In the last few years, there’s been a big increase in auction-style fantasy drafts. The format has a lot of merits. It’s exciting, because you don’t have to wait half an hour between your picks. And everybody has an equal chance to draft any given player if they’re willing to pay the price.
The risk of an auction, though, is that you get carried away by your emotions and end up spending way too much on a single player you love. I can’t count how many bidding wars I’ve seen in drafts, when the bidding stops being about the objective value of the player being auctioned, and instead becomes a power struggle between two owners. I’ve been part of these bidding wars myself, and I can tell you first hand that they don’t end well for a guy who ends up holding the bag, and has to buy Doug Martin for $72 on a $200 budget. Whoops.
One thing that helps me take my emotion out of the game is to assemble a list of cheaply valued players before the draft, which I think are bargains at their going rate. This way, when a hyped-heavy player I really want is being bid up beyond what’s reasonable, I can look at my list and see that there are plenty of other, cheaper, almost-as-good fish in the sea.
I’ve put one of these bargain lists together this year, and I’m going to share it here now.
Note: Valuations are based on the auction value FFToolbox's cheatsheets, available for your review and use here. Prices reflect a 12-team league with a $200 draft budget.
Tom Brady ($15)
Look, he had one fairly bad year. Now all of a sudden everybody discounts him as a top ten quarterback. I think that’s a mistake. The way I see it, we saw Tom Brady’s floor last season. It will get better. Gronk’s coming back, Julian Edelman is Wes Welker 2.0, and Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins have a year of experience under their belt. There are weapons in the arsenal for Brady this year. I believe he has every chance to get back to top five QB status, and can be bought for less than Matt Stafford and RGIII. Sign me up.
Tony Romo ($10)
I’ll admit it – I’ve fallen victim to the irrational hatred that’s kept Romo’s stock so low in fantasy for the last few years. The dude’s just… goofy. He doesn’t look like a stud quarterback. He’s played badly in some huge games (the internet will never, ever forget this.) But guess what? None of that affects his fantasy value. He’s playing in a Scott Linehan system this year, and he’s still throwing to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. He costs half as much as Cam Newton, but he’ll give you a lot more than half the stats.
Andy Dalton ($8)
See above. Dalton was made to look pretty cheesy on “Hard Knocks” last year with his rubber wedding ring and his couples' Pilates workouts. And there’s no doubt that he blew the Bengals playoffs bid, with three turnovers in their Wild Card game against the Chargers. But Dalton finished fifth among QBs in fantasy points in 2013. He was two points behind Andrew Luck and five behind Cam Newton. Dalton’s perceived value has taken a beating for the way his season ended, but if you can get the bad taste out of your mouth, he’s a good buy for eight bucks.
Alfred Morris ($17)
Morris isn’t one of the best bargains on this list, but I do think he’s been lost in the shuffle this offseason. It’s hard to say the shift to a power scheme from a zone scheme in Washington is going to help Morris. But he’s still by far the most talented back on the team, and he’ll still get carries. And he’s been durable so far, which is a valuable quality in a fantasy back. If you can get him for $17 in your draft, don’t think twice.
Christine Michael ($12)
This one isn’t totally fair, since auction values haven’t had time to adjust to the news that Marshawn Lynch is holding out for a new contract – one it seems he’s unlikely to get anytime soon. But if your league is drafting very early this year, snag Christine Michael at this price as fast as you can. He’s a talented backup, and the longer Lynch is away from camp, the more Michael will factor into the Seahawks offense. Even if Lynch is back with the team for the start of the season, Michael will see reps, and hold value as a handcuff.
Frank Gore & Carlos Hyde ($8 / $9)
I love the idea of taking both these guys in drafts this year. I think that if you have these two, you own the 49ers backfield. Gore is on the decline without a doubt, but that doesn’t mean he won’t churn out one more 1,000-yard season. And if he is indeed done with his days as an elite runner, as many suspect, Hyde is the best candidate to replace him. Hyde was thought by a lot of scouts to be the best RB in the draft. And if he gets reps in the 49ers powerful running game, he’ll be one of the best rookies in 2014.
