Recently, I had the pleasure of competing in the FLEX Leagues Auction, a 12-team auction with a $200 budget featuring some of the best names in the industry. Participating in such a competitive auction gives me both the chance to evaluate how some of the most interesting fantasy assets are being valued and discuss the strategies which can help fantasy players be successful in auction formats.
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The primary takeaway from this auction is the primary takeaway from most auctions: spend money early. The first player nominated was Todd Gurley, and, unsurprisingly, Gurley ended up tied with Lamar Miller for the lowest price among the top-five running backs at $43. Ezekiel Elliott and Adrian Peterson both went for $46 while David Johnson landed at $50. Dez Bryant, who I bought, was the first receiver nominated, and he ended up $3 dollars cheaper than DeAndre Hopkins and $6 cheaper than A.J. Green, both players I have ranked in the same tier. Odell Beckham ($57) ended up going for $4 more than Antonio Brown primarily because he was nominated after the clear No. 1 receiver.
In almost every auction, early nominations end up being the best values. People come into the event knowing about how much each player costs on average, but every auction is different. Until the “inflation rate” of each draft is set, players have a difficult time identifying when to spend that extra dollar. That means early nominations tend to be slightly undervalued, making them great players to grab.
Another universal tenet of auction drafting – one which I failed to heed in this draft – is to always go the extra buck for your players. Drafters tend to be way too caught up on saving money for the end game to actually go and get good players. Refusing to spend an extra dollar or two on LeSean McCoy to make sure you land Jerick McKinnon is like trading down two spots in the third round in order to move up two spots in the 13th. It does not make any sense, and no matter how good you think you are at identifying late-round talent, the reality is most of the late-game auction buys are going to be on the wire by Week 6.
One only needs to look to the second running back spot on my team – currently LeGarrette Blount – to see the most cautionary example of why to go the extra dollar. On multiple occasions I had the opportunity to go the extra dollar for a solid RB2, and I bowed out every time. I probably could have had Frank Gore for $18…or Thomas Rawls for $21…or Doug Martin for $29…or Dion Lewis for $15…or Jonathan Stewart for $19. The list goes on and on. Instead, I was forced to spend $4 dollars on the Raiders DST just to spend all of my budget. Super glad I saved that money.
The final overarching note is the importance of tiers. The best way to identify value during an auction is to compare prices both within and among similar tiers. Lewis ended up being a good value at $14, but it would be difficult to see that in the moment if you did not identify ahead of time the players who should be valued similarly. The simple act of grouping players ahead of time can lead to significant values during an auction.
As for this draft particularly, there were certainly some interesting valuations. Chief among those was Doug Martin, who went for just $28 dollars. That ended up being $4 less than McCoy and a whopping $9 less than Mark Ingram. Martin was nominated before those players -- another positive data point in the spend-early strategy’s favor -- but it did not seem like he was valued as highly as McCoy and Ingram inside the room. While his health and ability to replicate last year’s success are certainly concerns, he is a very good back on an offense which has a chance to be better in Jameis Winston’s second season. I have him ranked seventh on my running back list, and I would absolutely have loved to land him at 28 bucks. Unfortunately, I am dumb and didn’t.
Even though I screwed up royally with Martin, I may have ended up with the buy of the draft in Julian Edelman, who I landed for just $11. That was the same price as Jordan Matthews, DeSean Jackson, Sterling Shepard, Michael Crabtree, Larry Fitzgerald, and Josh Gordon. Edelman has as many injury concerns as anyone, but he was also the WR7 in standard leagues when he went down in Week 10 last season and finished the year eighth in per-game scoring. He carries elite upside into every matchup – he finished inside the top five in 22.2 percent of his games last season – and that is ultimately what matters in a weekly game. Even if he plays in just 12 games, he will likely produce more WR1 performances than the people around his ADP. That makes him well worth a pick at his draft cost.
At tight end, Coby Fleener landed at $11, the same price as Greg Olsen and $2 more than Travis Kelce. Fleener’s value had been steady since the early part of June, but it has begun to rise again over the last couple weeks. Even so, I am fine with Fleener entering the same conversation as the two players above him in ADP. Kelce had exactly one top-three level game last season, and Olsen did not do much better despite being the primary target for an otherworldly Cam Newton. Fleener’s floor is not as high as those guys, but he has a higher ceiling. For a position which can be streamed effectively, ceiling is much more important than floor.
Quarterbacks are always underpriced in industry drafts, and this auction was not any different minus one notable exception. Drew Brees ended up going for $16, almost double his average value in ESPN standard leagues. It is not often “experts” value a quarterback significantly higher than the public, and Brees’ inflated price suggests he will be pumped up by several people over the next month. That could lead to his price rising by the time draft season really kicks into high gear, but for now, he remains a nice value in home leagues.
-Jamaal Charles ended up as the sixth-highest priced back at $40. Auction dynamics played a role in the total – he was nominated fairly late – but the price basically matches his RB7 draft cost in standard leagues. Coming off another knee injury with some serious talent behind him, I continue to think Charles is slightly overvalued.
-I fully expect Arian Foster's price to continue to rise as the positive reports keep coming, but $12 is completely fair considering his risk and potential reward. I would still rather have DeAngelo Williams at $9. I think Williams produces more RB1 weeks when it is all said and done.
-T.J. Yeldon ($6) ended up going for the same price as Chris Ivory. I am not particularly interested in either back, but I would much rather have Ivory. I will always take the touchdown side of a pure committee.
-Demaryius Thomas ($24) could end up being the steal of the WR2 tier this season. The quarterback situation in Denver is terrible, but he is almost guaranteed 150 targets with the upside for a lot more.
-Markus Wheaton ($2) was $7 cheaper than Sammie Coates. Coates keeps getting the headlines this preseason, but Wheaton is still ahead of him on the depth chart at this point. I would rather take a late-round shot on Coates if the prices are equal, but Wheaton could end up being a value if this draft is any indication.
-My tight end tiers pretty much held to form, but Tyler Eifert ($6) continues to be overvalued. He was set for some serious regression even before the injury, and now it looks like he will miss several games. He should not be in anyone’s top 10.
-The depth at quarterback can be perfectly explained by both Carson Palmer’s price ($3) and the fact that Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, and Kirk Cousins were not even selected. That is unlikely to happen in home leagues -- where the desire to have two quarterbacks tends to trump the desire to make good team-building decisions -- but it is still completely unnecessary to target a quarterback early. Grab Philip Rivers ($7) or Eli Manning ($7) in the 10th-round and stream if it goes bad.