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2013 Auction Draft Plan

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by Mike Horn, Staff Writer

Updated, 8/28/13

Introduction
If you’ve read the 2013 Draft Plan, you know John Hansen stresses patience and reliability this year, with a dose of flexibility. Long-time readers of the Auction Plan will recognize flexibility as central to my plan every year. Auctions by their nature require flexibility. To take just one example, in a draft you obviously know someone will get taken first, then second, then third, etc. Every year, every draft. But in an auction, while there always will be a most expensive player, in some auctions that player will cost 35% of an owner’s budget and in some auctions only 30%. And the next most expensive player a little less, and the third most expensive a little less – or maybe not. Maybe exactly the same. And all those differences start to add up so that you don’t know how much cash will be available at any point in an auction. So you have to be flexible. 

In terms of patience, having money patiently held back for the end game of the auction is another principle I harp on.
 
As for reliability, in this plan, I’ve always stressed minimizing risks when paying for studs. One of my keys to auction success is the same every year: get what you pay for when you buy a top player. In other words, you need reliability from your top players.
 
My other key is always get values when you buy lesser players. Look for players who cost less than you think they will produce. Said another way, if you see two players at the same position who you think will put up the same fantasy points, try to buy the cheaper one. That’s value.
 
As always, the auction plan is meant to be general guidance for fantasy football auctions. You have to tailor these thoughts for your specific league – scoring system, roster rules, fellow owners, etc. – and the dynamic of your auction – especially shifting player values. Just like the NFL, your auction won’t be exactly the same this year as it was last year. You have to stay flexible (that again) in applying this or any plan.
 
Finally, this plan morphs John Hansen’s draft plan into an auction format through the application of my theories of auctioning. It’s only partly “my plan.” Most of the player analysis is John’s although I occasionally add my opinion – just as you should when you use this. You should supplement this plan with at least several articles on Fantasy Guru. First, read John Hansen’s draft plan for his general thoughts and player analysis even if you are an auctions-only fantasy owner. Second, study the Players to Avoid list. Third, look through the Guru’s player projections the “Downside” indicator. Those two sources can steer you away from top players who may not deliver on their price and help you avoid risk. Fourth, use the Players to Target list. And finally, find the “Upside” designations in the projections. Those final two sources can help you identify those late-auction gems.
 
Remember: “over-priced” and “under-valued” ultimately will vary from auction to auction and while you can anticipate who some of the players are that will fall in those categories, especially if you’re in an established league with owners that you know, every auction will present surprise opportunities and pitfalls.
 
Price Tiers
 
Auctions in leagues with typical roster requirements (start QB, 1-2 RB, 2-3 WR, 0-1 flex, TE, PK, DEF/ST) and standard yardage and TD scoring have tended historically to value their players in price tiers defined by a percentage of the league’s cap. I’ve listed those tiers below with the type players that usually fall into them.
 
When I write “RB1”, I mean the top 10-12 RBs; “RB2” is in the next 10-12 players at the position, etc.
 

Tier
%Cap
Typical Position Values
RB
WR
QB
TE
DEF
PK
I
30%+
Stud RB1
Megatron?
 
 
 
 
II
20-30%
Other RB1
Elite
 
 
 
 
III
15-20%
Top RB2
Top WR1
Elite
Graham?
 
 
IV
10-15%
Other RB2
Other WR1
Top QB1
Elite
 
 
V
5-10%
Top RB3
WR2
Other QB1
Top TE1
 
 
VI
2-4%
Other RB3
WR3
Top QB2
Other TE1
Elite
 
VII
1-2%
RB4
WR4
Marginal QB2
Upside TE2
DEF1
Top PK
1Dollar
<1%
Others
Others
Others
Others
Others
Others

For example, in an auction with a $200 spending cap, a stud RB probably costs over $60 while a top WR1 would cost $30-40. Later this summer I’ll add some analysis on what tier various players are being auctioned in. Right now I’m just giving my best estimate.
 
I use these tiers to structure my discussion of players both within and across position groups and to help you see where values exist in an auction or when the bidding on a player has gotten out of hand. It’s also a shorthand I use since I can’t say to take Player X no earlier than in the third round or preferably in the fourth – instead, I’ll use the tiers to give you some idea of his appropriate value in an auction. You might find it handy to print the chart to refer to for the rest of the article.
 
All of the above is my standard methodology boilerplate. If you read this every year and have been skimming to this point, STOP AND READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.
 
I’ve made two changes to the standard matrix. I believe Calvin Johnson aka Megatron has risen above the typical “elite” WR and will command Tier I prices typically paid only for stud RBs. I also believe Jimmy Graham has separated himself from the elite TEs (at least in the fantasy marketplace) to the point that he will cost Tier III money in most auctions. So I’ve put both of them on the matrix by name.
 
The Basic Plan
 
Buy three players from the Top III tiers for no more than 60% of your cap.
 