Joique Bell ($8)
Bell is my favorite RB sleeper candidate this year. He very quietly had almost 1,200 yards from scrimmage last year in Detroit. He and Reggie Bush are complementary threats, so they both have value in this offense. And if Bush is injured, as he often has been, Bell could end up as an RB1 for the fantasy season. For eight dollars, you can’t go wrong with Bell.
Steven Jackson ($5)
Jackson didn’t get a totally fair shake his first year in Atlanta. He missed six games to injury. And with Julio Jones out, the whole offense had a down year, as the passing game struggled and opposing teams were able to stack the box with defenders. There won’t be a return to the glory days for Jackson, but he should have dependable value as a flex play this year, and that’s easily worth the price being asked at auctions now.
Michael Crabtree ($16)
Crabtree recovered from a torn Achilles to make it back to the starting lineup for the last five games of 2013, and once he shook the dust off, he was solid. In particular, his first-round playoff effort against the Packers stood out, in which he caught eight balls for 125 yards, showing fantastic chemistry with QB Colin Kaepernick. Don’t sell the farm to get him, but if he stays healthy, Crabtree is a 1,000-yard receiver with upside for more.
DeSean Jackson ($13)
DeSean Jackson was a top ten WR last year. He’s currently being valued outside the top 25. He’s changed teams, but I think that’s a good thing for Jackson. New Redskins head coach Jay Gruden loves to throw deep, and that’s where Jackson excels. And there will be three or four games this year when Jackson will explode and win your week for you. He has WR1 potential, and he’s a much better pick at this price point than higher-ranked receivers like DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans and Victor Cruz.
Roddy White ($12)
Julio Jones. That’s what was missing for Roddy White last year. White doesn’t have the ability to consistently beat top-level coverage. But when defenses are distracted by the threat posed by Jones, White flourishes. Julio’s returning to the Falcons this year, apparently healthy, and White should get close to his 2012 form, in which year he took 92 catches for 1,351 yards. He’s a solid WR2, but he’s not being drafted as such. Pounce if you can.
Julian Edelman ($8)
Julian Edelman is the new Wes Welker. He’s not physically imposing, but he’s fast and runs excellent routes, and Tom Brady loves him. He caught 105 balls last year, fourth among all wide receivers. He’s not an elite deep threat, but that doesn’t matter. He posts yardage. The Patriots were confident and committed enough to give him a new $19 million contract this offseason. Edelman is a WR2, and worth more at auction than guys like Devin Hester and Kendall Wright, who are currently fetching higher prices. At $8, Edelman’s one of the biggest bargains on this list.
Reggie Wayne ($6)
What have you done for me lately? That’s the question that’s keeping Reggie Wayne’s value down, after he missed the majority of 2013 with a blown knee. Which, by the way, was the first time he missed games since his rookie year in 2001. Coming off an injury, he should be discounted. But, $6?! Seriously? If he’s able to come back and produce anywhere close to what he averaged over the last five seasons, he’s a bargain at twice this price. Get him cheap while you can.
From left to right: Zach Ertz, Dwayne Allen & Levine Toilolo
Zach Ertz ($7)
Ertz is everybody’s TE sleeper this year, which, of course, means he isn’t really a sleeper. But Ertz is a good candidate to be this year’s Julius Thomas, as a developing red-zone threat playing in a high-powered Eagles offense, and one that will be searching for new receiving options following WR DeSean Jackson’s departure. I’m not convinced he’s a great bargain at much more than $7, but you’re paying for potential here. And given the scarcity at TE, he could end up being well worth your investment.
Dwayne Allen ($3)
Here’s another player coming off injury – see a trend yet? Allen is a big target with soft hands, and he’s an excellent blocker, so he’ll stay on the field. He’ll have to contend with fellow Colts TE Coby Fleener for targets, but I believe that’s a battle Allen will win. If you’re going to spend a roster spot on a second tight end, this is a good guy to use it on.
Levine Toilolo ($1)
It does not get any cheaper than this. And that’s with good reason, as Toilolo gave fantasy owners very little to get excited about during his rookie year, catching just 11 balls. But two of those catches were for touchdowns. And Tony Gonzalez doesn’t play for the Falcons anymore, either, leaving the top TE roster spot vacant. Like Allen, he’ll need to beat out some competition (Bear Pascoe) to get playing time. But Toilolo holds such potential in his 6-foot-8, 265-pound frame that it’s worth taking a $1 flyer on him.