s top 35 TEs, assuring you that he will be available for $1 on draft day.

Building the Team

Using the players listed above, I wanted to showcase what this kind of value mining can provide in your auction planning. Let’s look back at that team I highlighted in the opening, and compare the UDK valuation to ESPN’s AAV. If you can take advantage of your league using stock AAV’s, you’re sure to build a dominant team and lock in another #FootClanTitle!

ROSTER POSITION PLAYER NAME UDK AAV ESPN AAV VARIANCE
QB Drew Brees $9 $2 $7
RB Melvin Gordon $43 $39 $4
RB Alex Collins $25 $13 $12
WR Amari Cooper $26 $20 $6
WR Marvin Jones $25 $20 $5
TE Kyle Rudolph $5 $2 $3
FLEX Sammy Watkins $16 $6 $10
DST STREAM D $1 $1 $0
K WHATEVER $1 $1 $0
QB2 Case Keenum $1 $1 $0
RB3 Tevin Coleman $17 $4 $13
RB4 CJ Anderson $5 $1 $4
WR4 Allen Hurns $10 $2 $8
WR5 Sterling Sheppard $7 $4 $3
WR6 Nelson Agholor $4 $2 $2
15 PLAYERS TOTAL $195 $118 $77

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