The players who form the core of a successful fantasy franchise are generally in about the top 25-30 players or the top three tiers. If you can get more than three for 60% of your cap, great – get as many as you can. In a “home” league with more casual fantasy players you might be able to shoot for more. But be realistic – this is a hard plan to execute. If you bought even one Tier II player at the high end of his Cap range (30%), your only choice to stick with the plan is buying two Tier III players at the bottom end of their range (15%).
 
I prefer to get three 20% players myself, but I’ve been known to deviate. The key is balance. While you want that solid core, you also need enough cash to pay for a solid supporting cast of under-priced players with upside – the values I mentioned at the top of the plan. If you go bust building your core, you won’t be able to compete for the values.
 
I find it useful to build a list of whom I consider to be the top 25-30 players before an auction so I can see who I’m targeting. In the past I’ve called these my “impact” players.
 
Elite Players and Cap Management
 
As shown in the price tier table, for elite players (that is, players who are projected in pre-season to be elite in the upcoming year) you typically have to pay a premium of one tier above the going rate for another top player at his position.
 
I have always believed paying for players in an elite tier is a mistake. It makes it harder to build a solid team because so much extra cap room is tied up in those few players. And usually you are paying for last year’s performance – not a good strategy. If they perform as expected, you are fine – but if not, you have now overpaid for one high-priced player and as a result cannot get as much quality at two or three other positions.
 
Having said that, I was in an auction last year where I bought TWO of my elite players – Arian Foster and Calvin Johnson – for about 45% of my cap, leaving room for another Tier III player. So there are always exceptions (and that auction as a whole did not go well for me because I blew the value part of the draft).
 
Elite players are almost never under-priced, which makes it harder to achieve my standard auction Guideline #1: you want to use 100% of your salaries to buy players worth about 125% of the cap. For example, you may think Pierre Garcon is a WR1, but he is typically rated and priced as a WR2, therefore you can buy him for 5-10% of your cap even though his worth to you is about 10-15% of the cap. If you do that a few times, plus consistently buy other players at the low end of the price band for their tier, you will end up managing your cap wisely and have more talent than you paid for: players worth 125% of the cap for 100% of the salaries you’re paying. All of this means not locking in too much on a specific player, but look for a range of players who’ll give you the same performance (flexibility again), and then bid when they are priced under their cap Tier or at the low end of their Tier’s price range.
 
Understanding Price Patterns
 
Every year, there are shifts in historical cost patterns. This year I expect the demand for top QBs to subside compared to last year. I expect only two QBs to be priced as elite players (Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees) and maybe not even them. Last year it could have been as many as five. This year, QB should be less top-heavy and the overall depth in starting QB choices should keep QB prices as a whole down.
 
Depending on Rob Gronkowski’s health, there may be no elite TEs. Jimmy Graham is in a tier above that and uncertainty about Gronkowski is keeping him a tier below elite. If Gronkowski were definitely healed, he’d be elite assuming the Patriots can at least keep defenses honest with their other receiving threats.
 
I’ve already addressed Calvin Johnson breaking the usual elite WR tier. I suspect A.J. Green, Dez Bryant and maybe Brandon Marshall will draw elite prices, but after that there seems to be a lot of depth at WR which may keep WR prices, especially WR2 costs, down.
 
  • August 28 edit – Bryant seems to have moved into the elite tier in many drafts while Marshall has not been as hot a commodity as I anticipated earlier.
It is important to understand if these shifts are really happening in your auction. Which brings up Guideline #2: Use your first couple of nominations to understand player values in your auction. For example, you might put Calvin Johnson into the auction in the first round of nominations. There is almost no doubt that Johnson will be the most expensive WR and what he sells for will set the market and give you an initial read on the WR pricing structure in your auction.
 
This season there appear to be more clear RB1s than in previous seasons and a bigger gap between the expected production of those RB1s and the RB2s. I expect about 10 RBs to be priced in Tier I or II, a little more than last season. There are plenty of RB2 and especially RB3 options, but the gap between them and the clear RB1s is significant. A rational market should react to the gap between RB1s and RB2s, and to the shortage of solid RB1 options in 12-team or larger leagues, by driving up RB1 prices.
 
On the other hand, in the last few years, getting two top RBs has fallen out of favor as a strategy and consequently, RB prices have slipped a bit. But with owners conditioned to not pay as much for RB1s, the market in your auction may be irrational and under-price RB1s, especially after the top 2-3 RBs (Adrian Peterson, and Doug Martin). I think the critical pricing to understand in your auction in 2013 is going to be RB1s. So you want to get a read on that – and possibly claim a bargain or two before the RB1s start to run short, driving up the price.
 
  • August 28 edit – Foster has slipped out of the clear Top 3 backs due to injury concerns. While he’s probably now a bit under-priced, I don’t think he fits the reliability factor I want.
Once you sense how the RB1s are selling, you want to get the elite players nominated, both to set prices and get money out of the auction. Here I often nominate a player who I don’t really want to buy, so I’m getting other owners to burn their cap while getting a handle on the auction’s price structure – but of course, many other owners are doing this as well. Right now, Aaron Rodgers is an example of a player I don’t want (I think his reality football skill exceeds his fantasy football performance), and who also will take a lot of money out of an auction, while setting the market for QBs. However, I try not to be too predictable – it’s good to vary your patterns. Pick your spots to slide in a player that you DO want, especially if you think there is some hesitation by owners to spend their money early. You could get a value. When you think owners are spending too much, whether early in the auction or in the mid-game, nominate players you don’t want. If it looks like owners are sitting on their wallets, then you want to nominate someone you’re targeting.
 
