I'm certain I've said and written this before, but there's nothing quite like an auction draft, no matter the sport. Sure, standard drafts are fun and generally predictable, but in an auction, it doesn't matter which pick you are, there's no waiting for players to slip to you. It's just easier to build a team your way. It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. Of course, it's also quite easy to mess up a team, but we'll get into that. Seriously, get some buddies together and try two leagues, one of them an auction draft. You'll love it.
There are, of course, numerous ways to build an effective fantasy football roster in an auction setting, so let's go through a few of the more popular ones. Assume there's a $200 budget and our standard setup, I've listed potential teams one could end up with -- I've ended up with very similar teams, for instance -- to the right, describing the pluses and minuses of constructing teams that way.
Oh, and pointing out in Conversation that "Matt Schaub would never go that cheap!" isn't constructive criticism. For this exercise, I'm using ESPN's recommended auction values and in general adding a few bucks -- or subtracting, in a few cases -- to the prices because seldom are you able to acquire a player for precisely the bid price you want or expect. But these are realistic auction teams, in my opinion, with ESPN's standard 16-man rosters. Let's see what I've come up with.
Team 3: Stars and scrubs
The "Stars and Scrubs" approach
Chris Johnson ($53) is just one of three $40-plus players on this team. Dollar values in parentheses.
QB: Michael Vick, Eagles ($47)
RB: Chris Johnson, Titans ($53)
RB: Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants ($21)
WR: Greg Jennings, Packers ($42)
WR: Kenny Britt, Titans ($15)
RB/WR: Jordy Nelson, Packers ($5)
TE: Owen Daniels, Texans ($6)
D/ST: San Diego Chargers ($1)
K: Billy Cundiff, Ravens ($1)
Bench: Jason Campbell, Raiders ($1)
Bench: Thomas Jones, Chiefs ($3)
Bench: Ronnie Brown, Eagles ($1)
Bench: Jason Snelling, Falcons ($1)
Bench: Davone Bess, Dolphins ($1)
Bench: Hines Ward, Steelers ($1)
Bench: Jacoby Ford, Raiders ($1)
I used to build teams this way, and I had varying success with it. I mean, if you can get multiple players who are considered first-round picks, why not? It's a nice advantage. The main issue is when a surprise injury or underachieving season pops up. For example, a year ago Randy Moss was actually a first-round pick in most leagues and a $40 wide receiver, and DeAngelo Williams was being selected as a top-10 running back. If you had spent $80 of your $200 on those fellows -- that's 40 percent! -- it was gonna be tough to win. Depending on an Arian Foster cheap buy or free agent is dangerous, as it rarely occurs.
Building a team this way tends to be an all-or-nothing team, which might be your style. To some, if you're going to finish second, you might as well be in last place. To me, I want to contend and make the playoffs, where anything can happen. If the big-money options on a stars and scrubs team produce at that level -- last year Moss and Williams could have been Roddy White and LeSean McCoy -- you can have a great season.
Another aspect of this type of team, as you can see, is most of the bench is made up of underwhelming dollar choices few would bid you up on. I feel there's genuine risk with a few of the starters on this team, starting at quarterback but including running back Chris Johnson, who is holding out, and the flex option might not catch 50 passes. When one builds a team this way, it's difficult to spend the extra dollar on your sleeper choices, and you tend to get caught with older players other teams don't want, such as Hines Ward and Thomas Jones. Plus, the only way to trade is to move one of your big-money items for depth, which leads to the question: Why didn't I do that in the first place? This team can certainly win, but it hasn't minimized risk or taken surprises -- also known as realism -- into consideration.
Overall opinion: A good, but not great, team.
Team 2: Balance and more balance
The "balanced" approach
Mike Wallace ($27) is the high-dollar guy, but he's one of seven players with values between $18 and $27. Dollar values in parentheses.
