Fantasy Football: Early 2021 Auction/Salary Cap Trends

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Editor’s Note: “Auction leagues” are being transitioned in many major platforms (ESPN, Yahoo, etc.) to being called “salary cap” drafts. We recognize this shift and hope that we can be a bridge in this conversation. However, it is worth mentioning that “salary cap leagues” in the past are structured in an entirely different way than traditional “auction league” formats.

There seems to be more volatility in auction/salary cap drafts this year than in most especially at the top of draft boards. The names change year-to-year, but the RB1 normally goes for about $60-65, with the RB2 going for a few dollars less and on and on. Players coming off of injuries, retirements, inconsistency, turnover, and trades have made drafts far less predictable than in years past especially at the top of boards. Here are some observations from three drafts with the exact same settings that occurred between April and June.

For more on this subject, check out Michael Wenrich‘s Beginner Guide to Salary Cap/Auction Leagues.

Settings:
12 Teams
Budget: $200
PPR Scoring
Lineup: Bestball using a QB-2RB-3WR-TE-Flex-PK-DEF roster
Waivers:  One waiver move allowed per week using FAAB
Roster Depth: 18 Players
Trades: No

Christian McCaffrey‘s Dominance

Once again, Christian McCaffrey tops the draft board. No surprise there, but last year Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott were not too far behind. Despite being injured for the majority of the year, McCaffrey is by far the most expensive player on the board. He’s in his own tier with Dalvin Cook‘s auction values coming in $5-10 cheaper. There’s normally a “Big-3” at the top of draft boards, but it’s a one-man show this year.

RBs RBs Everywhere

ADPs and rankings make it seem like the RB pecking order is very defined, but the auction values suggest that there’s not a significant difference between RBs 4-13. Nine RBs have average auction prices from $35-45. Antonio Gibson just missed out on that group, but his last two auctions have been over $35 so he’ll likely join that group as well. There are only four WRs that fall within that same price range. All told, of the 18 players that have the highest Average Auction Values (AAVs), 13 are RBs, four are WRs, and Travis Kelce sneaks in there. There is, however, a pretty large group of WRs that follow those top 18 players.

There are Tiers and there are TIERs

This is the most exciting Tier in auctions this year:

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Player April Auction May Auction June Auction Average
Calvin Ridley $34 $31 $33 $32.67
Justin Jefferson $34 $31 $32 $32.33
DK Metcalf $32 $33 $31 $32.00
A.J. Brown $29 $30 $35 $31.33
Michael Thomas $36 $29 $26 $30.33

I don’t see how you leave an auction without at least one of these WRs. It’s also nice to see that one of these WRs came in at less than $30 in every draft. This thought geeks me out: What if you budget $100 for three of these WRs, shoot for a high upside RB like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Antonio Gibson, or Joe Mixon whose AAVs have all come in around $35 and still have enough for a stud TE like Darren Waller or George Kittle for another $25? You would still have a budget for a QB, RB2, and depth. All you Zero-RB and Modified Zero-RB truthers should be perking up.

Darren Waller > George Kittle

It started as a whisper early in the off-season: “Should we be taking Waller over Kittle?” It grew to a trend to have Waller above Kittle. I think it should be a given. Waller has been the more expensive TE in all of these drafts although Kittle and Waller have consistently gone within one or two dollars of each other.  Waller’s projected volume is undeniable on a goodish offense. As much as I love Kittle, the SF offense is designed to spread the ball around and Kittle has yet to surpass five TDs in any season. This might turn into a nominating strategy where you nominate Kittle early. If he goes at a good price, you can snag him. If he doesn’t, you can nominate Waller next. If you miss out on both, at least you know early and can use the budget you had for TE elsewhere. Remember that “nominating players you don’t want” is complete nonsense early in drafts.

The Year of Konami-Code QBs

Konami Code QBs was a term used by Rich Hribar to describe QBs that accrue a significant portion of their fantasy output on the ground. It used to be easy to target low-priced QBs that offered rushing upside, but that is a thing of the past. Sometimes you would see two or maybe three QBs go for more than $20, but this year Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, and Justin Herbert are all going for over $20 consistently. Even Jalen Hurts is going for around $10-ahead of more proven QBs like Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Ryan.

Bonus: Cheap QBs with Upside

This is more of an afterthought, but let’s say we got three of those stud WRs for about $100 and got a stud RB and TE. Our budget is too strapped for the majority of the Konami-Code QBs so what can we do at QB? Ryan Tannehill is a stupid value right now. He was QB7 last year and they just added a pretty good player in Julio Jones if you’re into those future HOF WRs. Despite that, Tannehill is going for $5 or less in drafts. Combine him with Justin Fields who is going really cheap because of QB “competition” that may not make him the Week 1 starter and you’re looking at two QBs that could put up top-6 QB numbers on a week-to-week basis all for less than $10.

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