A related point: if early in an auction players (not just elite QBs) are selling for less than their tier would indicate, it means more money will be spent on lower tier players later in an auction – and that the values are to be had now, not later when more money is chasing fewer players. So you may be wise to spend more upfront than you usually would.
 
All these and other ideas I’ll throw out later add up to Guideline #3: Always have a purpose for your nominations. It can be to suck money out of the auction, fill a roster hole, slip a targeted player under the radar, or force another owner to commit to filling his own roster before he’s ready. An example of this last technique is to nominate a highly-regarded handcuff when a lot of money is left to be spent, forcing the LeSean McCoy owner to overpay if he wants Bryce Brown too. Don’t nominate a guy just because you have to, have a reason for your choice.
 
Endgame
 
As an auction winds down, many owners will find themselves with a few dollars left to fill a few roster spots. It’s harder and harder for most of them to spend more than a dollar or two to fill those spots. This is where Guideline #4: keep several dollars for the endgame, comes into play. When I have three bucks to spend on each of my remaining roster holes, and most owners only have two dollars per roster opening, I have the hammer. If I’ve actually spent 60% of my cap on my impact players, this requires serious economizing elsewhere and biding my time for late auction bargains. But if I discipline myself to hold those several dollars, I can get my preferred players late in the auction when other owners are low on cash and I have that critical one dollar to over-bid with.
 
Quarterback Plan
 
Experienced auction owners know there are almost always values to be found at quarterback later in auctions, which makes it tempting to hold off on getting a QB. But there are values at all positions later in auctions. And just as QBs can cost too much (relatively) early in auctions, the same is true at other positions. If you see value early, with one of the top QBs, by all means buy him.
 
Last year, in a 12-team league, there appeared to be only 11 bona fide fantasy starters at QB in preseason. That made it particularly important to get one. This year, there appear to be 12, depending a lot on how you view Robert Griffin III (and to a lesser extent, Colin Kaepernick). If you think he’s worth the health risk, then there are 12 and you can be extremely patient at QB. If you are avoiding Griffin, then there are only 11 viable options and you need to make sure you don’t wait too long and end up forced to over-bid on the last option as a starter. If you are avoiding both Griffin and Kaepernick (because of worries about his receiving corps), then this is particularly important advice.
 
Let’s walk through my thoughts on the starting 12 in auctions:
 
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees – premium performers who will come at a premium price. I will not buy them if they cost Tier III money, which is what I expect they’ll command, but in Tier IV they are definitely worth it.
 
Peyton Manning – Guru projects him to score almost as much as Rodgers and Brees (Tier III performance) but right now I don’t think he’s priced that way (Tier IV). That makes him a potential bargain, and therefore target. I would not pursue him into Tier III prices, however.
 
Cam Newton –His projection is a little lower than Peyton’s but he’s selling for about the same price is the same. If the Panthers really aren’t going to have him run as much, there is more downside here than people think.
 
  • August 28 update – the gap between Newton and Peyton has widened.
Andrew Luck – this is Guru’s guy at QB. He’s projected at the low-end of Tier IV but is being priced in Tier V. I think the price reflects the uncertainty of his new OC plus some concerns that the schedule may be harder this year which may make him a value if you’re on board with Guru.
 
  • August 28 update – Luck has moved up since the first edition.
Matt Ryan – worth top of Tier V money and selling there. Not a bargain but a fair value – I think Luck has more potential value.
 
Tony Romo – is now Guru’s #7 QB. He’s solidly in Tier V in projection terms, but probably will sell at the end of the tier. You can save a few percentage points of cap vs. Luck although you’ll see a little less performance too. Romo is a good value.
 
  • August 28 update –he’s actually climbed more in relative value than Luck.
Tom Brady – right now it looks like he’s being sold at the top of Tier V but he’s projected as a middle of the tier player. All of the questions surround his cast, or maybe whether the Patriots will run more, and not his ability to perform, so maybe he’s being under-rated. However, he’s not being under-priced. He needs to sell in the middle of Tier V to be fairly priced; lower than that and you may have a bargain.
 
  • August 28 update –he’s slipped more than any of the Top 12 QBs since June.
Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford – a little more risk than Ryan and Brady but still Tier V players. I think you can save some money on them (but not as much as on Romo) if you are okay with the risk. I personally like Wilson better but I think that’s against the conventional wisdom, which makes Wilson the better value of the two.
 
  • August 28 update –Romo and Luck have has separated themselves from these two in terms of value. I prefer Wilson but Stafford has the more fantasy friendly passing system. Either of these players are fine if you are boxed into a corner for a starter.
Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick – bona fide starters (Tier V players). They come with more risk than the QBs listed just above them, but I don’t think their price properly reflects their price. I’d buy them if I got them at the right value but I don’t know that will happen. Griffin would be a sneaky guy to open the auction with and see if you can slip him under Tier V prices while everyone is still feeling out the auction. The beauty of gambling on these last two QBs is that there is a lot of QB depth this year.
 
