Auction Strategy: The “All-Value” Team

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Through my first two auction focused articles, I’ve covered how to take advantage of the nomination process to acquire value at the various positions. In the budget building article, I highlighted some inefficiencies in the stock draft platform rankings/AAVs (Average Auction Value) compared to the Ballers’ rankings/AAVs featured in the Ultimate Draft Kit. In this article, I’m going to cover a full team build focused solely on taking advantage of these major variations. In fact, I’ll let you in on this ahead of time; with just $103 on ESPN, I’m going to build a team worth $270 according to the Ballers’ UDK. As with all auction drafts, nothing will go exactly as planned, but having $97 worth of wiggle room should give you plenty of room for variance. (I’m focusing on ESPN to keep it consistent. The same principles can be applied to other draft platforms.)

Rankings Are Different than AAV Ranks

The first thing to cover is the variations between ESPN’s rankings and their AAVs. All ranks and values referenced in this article are current as of the writing of this article. The AAVs are pulled from ESPN’s drafts and mock drafts. While the rankings are used as a guide in the draft room, owners obviously acquire players differently. As discussed in the nomination strategy article, the order of nomination will also have an impact on the final acquisition price. Throughout this article, I will reference AAV-R, or the players rank based on descending order of AAV.

Throughout this article, I will reference AAV-R, or the players rank based on descending order of AAV. The terms “overvalued” and “undervalued” are used in almost every article or podcast episode. Nowhere is the definition of these two terms more evident than comparing a player’s ranking versus their AAV-R. Hyped-up players will see their AAV-R higher than their regular ranking as owners overpay for the hype. Conversely, you will see the less exciting players have a lower AAV-R than their stock ranking. A great example is the steady-eddy veterans when compared to the hyped-up rookies or breakout players. Regardless of auction or snake draft, one of the keys to winning the draft is drafting players at their floor, not their ceiling.

Quarterbacks

Starting off the roster build, I’ve identified four QBs that present tremendous value when comparing ESPN to the UDK. The Ballers and the entire writing staff advocate the “wait on QB” approach and that is even more beneficial in an auction draft. Nomination order has its biggest impact at the QB position. In a normal start one QB league, I would typically only draft one QB. For this exercise, I will select two to highlight and build around.

(Quick aside – I recently participated in an auction mock draft, where Eli Manning was the first QB nominated and Blake Bortles was fourth. Manning, ranked 18th, ended up being the 7th highest paid QB. Bortles, ranked 20th, was the 10th highest paid QB. Meanwhile, I nominated Dak Prescott as the 13th QB off the board and won him for just $1, making him the 14th paid QB. Similarly, Kirk Cousins was nominated 15th and was won for just $1.)

PLAYER ESPN RANK ESPN AAV UDK RANK UDK AAV VALUE VARIANCE
Russell Wilson QB6 $5 QB5 $16 -$11
Kirk Cousins QB8 $3 QB7 $11 -$8
Matthew Stafford QB13 $2 QB10 $7 -$5
Andy Dalton QB17 $2 QB11 $7 -$5

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins is consistently ranked higher than his AAV. ESPN’s 8th ranked QB has an AAV-R at QB10 and just $3. The Ballers are ranking him as QB7 with a projected cost of $11. We can clearly see that buying Cousins as your starting QB in an ESPN league should return great value, considering he has finished as QB5 and QB8 over the past two seasons.

Matthew Stafford

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Based on the Baller’s UDK ranking of QB10, you might think that drafting two top-10 QBs is too expensive. However, ESPN ranks Stafford as QB13 and his AAV-R falls in as QB15. As highlighted in my aside above, if your league does not nominate Stafford until the QB12-15 range, you have a very good chance of landing him for just $1-$2. As the 10th ranked QB, the UDK shows Stafford has an AAV of $7.

Jonathan Ferrey/ Getty Images

In my budgeting article, I encouraged you to create a plan that assigns pricing to each roster position. As highlighted here, you can assign approximately $5 to your QB position in total, $3 for your QB1 and $2 for a second QB. If you’re chasing a specific player, such as Cousins and his price creeps up to $4 or $5, you can confidently pay it, knowing full well that you can either skip a second QB or acquire a player such as Stafford or Dalton for just $1. Additionally, if a player such as Russell Wilson is only at $3, you may want to step-up to get him for a depressed value.

