Draft Approaches Vol I: Studs & Duds in an Auction Draft

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Like your typical redraft or dynasty league, there are a multitude of ways to build a campus to canton roster. In fact, because there are two complete rosters of players, there are even more possibilities. This series will look at some different approaches, both popular and unpopular, along with helpful tricks and hints to help you make difficult decisions when you’re on the clock, or in your auction.

AUCTION DRAFTS

Campus to Canton drafts lend themselves to auction, for two reasons. First, because there are a variety of roster building strategies managers can employ. Second, because values fluctuate so much between managers, everyone can typically build a roster that they are happy with to start things off. Additionally, there are so many schools with potent offenses in college that I can snag a few devy guys that I really like at the top and still compete if I correctly identify those high-scorers from small schools. With that in mind, when approaching an auction C2C draft my favorite approach looks like the following:

STUDS AND DUDS IT UP

I am a huge proponent of Studs and Duds in an auction setting. For those of you that are not aware, in this scenario the drafting manager spends the large majority of his initial budget on just a few top players. In Superflex leagues, this typically means grabbing at least one of the top QBs, a top running back, and then a few more high end players. 

I have found that “high-end players” can mean different things to different people. For me that means young, proven players that still possess upside that hasn’t truly been baked into their value. A few examples that I targeted in auctions this past offseason include Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, Tyler Boyd, and AJ Brown at WR, Jonnu Smith and Fant at TE, and Joe Mixon or Kareem Hunt at RB.

I will acknowledge up front that here is some risk with this strategy. Owners can end up with Randall Cobb or Keelan Cole as their upside picks, leaving the roster bare below one or two top players. For these reasons, many inexperienced fantasy managers, or those that have never done an auction before, prefer to balance out their budget.

SO HOW DO I DO THIS IN A C2C?

By now, experienced fantasy managers are probably wondering why we are walking them through a basic strategy employed by thousands of people each draft season. While many may be familiar with the concept in an NFL draft, a college draft introduces many more variables that can confuse even the most seasoned dynasty veteran. So how exactly should a draft like this look?

If you opt to use a studs and duds strategy on both the college and nfl side of your draft, the easiest way to maximize your auction budget is to focus on upperclassmen (juniors and seniors) in the college draft. These are players that should carry significantly less risk than incoming freshmen because they have established their roles in their respective offenses. They can also shift up to your NFL team quicker, filling any holes that you created during your start-up. 

QUARTERBACK
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Since the college draft typically occurs first, I find myself snagging one of the top devy quarterback prospects with a large portion of my budget. Guys that I think would currently fall under this description include Spencer Rattler, Sam Howell, and DJ Uiagalelei. I think all of these players have moderately projectable draft capital and have already shown the traits necessary to succeed in the NFL.

There is an obvious tier break after these players that then includes Dillon Gabriel, Bryce Young, and Graham Mertz, among others. I AVOID this tier of player at cost because they aren’t necessarily likely to get great draft capital in the NFL or still have a lot of projection to the next level. They are nice players, but 3-5 guys at this level emerge each season and end up fading. Think Brock Purdy, Shea Patterson, JT Daniels, etc. We can speculate on QBs in freshman drafts moving forward. For right now, grab the top guy and be happy you’ve secured that piece.

Quarterback is the one position that I don’t necessarily care if they are coming out immediately, just that they are an obvious top devy prospect. The nice thing about the top collegiate QBs is that they usually put up a nice chunk of points each week on that side as well. The other nice things about the QB position in college is that there are a ton of G5 schools that run pass-happy offenses. You can find the remainder of your points for cheap (Asher O’Hara, Zac Thomas, Shane Buechele are all great examples from this past season). Snag a couple of these guys and you may get a guy that breaks out. Budget %: 25-30% for the top guy, if necessary. No more than 3-5% on the rest

RUNNING BACK
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Running backs don’t matter! Or at least, that is the current mantra for fantasy managers. I generally agree with this, although there are some exceptions for fantasy purposes. Because of their shorter shelf life, I won’t spend a ton of money on multiple top backs. Instead, I’ll snag a bunch of incoming freshmen or sophomores that sat the previous year. These players tend to be amazing values. 