  • August 28 update – the news is that Griffin will start Week 1. He’s a top 5 QB if back to last year and so I think the news will raise his price even more. He may be the most important decision you make in your auction: will he give you Tier IV performance? If you think so and you buy him in Tier V, you’ve done well. However, even if you think he’s a Tier IV player, you’d be foolish to pay Tier IV prices for him. The bottom line is, whatever you judge his likely performance to be, you have to get him at a price point below that or you’re not getting reliability.
And if you play in a larger league, you’ll need to think hard about the next options. Eli Manning could easily bounce back with starter-level numbers. Sam Bradford is getting a lot of love in some circles – Hansen likes his upside – but I’d argue that Andy Dalton has out-performed Bradford two years running and has a better OC and receiving options. For me, the better auction argument for Bradford is that right now he probably costs less and so you’re getting his upside on the cheap, maybe even in Tier VII, while Dalton, Eli and some other solid back-up candidates will surely cost Tier VI money.
 
Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler are the next choices as back-ups. I think you’d be happy with these players at Tier VII money but would be overpaying a bit in Tier VI. Palmer and Schaub are by far the cheapest right now and the two you can get at the right price.
 
  • August 28 update – Josh Freeman fell from this group but Matt Schaub moved up into it.
Michael Vick costs at least Tier VI money right now and would climb higher if any of the Top 12 got hurt before your auction. In my opinion that is over-priced. I think his injury risk and the unknowns with his new offense don’t justify that, but if you overlook at that and focus on his upside, you could justify that price. I would not want to buy him as a backup for one of the Top 12. But combining Vick’s upside with Eli’s durability in a deep league might be an attractive option if QB prices fall off a cliff after the Top 12 sell.
 
Then come a large cluster of low-end back-ups, the guys you settle for if you bought a top QB. Here you’re spending Tier VII (a couple of bucks) for the security of not scrambling on the WW if your main guy gets hurt. Ryan Tannehill is probably the guy regarded as having the most upside so his price is higher than most in this group. I don’t think he has the upside to justify that but that’s my personal opinion. Josh Freeman has dropped into this group from Tier VI and may continue to slide. If he’s selling at the price of Tannehill I don’t think he’s a bargain either. Joe Flacco is another QB in this tier going at that price who’s not worth it – although he’s stayed healthy and if he has a good matchup on your stud’s bye, this might make sense. Alex Smith, Philip Rivers, and Brandon Weeden are projected to give you similar performance and will cost less, with Weeden probably the cheapest. The biggest Tier VII bargains may be Jake Locker and E.J. Manuel. They’ve got the Guru’s upside stamp and will run for points as well as throw. They’ll probably be priced with Weeden. Manuel’s injury is a concern but you’re not picking him up to start in Week 1; you’re looking for a guy with value later.
 
That’s already 16 back-up choices in 12-team leagues. You need to balance durability and cost against what you’ve got invested in your starter and his potential health risk. If I had a QB who ran a lot, I’d want to have a little better backup plan. And my backup QB is one purchase that I make with an eye on my starter’s bye weeks. Otherwise, most of these players are personal choices.
 
Running Back Plan
 
There are not quite enough RB1s to go around in a 12 team league. I think it is extremely important to get one, so that’s Guideline #5: make sure you get at least one RB1. There is a lot of flexibility in how you go about that. You might choose to avoid one of the ten or eleven. You might not want to pay the elite premium the Tier I players will demand. You should try to avoid being one of the final owners without an RB1 – the last of the 11 to go will probably cost too much. Here’s the RB1 pool: Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Trent Richardson, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller, Matt Forte, and Alfred Morris (at least in non-ppr formats).
 
The first two are the guys I think will command Tier I money. I personally would only pay that for Martin and even him I’d want to get for not much over 30% of the cap. Fortunately, he probably will be the cheaper of the two. With Peterson, I think you’re paying too much for last year’s performance. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t own him – I’d just have to steal him for 30% of my cap or less. The other problem is that spending so much on these two takes away from executing the basic plan, as I mentioned earlier.
 
  • August 28 update – Arian Foster has fallen from this group due to injury concerns. At some point his price is a value, but it would have to be near the low-end of Tier II for me to bite.
Guru has Ray Rice projected at the same level as Doug Martin in PPR formats. I personally don’t have Rice in Tier I, but if you do, he’s under-valued and even as a Tier II player he’s fairly priced. He’s healthy, proven, and clearly the center of his offense with a competent QB.
 