Running Backs

While strategies such as a Zero-RB have become more common, building your fantasy team around RBs is still a very common practice. While many people will be paying exorbitant prices for the top talent, my strategy has always been to try and get as many low cost, high upside RBs as possible on my roster. This means focusing on the RBs ranked in the teens/twenties with an expected AAV of $10-$25. Below I have identified 13 RBs who fit this criterion and are all undervalued.

In most roster builds, my plan is to acquire five or six RBs. For this exercise, I have found a great mix of RBs who provide a combination of solid floor, good upside, and consistency. While these RBs show a value of $118 in the UDK, they can be yours today for the low-low price of just $43 on ESPN!

PLAYER ESPN RANK ESPN AAV UDK RANK UDK AAV VALUE VARIANCE
Isaiah Crowell RB14 $18 RB11 $29 -$11
Mike Gillislee RB27 $6 RB15 $24 -$18
Danny Woodhead RB18 $9 RB17 $21 -$12
Dalvin Cook RB22 $11 RB18 $21 -$10
Ty Montgomery RB16 $12 RB19 $20 -$8
Spencer Ware RB26 $9 RB22 $19 -$10
Frank Gore RB23 $8 RB23 $19 -$11
Ameer Abdullah RB33 $3 RB25 $18 -$15
Terrance West RB35 $2 RB28 $16 -$14
Theo Riddick RB28 $5 RB31 $15 -$10
Paul Perkins RB25 $5 RB35 $10 -$6
Duke Johnson RB34 $2 RB40 $6 -$5
Jonathan Stewart RB42 $2 RB42 $6 -$5

Isaiah Crowell

Crowell was recently the focus of our two-part “Fantasy Court” series. For our purposes, we’re going to say the FOR Crowell side won and he should be drafted accordingly. The Baller’s rank The Crow at RB11, worth $29. On ESPN, you will see they are slightly lower on him, ranking in at RB14. His price of $18 comes in with an AAV-R of RB15. If you believe the FOR side of the Crowell argument, you clearly see the value proposition of getting a low-end RB1 for a mid-RB2 price.

Danny Woodhead

I must start off with a disclaimer on Woodhead: While ESPN has switched the default scoring to PPR, it’s possible that his AAV is still being depressed by the history of ESPN running standard scoring leagues and mocks. The UDK values referenced here are based on ½ PPR, and Woodhead’s value increases slightly for full PPR. That said, his value is still evident when compared. The rankings are similar, RB18 on ESPN vs RB17 in the UDK, but the AAV on ESPN shows just $9 compared to the UDK’s value of $21. Considering that Woodhead has been an RB1 in both of his past two full seasons, he’s clearly being drafted below his ceiling. The move to Baltimore should not scare you away, as Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ have a great track record of using their RBs in the receiving game.

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Mike Gillislee

(Voice of Public Opinion) “But Michael, you said hyped players are more expensive to acquire, and everyone is hyping up Gillislee!” That’s correct. Hyped players will often be overpriced, especially if they are nominated early. However, ESPN is not currently riding the Gillislee hype train, ranking him as RB27. The low ranking finds him well down the list in the auction draft room, which leads to him being nominated later in the process. Players nominated after their ranking will see a depressed cost, and that is evident with Gillislee’s $6 AAV on ESPN. Meanwhile, the Baller’s are some of the conductors on the Gillislee train, ranking him in at RB15 and a value of $24!

Rich Barnes/ Getty Images

Ameer Abdullah

Before you skip this section because you’ve been burned one too many times drafting Abdullah, hear me out. ESPN has fallen into this same trap, ranking him 33rd with an AAV-R of 34th, at just $3. There may not be another player on the list with a higher ceiling for such a lower cost. The Ballers’ rank Abdullah as RB25 for $18. The upside alone is worth the depressed price and you can feel confident he will be nominated later as the hype has died down and he won’t appear on the nomination list until well into your draft. I recently landed him in a mock auction for just $1.