QB: Tony Romo, Cowboys ($18)
RB: Matt Forte, Bears ($26)
RB: Knowshon Moreno, Broncos ($21)
WR: Mike Wallace, Steelers ($27)
WR: Reggie Wayne, Colts ($25)
RB/WR: Miles Austin, Cowboys ($22)
TE: Dallas Clark, Colts ($18)
D/ST: Green Bay Packers ($3)
K: Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders ($1)
Bench: Joe Flacco, Ravens ($5)
Bench: Fred Jackson, Bills ($11)
Bench: Beanie Wells, Cardinals ($10)
Bench: Marion Barber, Bears ($1)
Bench: Steve Smith, Panthers ($8)
Bench: James Jones, Packers ($3)
Bench: Jerome Simpson, Bengals ($1)
This sure looks like a nice team, doesn't it? The starting lineup lacks true star power, with nobody one would confuse with a first-round pick in a draft. But sticking to the draft comparison, all the starters would be gone by the sixth round. It's certainly a deeper squad, and it can sustain an injury to pretty much any or two of those guys. While the starting lineup probably doesn't match up with the stars and scrubs approach most weeks, there's serious depth here. For instance, if Moreno doesn't quite work out in Denver this season, two other starting running backs -- fantasy flex options, really -- are lurking, and yes, they will cost double digits against your cap. If Forte has a problem, his handcuff choice is aboard. This team has planned a bit for catastrophe but runs a risk of simply not scoring enough points from time to time. Still, we know bad (and good) things will happen, and this team likely will use its depth, or can always package a running back and wide receiver for a major running back upgrade with the stars and scrubs team, if necessary!
Last season I set an imaginary limit on myself in football and baseball auctions -- say, $30 in each sport -- that I wouldn't top because I wanted to make sure I had reasonable depth. That worked out well most of the time; I never had to desperately check and recheck the waiver wire for options, even in bye weeks, but occasionally if a starter or two had a rough matchup, I'd be concerned my balanced team would simply get outscored.
Overall opinion: A better team than Team 3, but I can do better.
Team 1: Stars and balance
The "balanced stars" approach
Adrian Peterson ($61) anchors this team. Dollar values in parentheses.
QB: Matt Schaub, Texans ($14)
RB: Adrian Peterson, Vikings ($61)
RB: Steven Jackson, Rams ($32)
WR: Brandon Lloyd, Broncos ($18)
WR: Mike Williams, Buccaneers ($18)
RB/WR: Ryan Grant, Packers ($13)
TE: Jimmy Graham, Saints ($3)
D/ST: Philadelphia Eagles ($1)
K: Ryan Longwell, Vikings ($1)
Bench: Kevin Kolb, Cardinals ($3)
Bench: Shonn Greene, Jets ($12)
Bench: James Starks, Packers ($5)
Bench: Tim Hightower, Redskins ($5)
Bench: Wes Welker, Patriots ($12)
Bench: Mike Williams, Seahawks ($1)
Bench: Danny Amendola, Rams ($1)
This is a team that looks the most like a drafted team to me. It's OK to get fantasy's best player, in this case I believe Peterson, and still build properly around him with a few stars, taking into account injuries and changes that occur. I like having a decent bench, because things always happen, and this team has an upside guy or two, namely with the quarterback position, the Jets' RB Shonn Greene and one of Sam Bradford's potential top targets. This team can go in numerous directions with the flex spot, too, as I'm guessing Ryan Grant, Greene and Wes Welker -- perhaps Tim Hightower early in the season -- would be matchup plays. That's a tremendous situation to be in, having too many starter types. So what if you bench someone who goes off? At least your opponent doesn't get him!
Also, this is a team that mirrors some of the players I keep ending up with in drafts ... so in a way it's like a standard drafted team, but with a bit more depth and star power. For example, I keep passing on the top quarterbacks and ending up with Schaub. If you have the first pick, you're certainly not likely to get the Rams' Steven Jackson in Round 2 and still get two top-20 wide receivers and Welker, who isn't far from that. I generally pass on top tight ends until late, and if the other teams have their starting tight end, surely Jimmy Graham or Zach Miller won't be expensive. If a few of the fellows on the bench become better than their price/draft position, I'll be trading from a position of strength. Perfect!
Overall opinion: The best team.
I'll be away next week, returning the final week of August and well in advance of the season, but perhaps I'll find some time to participate in an auction draft or two. Try out different styles of filling a team and see which one you like best.