  • August 28 edit – Rice is the RB1 to target if you agree with Guru’s projections.
Of the other others, it’s mostly a matter of personal choice and cost. Let’s say you like Spiller, Charles, and McCoy about evenly. Charles gets bid up to over 25% of your cap, you’re not comfortable with that and let him go. If the hammer is about to drop on Spiller at about 22%, then you should bid. If you close on him for less than Charles, you’ve probably gotten decent value. Don’t wait to see if McCoy will cost even less, you might get a better bargain or you might do worse. Sometimes it pays to wait for a better deal but only in conditions of plenty – the places where there is depth. In conditions of scarcity, good enough value is good enough. Also, if you think Richardson will cost a hair more than the three you want, you can nominate him to gauge the market and set a price point that most owners will not exceed to buy your targeted backs. (Obviously these are just examples, adjust the names to fit your preference).
 
Of the others in top 11, Matt Forte and Alfred Morris are the cheapest. Forte will cost more of the two in PPR formats; Morris in old-school standard scoring. Forte has not been a TD scorer and Morris has not been a pass catcher. I think those weaknesses are accounted for in their price, which means they have some upside if their roles increase in those aspects of the game. This could be a pair that you can get at the very low end of Tier II and make two RB1s affordable. If I have one of them as my second RB without busting my budget, I’ll be pretty happy.
 
  • August 28 update – I’ve come around on Forte as I’m more comfortable after looking over Marc Trestman’s offense that Forte will continue to catch passes. Morris’ price may climb on the news that Griffin is starting Week 1, so watch out for that.
The key is to identify who worries you of these 11 and then work to get one of those remaining backs for your RB1.
 
What if you miss on a top 11 RB or are in a deeper league where the price on these guys will go even higher? There’s no question there is a drop off in quality. Stevan Ridley is a very safe option, at least in non-PPR leagues (and in any kind of knowledgeable PPR league his price will be discounted anyhow). His safety comes because some back in New England almost always gets 10 TDs and right now Ridley is that guy.
 
I’m also high on Steven Jackson, another guy who I see as being about a 10 TD back. He’s also likely to get a good number of receptions, so he’s probably a better PPR option than Ridley. But both guys need to come in at Tier III prices for me to close the deal.
 
Reggie Bush may now be the best Tier III player you can get in a PPR. His value may be lagging that, so he’s a good RB2 to target but you have to be careful as others may be catching on.
 
  • August 28 update – I’ve definitely moved Bush up my PPR boards, but this is one Rb2 I’d handcuff. With Joique Bell.
In terms of reliability, Chris Johnson is a decent Tier III back - if you want health. He’s always been an inconsistent performer even though he’s also always in the line-up. I don’t think he’s a particular value, but he’s not over-priced either.
 
  • August 28 update – if Locker really does run more, this should help Johnson. Or if Locker throws better. I think you should make a consistent judgment on both players.
There has been depth emerging at RB2 over the summer but of course they players come with question marks or they’d be in Tier III not Tier IV. Guru has moved Eddie Lacy into Tier IV now, which opens up another option. If you look at average auction values, be careful with Lacy. His price is almost certainly higher than just a week ago so he may not be the value he was or appears to be. On the flip side, Lamar Miller has been sliding to the low-end of Tier III prices, as has David Wilson. I believe they should cost more than Lacy; if they don’t in your auction then they are buys. But none of them are proven backs. Frank Gore has been proven, so if you want safety, take him for the same price. Darren Sproles is also proven, though the committee in New Orleans limits his upside. Obviously he is PPR gold and a clear Tier IV option.
 
Maurice Jones-Drew and DeMarco Murray are the injury-risk players in this tier. Both could easily be RB1s if healthy. They could also never be healthy again (and MJD suffers from the lack of a decent QB while Murray’s line is shaky). I’d definitely bid on them through Tier IV but not into Tier III.
 
  • August 28 update – Guru has warmed a bit to Murray – and I have Murray in a couple of auctions already. Not because I love the player, but I did like the value. MJD is looking like a better choice as well.
How you manage your 2nd RB will depend a lot on your league format and scoring as well as the dynamics of your auction. I’d go into the auction determined to get an RB1 for reliability and then be flexible on how to build the rest of my RB corps, tying it partly to the values I see at WR1. Blindly spending to stick to a definite plan will hose your auction.
 
For your third RB, if you’ve gotten two RB1s, you probably want a solid third guy – unless you’re going for the kill with upside. If you have a shaky RB2, then you more likely want a reliable option.
 
The odd man out is Darren McFadden. If you look at the projections, he’s almost in a tier by himself by the numbers. His price right now is in Tier IV, which I think is too high. But if he drops into Tier V in price, he has a good chance to outperform the next group of backs. I’d prefer to spend my Tier V money on a WR1 who’s selling at WR2 prices, but there is a definite risk-reward factor with him.
 
Of the Tier V RBs, up until now I like the price on Ahmad Bradshaw and Daryl Richardson. I do think Richardson’s price is climbing since he was announced as the starter, but he still could be available at Tier VI money. Bradshaw might be at the same price but because of injury concerns more than worries about a committee. A real value might be DeAngelo Williams. As long as those worries continue to show up in his price, then he is a good place-holder option while you wait for other players on your roster to emerge. Even with the injury news on Jonathan Stewart, there is a lot of concern that DeAngelo won’t hold up or will share time when Stewart comes back. While Shane Vereen and Giovani Bernard are fine Tier V backs, they are priced appropriately unless you see them performing at Tier IV levels. Just don’t overpay.
 
