Everything I ever need to know I learned in high school biology class.
I’m not talking about the details of photosynthesis or how the mighty mitochondria functions in a cell. It's not anything about the symbiosis between living organisms or how deer ticks successfully transmit Lyme Disease.
No, the lesson I found most valuable from the days of AP Biology was a simple mantra for tackling some of life’s great mysteries:
If you want to know more about something, dissect it.
It worked with frogs, lab mice, and even a roadkill coyote my teacher brought in for us to slice apart. Sure, you can learn anatomy and physiology from a textbook and worksheets, but the only way to really understand how something works is to take it apart and, if you can, put it back together.
Fantasy football is no different, and to really stay one step ahead of the competition, it helps to dissect everything from draft results, roster moves, free agent pickups and trade proposals. You can learn about fantasy sports from a magazine or newspaper article, but you’ll never really understand it without doing the real thing and then dissecting it.
Take, for example, the Daily Item fantasy football league. Consisting of league managers from all sorts of backgrounds, professions, and experience levels, the league is made of people who live in the coverage area of The Daily Item newspaper. Each summer, we hold a live auction draft to kick off the new season using a $200 salary cap.
Auction-style drafting is becoming more and more popular, and for good reason. The strategies can be complex and endless. The format encourages people to interact more at a draft and get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has an equal shot at drafting any player. Plus, another cool aspect is that auction fantasy football drafts are like snowflakes...no two are the same.
With owners ranging in age from nine to the mid-50s, and with varying levels of fantasy sports experience, the Daily Item league draft was an interesting experiment in auction mentality.
As a way to better understand the chaotic science of auction drafting, let me take a few moments to dissect this draft (with 12 teams) on a team-by-team, and strategy-by-strategy basis (I won’t cover every team, but will discuss some of the main strategy elements).
The epitome of hard-line auction drafting, Seth went into the draft with a short list of specific players he wanted and wasn’t swayed when the bidding got hot and heavy. He honed in on Frank Gore, and didn’t back down until he bought the San Franscisco RB for $45.
He then pounced on Brian Westbrook and bid like a pitbull bites, not letting go until he got what he wanted...in this case, for $40. Considering that Brandon Jacobs went to a different team for $46 and many of the other higher-end RBs went in the high-40s to low-50s in price, the Gore-Westbrook combo wasn’t a bad buy.
Seth used similar determination in landing Peyton Manning for $37, and wasn’t swayed when Tony Gonzalez’s value kept climbing past the $20 plateau. In fact, Seth stiff-armed the Gonzo competition with a quick, unexpected $40 bid that left many in the room scoffing. When you take a hard-line approach to an auction draft, you run the risk of other owners purposely running up the values of certain players that they know you really want.
Regardless, Seth walked away with a really solid starting roster with just one concerning area moving forward: his receivers and bench depth are all dollar-basement investments. By carefully watching the waiver wire for emerging WR talent, and if his starters can avoid injuries, Seth could be a season-long contender.
Focused on running backs and RB depth (the league starts two RB, no flex), Jason developed his team around a nucleus of three strong halfbacks in Michael Turner ($57), Clinton Portis ($35), and Kevin Smith ($28).
Of course, that depth and peace-of-mind at RB came at a cost, literally, leaving Jason just $80 to fill out the rest of his roster. He invested $36 in his starting QB (Aaron Rodgers), which turned out to be about the going value for a player of Rodgers’ talent level...although the next tier of QB mostly went in the mid-20s.
Needing value WRs to fill out the starting roster, Jason went with DeSean Jackson ($13) and Lee Evans ($11). An $8 investment in Owen Daniels left Jason with a competitive team that is a breakout WR short of being a possible title contender.
Looking at investing heavily in his fantasy starting corps at RB and WR, Jake landed a value in Maurice-Jones Drew at $51 (Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson went for $61 and $60, respectively).
He followed with Reggie Wayne at $40, Ronnie Brown at $29 and Dwayne Bowe at $26.
What hurt Jake’s team somewhat was that he was helping run the auction spreadsheet and got into the bidding action late in the draft.
While there was an incentive for those who finished with the most leftover salary cap money (waiver order was based on leftover cash), Jake was in a position where solid QB options were few and far between. He left the draft with dollar QBs Kyle Orton and Jason Campbell, but also left $26 on the table. While that was good enough for top waiver priority heading into the season, it also left him questionable at QB.
Employing a "shotgun" approach to the auction draft, Jeff peppered bids throughout the afternoon, developing a roster filled with balance, but also lacking knock-out power players. His most expensive player was Marques Colston ($30), followed by $23 for Kurt Warner, $22 for Derrick Ward, $20 for Antonio Gates, $17 each for Marshawn Lynch and TJ Houshmanzadeh, $15 for Beanie Wells, $13 for Vincent Jackson, and $11 for Knowshon Moreno.