Terrance West

Dear ESPN – Terrance West is the primary ball carrier for the Ravens’ for at least the first three games of the season, and most-likely the duration of the season barring injury. It would not be surprising to see West finish with over 200 carries as forecast in the UDK. West is a player who posted useable weeks while sharing touches with Kenneth Dixon in 2016. While Danny Woodhead will take away passing down work, West is definitely worth more than the $2 AAV he has on ESPN at his RB35 ranking.

Paul “Smash Jackson” Perkins

Say whatever you want about Paul Perkins and the Giants backfield. A player projected to get the majority of the carries for a high-powered offense is always a solid roster addition. As your 6th RB, his $5 AAV is a great bench play.

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Wide Receivers

This article is focused on acquiring value plays and it’s rare to get a great value at the top of the ranks. This roster build is focused on acquiring three “unsexy” veterans who consistently outperform their draft cost while pairing them with three players who are undervalued with significant upside. Below are 12 WRs who are all significantly undervalued on ESPN. I’ve chosen a group of six WRs who could be acquired for under $50 according to ESPN while providing $110 of value according to the Ballers.

PLAYER ESPN RANK ESPN AAV UDK RANK UDK AAV VALUE VARIANCE
Terrelle Pryor WR16 $17 WR13 $26 -$9
Allen Robinson WR22 $17 WR14 $24 -$7
Larry Fitzgerald WR23 $13 WR17 $24 -$12
Michael Crabtree WR18 $17 WR22 $22 -$5
Martavis Bryant WR33 $7 WR25 $20 -$13
Stefon Diggs WR30 $7 WR27 $19 -$12
Jeremy Maclin WR35 $2 WR29 $18 -$16
Willie Snead WR32 $4 WR36 $12 -$8
John Brown WR44 $1 WR38 $11 -$10
Kenny Britt WR42 $2 WR40 $9 -$7
Tyrell Williams WR39 $2 WR41 $7 -$6
Cole Beasley WR64 $0 WR53 $2 -$2

Larry Fitzgerald

What have you done for me lately? Apparently, two straight years of WR1 production still doesn’t get Larry Fitzgerald any respect with ESPN, coming in with a WR23 ranking. Drafters have been even harsher, as his $13 AAV ranks 26th. If you ever need the perfect example of drafting at the floor, Fitzgerald is it. Barring injury to himself or Carson Palmer, a finish outside the top 20 is unlikely. Nate Hamilton recently highlighted Fitzgerald as one of Three WRs You Can Trust in 2017.

Michael Crabtree

If Larry Fitzgerald is the definition of consistently undervalued, Michael Crabtree would qualify as a “see also”. After outscoring Amari Cooper for the past two seasons, Crabtree is still ranked seven slots lower by ESPN at WR18. On top of that, he’s HALF THE PRICE ($35 for Cooper, $17 for Crabtree)! While the Ballers rankings show Crabtree lower than ESPN (WR22), the value is still clear when compared to his running mate, and $5 lower on ESPN than the UDK.

Martavis Bryant

After rostering two consistent veterans, it’s time to add some boom to the lineup. As I outlined in my Path to WR1 article on Bryant, Bryant has one of the highest ceilings of any WR outside the top 20. Here is another reason to roster Martavis Bryant: WR33, $7 AAV. Bryant is ranked 8 spots higher by the Ballers with a value of $20. Pairing a high upside player like Bryant with the two WRs above brings you a nice floor and sky-high ceiling with your top three WRs.

Stefon Diggs

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And then we add Stefon Diggs, who was a WR1 in points per game over the second half of the 2016 season. With such a strong finish to 2016, you would think he would be ranked higher than a WR3 on ESPN. But he is WR30, with an AAV of just $7. The UDK gives him a $19 valuation and Kyle Borgognoni highlighted his Path to WR1 earlier this summer.

Getty Images Sport / Don Juan Moore

Jeremy Maclin

Back to the steady-eddy veterans, Jeremy Maclin finds himself on a new team and the projected top target for Joe Flacco. Maclin has proven the ability to run crisp routes and provide his QBs with a reliable target, while still being a sneaky deep threat. While Alex Smith did not utilize that skill, Joe Flacco is well known for his deep ball and is not afraid to use it. Maclin might not be an exciting name or player, but at the end of the day, he should finish well above his WR35 ranking on ESPN. Matt Okada gave us Maclin’s Path to WR1 a few weeks ago. While he probably will not finish as a WR1, he should easily exceed his 40th ranked AAV of just $2.