  • August 28 update – A thought on DeAngelo if you play in flex leagues: If you start him as a flex in the early and then add Josh Gordon or Justin Blackman at a savings because of their suspension, you have a high upside guy to plug in if any of the worries about Williams come true. Sometimes you have to think about your RB3 and WR3 or WR4 as playing the same position.
A final Tier V option is Ryan Mathews. I don’t think the value is there but you may feel his price appropriately reflects the issues with the line in San Diego, his health, etc.
 
I think Tier VI is something of a dead zone for RBs. Mark Ingram stands out to me here as the right mix of projection and price. Montee Ball is in this tier, I think, but his price is more Tier V unless Ronnie Hillman’s continued work with the starters depresses Ball’s cost. If that happens, fine but otherwise I’d avoid Ball myself. Other backs in this tier, Rashard Mendenhall, Le’Veon Bell, and Andre Brown all have injury issues along with other problems.
 
  • August 28 update – Bell of course has slipped a lot since getting hurt multiple times so far. Until his price catches up I’d avoid him. But at some point having him with DeAngelo buying you time could be a nice tactic if you can afford the cap and roster space.
For further depth, I prefer upside. That can be because of a player’s athleticism or because he has a chance to emerge from a crowded backfield as “the guy.” Some choices at Tier VII prices or even a dollar: Pierre ThomasDanny WoodheadVick BallardBernard PierceRonnie HillmanBilal PowellBryce Brown, and Michael Bush. Going a little deeper, Joique BellRoy HeluLaMichael James, and Knowshon Moreno. And some upside types who could get a chance for a larger role if things work out well for them or if there’s an injury in front of them like Christine Michael, Stepfan Taylor, and Knile Davis.
 
There are numerous dollar options you can roster to flesh out your RB corps, even 75 backs into an auction. One thing I like to do with my last buck, when everyone else is down to a buck a player too, is look at the remaining available players and say, who would be the hottest waiver wire pickup tomorrow if the guy ahead of them on the depth chart got hurt today. Nominate that guy.
 
Wide Receiver Plan
 
Calvin Johnson is one of the few elite players I’d pay for. If he’s going for Tier II money, I’d seriously consider buying him. But I think Tier I is too steep and I’m afraid he’ll go there. I’d prefer to follow Guideline #5 but Johnson is a great option if you miss on one of the 11 RB1s. And since you probably missed because the price got too high, there is a good chance Johnson’s price will be lowered by all the money chasing RB1s.
 
Beyond Johnson, this appears to be a plentiful year for WRs, especially at the WR2/3 level. But after Johnson, there are really only a handful of stud (Tier II/III) WRs: A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, and Brandon Marshall. In this group, to me, Green and Bryant are the clear best options but they may be priced that way, as Tier II players. I’d love to have them at a Tier III cost, but a lot of things would have to fall into place to buy them above that. I don’t see Marshall getting 191 targets again, but that seems to be the conventional wisdom, as he seems to be priced near the top of Tier III. He’s worth considering at that price. I think the other two are probably more fairly priced in Tier III. My preference is to get one of these five WRs paired with an RB1 and if I can manage to get two of them and an RB1 for 60% of my cap, I’d be pretty happy.
 
  • August 28 update – I’ve been a little surprised there hasn’t been more love for Marshall, but that just makes his price one I can stomach. Bryant has been the mover in the group, climbing into Tier II with Green. Bryant is the rare top player who Guru gives an upside rating to in his projections.
Other WR1 options, not as good as the previous group but acceptable and who should only cost Tier IV money are Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, and Randall Cobb. None of them are particular bargains though.
 
  • August 28 update – Jordy Nelson and Dwayne Bowe have fallen out of this group, Randall Cobb has joined it.
Despite the apparent depth at the position, that’s only 10 WR1s. If you don’t get one of them, you need to be happy with Victor Cruz or Reggie Wayne as your top WR. Wayne is the guy you may get for Tier V cap, so he’s ostensibly a bargain, although I’m more with the market and less with the Guru on him.
 
Tier V players who I think may out-perform their tier are Pierre Garcon and Marques Colston. Guru is high on Garcon too, a bit less on Colston (not that he dislikes him). If I had two RB1s, I’d be very happy rolling with these two as my WR1A/1B.
 
Danny Amendola. I have to ask, is he the Darren McFadden of WRs? If he really takes over the Welker-role and stays healthy, there’s a good chance you win your league paying Tier V money for him. I don’t think that cost reflects his injury risk.
 
  • August 28 update – A less inflammatory analogy would be Amendola and Griffin. Or Gronkowski, when we get there.
Dwayne Bowe has the same projection and price point as Amendola (essentially), a bit less injury risk, and a poorer QB.
 