Jeff got some good deals and has an incredibly balanced and deep roster. On the flip side, deciding weekly matchups could be quite stressful with so many players around the same talent level.
Also, he could struggle during non-bye weeks against rosters with less depth, but a higher-priced group of starting players. Of course, drafting a team filled with good bargain players could make Jeff a go-to target for league owners who are hoping to wheel-and-deal.
One team that Jeff may struggle to match up with during non-bye weeks is Rick’s. Focused on developing the strongest starting nucleus possible, Rick was the only owner to pounce on three $40 players in Steve Slaton ($49), Drew Brees ($41) and LaDanian Tomlinson ($40).
He filled out his primary starters with Wes Welker and Chad Ochocinco (both at $18). At $21, Joseph Addai provides some insurance for an aging Tomlison and a $6 investment in Jay Cutler as a backup QB was a great value. At this point, Rick was forced to fill out the roster with dollar players, which could possibly leave him susceptible during bye weeks and depending on possible injuries.
My team fell into a rut I’m familiar with at auction drafts.
My strategy is always to wait in drafts with the hopes that owners will break their accounts early and good value players will fall between the cracks; however, I always get burned on a player early in my drafting, and this time it was Matt Schaub, who I love as a sleeper this year, but found myself stuck in a bidding binge that left me with a $25 Schaub when other similar upside QBs went for less (Kurt Warner for $23, Matt Ryan for $20).
This bidding war left me gunshy for the next several rounds of bidding, and I found myself in too many bidding wars with other owners who procrastinated in the draft and were scrambling for starters.
In spite of this, I was happy with snagging Calvin Johnson ($39), Roddy White ($28), and Jason Witten ($18) at what I felt were really good values. Of course, this left me a decent amount of money, but no real backs to stake my claim to (Steve Slaton was still on the table, and I wimped out when Slaton went for $49...in hindsight, I should have went for it).
I wound up spending $58 total on Ray Rice, Willie Parker, Jonathan Stewart, Rashard Mendenhall, Bernard Scott, and LeRon McClain (who I since dropped for Willis McGahee). That total would have been much less if someone hadn’t been bidding me up on Mendenhall, knowing I needed him to handcuff to Willie Parker (I wound up blowing $19 on Rashard), but still left $11 on the table.
Combining that total with the $28 I blew on Parker-Mendenhall, I could have gotten someone with more upside as an RB1 (like Clinton Portis, Pierre Thomas, Marion Barber, etc.).
So, let’s recap the lessons learned from this fantasy league dissection...
1. Go into your auction draft with a plan.
It’s OK to target certain guys that you feel will have a big season, and it’s OK to overpay somewhat on them if you feel you can create the best possible starting lineup. Just be careful not to tip your hand too much since there are guys in every league that would love to watch you overspend on "your guy."
2. There’s a fine line between drafting a killer starting unit while neglecting your bench and drafting a team with super depth, but lukewarm starters.
Pinpoint certain players you feel will be good value players and target them to represent your depth (guys like rookies i.e. Moreno ($11), Wells ($15), or Percy Harvin ($8), up-and-coming players—like Ray Rice ($15), and guys in improved situations—Trent Edwards ($10)).
3. Players taken earlier in the draft (and I’ve seen this in most every auction draft I’ve played in) seem to go cheaper than those left until late.
Seems that more people than you’d imagine are procrasting drafters, while owners who take risks early get some good bargains. For example, Greg Jennings was one of the first players bid on, and went for $33. That’s just a hair more than Marques Colston ($30) and Dwayne Bowe ($26), who are lightyears behind Jennings on my rankings chart.
4. Have a list of players at every position who have good upside, but should go for $5 or less.
If you do fall into a trap and spend more than you were hoping for at some point or another, this will give you solid fallback options. In the Daily Item league, players such as Kevin Walter, Lance Moore, Hakeem Nicks, Donnie Avery, Fred Taylor, Bernard Scott, Brett Favre, Earl Bennett, John Carlson, Zach Miller and Brent Celek all went for $5 or less and each could perform at a really good value.
5. Don’t plan on wasting any more than a dollar or two on your kicker or defense.
Steven Gostkowski went for $3, and most kickers went for a buck. Defenses went for a little more (by a dollar or two), but there are plenty of viable options at defense that weren’t even drafted.
What are your auction draft tips? Did you draft recently and want your team/league dissected? Drop us a line and find more hard-hitting ninja action at www.chinstrapninjas.com