Tyrell Williams

Here’s another high upside player to fill out the last slot of WRs. At the end of your bench, you always want to add players with the potential to blow-up or be easily droppable if things break wrong. Tyrell Williams broke out in 2016 with over 1,000 yards and 7 TDs. Some of that can be attributed to Keenan Allen missing (basically) the entire season, but Williams proved to be a solid young player. His ranking and AAV are depressed with the return of Keenan Allen and the drafting of Mike Williams. Tyrell Williams is the perfect end-of-bench stash for just a $2 AAV. If he plays well, you’ve got a solid WR3/flex player to fill the bye weeks. If he doesn’t get the volume you deem necessary, he should be an easy cut for the hot waiver wire pickup.

Tight Ends

Much like the QB position, I typically advocate for drafting just one TE. I do recognize that some owners just plain feel more comfortable drafting a backup, so I’ll highlight two for this roster build. Knowing that a few owners in your league will only roster one TE, it’s very likely to land a decent TE for a low price. The Ballers TEs ranked 5th-9th are all under $5 AAV on ESPN.

PLAYER ESPN RANK ESPN AAV UDK RANK UDK AAV VALUE VARIANCE
Tyler Eifert TE7 $4 TE5 $15 -$11
Jimmy Graham TE8 $5 TE6 $14 -$9
Kyle Rudolph TE6 $4 TE7 $10 -$6
Zach Ertz TE9 $2 TE8 $10 -$8
Eric Ebron TE13 $1 TE9 $5 -$4

Jimmy Graham

Last year Jimmy Graham was a late-round flier returning from his patellar tendon tear. He surprised many people by bouncing back with a top-5 TE season. All the reports out of training camp point to an even bigger role for Graham which should give you the impression that he’s ranked as a top 5 TE in 2017. Nope. Graham is TE8 on ESPN with an AAV of $5.

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Zach Ertz

As highlighted in a recent article by Keaton Denlay, Zach Ertz is a Breakout Candidate for 2017. That article was written BEFORE Jordan Matthews was shipped out of town, boosting available targets for Ertz. While the trade of Matthews might have a slight impact on Ertz’s value moving forward, he’s still ESPN’s TE9 and 11th AAV at just $2.

Final Roster
STARTERS PLAYER ESPN RANK ESPN AAV UDK RANK UDK AAV
QB1 Kirk Cousins QB8 $3 QB7 $11
RB1 Isaiah Crowell RB14 $18 RB11 $29
RB2 Mike Gillislee RB27 $6 RB15 $24
WR1 Larry Fitzgerald WR23 $13 WR17 $24
WR2 Michael Crabtree WR18 $17 WR22 $22
WR3 Martavis Bryant WR33 $7 WR25 $20
TE1 Jimmy Graham TE8 $5 TE6 $14
BENCH PLAYER ESPN RANK ESPN AAV UDK RANK UDK AAV
QB2 Matthew Stafford QB13 $2 QB10 $7
RB3 Danny Woodhead RB18 $9 RB17 $21
RB4 Ameer Abdullah RB33 $3 RB25 $18
RB5 Terrance West RB35 $2 RB28 $16
RB6 Paul Perkins RB25 $5 RB35 $10
WR4 Stefon Diggs WR30 $7 WR27 $19
WR5 Jeremy Maclin WR35 $2 WR29 $18
WR6 Tyrell Williams WR39 $2 WR41 $7
TE2 Zach Ertz TE9 $2 TE8 $10

When it’s all said and done, the team listed above has a total of just $103 in AAV on ESPN. The Ballers’ project this same team at a value of $270! The goal of this article is not for you to replicate this exact team for your draft, but to identify some key players to target so that you can save some auction funds. With the extra funds, you can feel safe to spend big on a few studs. Rostering a few studs with these value players will lead your team to fantasy glory and that #footclantitle!