  • August 28 update – Bowe has been a big faller, from Tier IV with some upside to Tier V with some downside, although if he torches the Jags on opening Sunday we’ll all wonder why we worried about the preseason.
Next up, Antonio Brown, Vincent Jackson, Hakeem Nicks, James Jones, and Eric Decker take us deeper into Tier V. The best buy in that group is probably Jones, with Decker and Brown also bringing a bit of value. Jackson will be the most expensive but I think that’s fair (not cheap) and Nicks has the most risk. I think he may be a bit overpriced. I’d want to get him at the low end of tier.
 
At the bottom of the tier – and I really have to say the lines between the tiers are not sharp – are the Smith brothers, Torrey and Steve. I think Torrey Smith is priced about right; we don’t know how precisely he’ll be used or perform with Anquan Boldin gone but he’s got a huge opportunity. Steve Smith is one of the cheapest (with Jones) Tier V WRs.
 
In Tier VI, there are roughly 10 options: Jordy Nelson, Mike Wallace, T.Y. Hilton, DeSean Jackson, Anquan Boldin, Wes Welker, Tavon Austin, Josh Gordon, Cecil Shorts, Miles Austin, and Mike Williams. Nelson is a high-risk/high-reward guy: great QB, potential fantasy WR1 if healthy, and probably selling in Tier V, so there is no discount on him. Wallace and Jackson are both the WR1s on their NFL teams, deep threats, and in new systems. I’m not a huge fan of either one but Jackson is cheaper and maybe even cheap enough for me. Hilton could be the same kind of player but we don’t know yet; I like his upside at the same price as Jackson (and I like his QB more). Welker’s cost is around Amendola’s and more than Decker’s but I agree with Guru that they’re Tier V WRs and Welker is a Tier VI in this situation. I don’t think I will like him at the price he commands. Austin is priced comparably to Jackson, Wallace, and Hilton. A rookie in an offense that has never been particularly innovative or creative? Unless I was getting points for returns, I don’t see the value. Shorts is also at this price point and while I don’t love him, he has four weeks to lock down the WR1 role in Jacksonville in what looks like an up-tempo offense. I think I’d buy him before any of the Tier VI receivers so far.
 
However, I think the bargains are the remaining four in this tier. Gordon is cheaper than those above and at least has Hilton’s upside (although you don’t want to overpay for a guy guaranteed to miss two games). Williams could easily get 10 TDs; Austin, if healthy could have Decker’s kind of value at a much cheaper price; and Boldin appears to be selling in Tier VI despite there being no clear WR2 on the team.
 
And a number of the WR3 options actually could easily be WR2s: Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, and Wes Welker for example offer a lot of upside if you buy them in Tier VI. Other decent WR3 choices are Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Steve Johnson, Miles Austin, Danario Alexander, James Jones, Cecil Shorts, Josh Gordon, and Mike Williams. Johnson, Austin, and Shorts look to be good values and Williams and Gordon right now are probably bargains (I expect Gordon’s price to climb).
 
Two players projected in Tier VII with upside that I like are Chris Givens and Golden Tate. Guru’s draft plan actually mentions them in the paragraph with a lot of the WRs just above. They both appear to be huge bargains but I also think their AAVs are lagging their current value. Get these guys if you can, in tier VII preferably, but even at the bottom of Tier VI. Just don’t build your budget around that price point. They may cost more.
 
Other Tier VII options with upside ratings for your WR4: Kenny Britt, Vincent Brown and Kenbrell Thompkins. Unfortunately, Britt will probably cost you Tier VI money. Who knows what Thompkins will cost? I’d pay a few bucks, like for any Tier VII player, but not more. Brown appears fairly priced.
 
Stevie Johnson is down in Tier VII in the projections and his price is falling. I’d be reluctant if he’s still selling in Tier VI, but if he’s priced a tier lower, why not? Even a bad QB will throw to a reliable veteran like Johnson. Some Guru depth options I think would be merit tier VII money: Michael FloydKendall WrightEmmanuel SandersRod Streater, and Justin Blackmon. For dollar guys, look at Sidney RiceBrian HartlineGreg Little, or Alshon Jeffery. Jeffrey probably will cost too much, unfortunately. And then Jeremy KerleyBrandon LaFellMohamed Sanu, Robert WoodsRueben Randle, and Ace Sanders.
 
  • August 28 update – Guru mentions Davone Bess here; I omitted him. I don’t think the slot receiver is worth much in Norv Turner’s offense, although Bess could be a stand-in until Gordon returns. I’d add Andre Roberts for a buck, myself.
I think what I’m looking for overall is a trade-off between RB1s and WR1s for my cap. I like the WR2 options better than the RB2s and the wideouts will be cheaper, so I lean to going for a couple of RB1s, a WR1, then load up on RB3 types and WR2/3 options. But I will be flexible enough to go RB1 and two of the top 6 WR1 choices at the top of my roster. At the bottom of my roster I want a couple of cheap upside players at both RB and WR. Lastly, I know that not all my upside guys will work out so when an attractive waiver wire option appears I need to be willing to grab him and not just lock onto my pre-season choices forever.
 