I go about this in two separate ways. First, the incoming freshmen. In startups, freshman prices tend to either be crazy values or overrated because of recruiting hype. If I notice the latter happening, I may pivot elsewhere. If it is the former, I am scooping up a couple of these high end running backs. Unless there’s an otherworldly talent, I am taking guys that are 4-star or higher that should have the ability to contribute quickly. These players gain value quicker and I find there is less risk in figuring out the guy at Stanford than sifting through the talent at a school like Bama.*

*Side note: That is not to say there is no value in taking Alabama backs. If you guess which back will emerge correctly, you often get a top-end player. But the value on their backs is sky-high as freshmen, and the money can be better spent elsewhere. The real value in those backs is if in their second year if they still are not getting a ton of playing time. With the new transfer rules, this may not apply as much, but this is currently the way I approach crowded recruiting situations.

After I grab my freshmen (or shift away because the value is not there), I am looking for sophomores that haven’t broken out yet. Managers often forget about last year’s shiny new toys if they don’t immediately break out. This past year, players like Austin Jones (Stanford), Tyler Goodson (Iowa), or Kyren Williams were screaming buys and great values in startups. In fact, of the two startups I did last offseason, Williams was selected in neither despite his status as a 4-star. Budget %: ~20% for a top upperclassman of your choice. Spend roughly 15% on 3-4 other guys that you feel are sleepers

WIDE RECEIVER
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Wide receiver is where I typically try to grab multiple top players. I find them to be more projectable to the NFL than other positions and they often hold their value long-term. Unlike QB/RB, there are also multiple that can be viable options on teams, making it easier to project points in college and the NFL. Unlike RB and QB, however, I am not solely focused on getting one of those very top guys, simply due to the quantity of wide receivers that seem to come out of college these days as good prospects. Bonus points if you can snag a guy that is tethered to a good QB for at least the following year. Double bonus if it projects to be a strong offense moving forward.

One thing to pay attention to with WRs is vacated production. It sounds simple, but there are many college programs outside of the top few teams that basically have a hierarchy within their position groups. They have a WR or two that produce, and once they graduate they plug the next guy in line directly into that system and they produce at a similar level.

Arkansas State is a great example of this. In 2019, Omar Bayless was the alpha receiver, finishing with 93 receptions for 1653 yards and 17 touchdowns. Once he graduated, it was obvious that Jonathan Adams Jr. would step into that space. Adams finished with 79/1111/12 in 10 games in 2020. With Adams leaving this year, Corey Rucker may be the next guy in line. Identifying the teams that follow these trends can unearth sleepers ahead of time and save you some value in acquiring these players later on. Budget %: 3-4 guys I like totaling 20% or so. Beyond that, I’m fine stashing cheap players in strong offenses and hoping they breakout for ~5%

TIGHT END

I am not spending any money on TE unless there is a top guy I can get for cheap, and in that case I’ll likely eat into my WR budget to do so. For TEs, it is all about athletic upside. I want guys that can move well for their size because they can create mismatches in the NFL. Budget %: Less than 5%

SAMPLE DRAFT FOLLOWING THESE PRINCIPLES

All of this is great in theory, but it is easier said than done. What should a sample team look like at the end of an auction start-up? Here is an outcome that I think is realistic as we prepare for 2021 drafts (all %’s are rough estimates):

  • QB: Spencer Rattler (25-30%), Brennan Armstrong (2%), KJ Jefferson (<1%), Cornelius Brown (<1%), Evan Prater (<1%), Re-al Mitchell (<1%), Mason Garcia (<1%), Anthony Richardson (<1%) 30-35% Total
  • RB: Breece Hall (15-20%), EJ Smith (3%), Ashaad Clayton (3%), Sean Tucker (1-2%), Israel Abanikanda (1-2%), Terion Stewart (<1%), Lew Nichols (<1%), Trevion Cooley (1% – freshman), Devin Neal (1% – freshman) 25-30% Total
  • WR: Treylon Burks (12-15%), Jordan Addison (5-7%), Donavon Greene (3-5%), Josh Downs (3-5%), LV Bunkley-Shelton (3%), Ahmarean Brown (2-3%), Roman Wilson (<1%), Corey Rucker (<1%), Tyler Snead (<1%) 30-35% Total
  • TE: Maliq Carr (2%), Mark Redman (<1%), Luke Lachey (<1%), Matthew Hibner (<1%) Less than 5% Total

This is the core of a team that has all of the components we discussed above. A strong QB prospect in Rattler, a single top-end RB prospect in Hall, some forgotten 2020 RB prospects in Smith & Tucker, a top WR in Burks along with several dynamic receivers behind him, and some athletic upside TEs. Rosters on the college side tend to be 45 or so spots by default, so this is roughly 30 players that can be built around, including adding $1 players at the end of the draft or through waivers once the draft is over. This team should be able to compete with some work in FA on the college side, while providing some help for the NFL side in the future.

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