Tight End Plan
 
I’ve already spent some time talking about the Big 2 at the position. Jimmy Graham is the only TE I’d be willing to count as one of my Tier III players. The advantage of splurging on him is that you have the top and probably safest TE. If you spend on him instead of a WR1, there are a number of WR2s who could come through for your team. The risk is that if he gets hurt you probably can’t replace him on the waiver wire. You are more likely to be able to find an RB or WR on waivers who’ll at least give you RB1/WR1 production for a few weeks.
 
Everything above applies to Rob Gronkowski if he’s healthy. Just make sure you’re getting a discount, preferably as cheap as Tier V. At that price, I’d love to add either of these guys to a solid core of RBs and WRs.
 
If that risk is too much or their price climbs too high, then you’re looking at Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten in Tier V. Those are good choices but you may get the same bang for less bucks in Vernon Davis.
 
  • August 28 update – Maybe everyone thinks Gonzalez got old in the offseason but he’s been selling for the same price as Vernon Davis. If that’s true, I’d buy Gonzalez. You might think that Steven Jackson is better than Michael Turner was last year and that will take red zone touches from Gonzalez. Tuner scored 10 times last year. How many more would Jackson have to get before he cuts into the seven Gonzalez has averaged the last three years?
 
If you can’t afford any of those four, then you’re looking at upper Tier VI choices that are still solid in Kyle Rudolph and Jermichael Finley. And maybe even venerable Antonio Gates. Both Finley and especially Gates are much cheaper than Rudolph, so I’d target them and pass on the higher cost guy.
 
  • August 28 update – Guru has documented his increasing attachment to Finley. But Gates has climbed a bit lately too. Here I think I was ahead of Guru on Finley but behind him on Gates.
I like Greg Olsen but not at the price he typically goes at – equal to Finley and above Gates. The same is true of Jared Cook. Having said that, I don’t think either player is over-priced if you miss on Finley or Gates or prefer to avoid the injury and drama risks of those two.
 
Owen Daniels and Brandon Pettigrew are viable starters as long as you’re paying low Tier VI money, because that’s fair for them. That’s only 11 TEs so you’re one short of an option in a 12-team league.
 
My next choice would be Fred Davis. His projection tops Brandon Myers and Martellus Bennett and he’s been selling cheaper, although his price is rising. I don’t carry a back-up TE in leagues that roster about 190 players, but Jordan Cameron, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Obviously there is some competition between Fleener and Allen that might kill the value of both.
 
If you spend on a top QB, the consequence might be a low-end TE. Conversely, if you go for Graham, you probably will have to settle for a cheaper QB. I think it’s useful to visualize your QB/TE budget as a trade-off between the positions just as I mentioned my trade-offs between RBs and WRs.
 
Place Kicker Plan
 
Same as always. Don’t overspend. Pay a buck, and then you won’t feel locked into a guy when this year’s hot kicker is available on waivers. Let others spend multiple dollars on the “top” guys.
 
To get a guy for a buck, you have to be the one nominating him. One option, after the “market gauging nominations,” is to start nominating kickers until someone lets you have one for a dollar. I’ve seen some very boring auctions where this happens several picks in a row. Start at the top and go down the list of projected kickers until you get one for your league’s minimum. If you don’t love the projections, I recommend looking for a dependable guy on a good offense. Or you could just hold out, using your nominations for better purposes until most owners have kickers and pick one at random. That may be just as good a technique.
 
For the record, the Fantasy Guru kickers to consider are roughly: Phil Dawson, Blair Walsh, Matt Bryant, Stephen Gostkowski, and Dan Bailey. Other options: Justin Tucker, Greg Zuerlein, Ryan Succop, Josh Brown, Garrett Hartley and Randy Bullock.
 
Team Defense Plan
 
I’m not a fan of spending more than a buck on defenses either. Defenses are too unpredictable in the best of years to get caught over-spending. One technique I use is to go about 5-6 teams down on the defense projections and start nominating. Sooner or later I’ll get a decent option for one dollar. If you’re not comfortable with that, open the bidding at two bucks. If you have to have a better defense than this will get you to spend your money on the Seahawks.
 
Options for your cheap defense include New England, Baltimore, St Louis, Arizona, Green Bay, and Tampa Bay.
 
  • August 28 update – if you’re still reading, who are the starting QBs against the Patriots in Week 1 and 2? Do I need to ask another question? Also, check out the Chiefs’ return game results now that the Bears’ former special teams coach has joined his old boss Andy Reid in KC.
But I will not compromise on saving some cash for late in the auction in order to get a defense. I want some cash on hand at the end to scarf up those upside players who can solidify your team in the endgame when other owners can only make minimum bids.
 
Summary
 
Basic plan: Buy three players from the Top III tiers for no more than 60% of your cap.
 
Guidelines: I usually try to keep the number of these down. Take these as guidelines, not gospel.
 
#1 - use 100% of your salary to buy players worth about 125% of the cap.
 
#2 - use your first couple of nominations to understand player values in your auction.
 
#3 - always have a purpose for your nominations.
 
#4 - keep several dollars for the endgame.
 
#5 - make sure you get at least one RB1. 

Otherwise, stay flexible. As much as possible, get reliable players as your top three players. When you’re taking on an unproven player or injury risk, insist on a discount price.


 

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