Mining For Value In Auctions - RBs
By Jeff Tefertiller
June 21st, 2010

Sold To the Highest Bidder

In the initial article to the series, we suggested that each owner entering an auction should ask themselves a series of questions in order to best chart a plan of action. For the Running Back position, the two questions were:

  • c. Do I want a top running back? Since the elite running backs rarely go for below the average values, an owner has to plan around either going all out and securing a top ball carrier or formulating a plan to compensate accordingly.
  • d. What depth backs do I think offer value compared to their Average Auction Values? Most fantasy owners have guys they like who will only cost $1 or $2 in the auction. It is important to identify these in order to achieve optimal roster distribution.
  • The answers to these two questions will help shape how we want to attack the auction. In every auction, the focus should be on getting the most total value for the team as a whole. We will offer suggestions and ideas on ways to address the Running Back position that can help maximize the total team value.

    For this series of articles, we will be using a $200 cap and a standard 12 team league that starts 1QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 DEF.

    The chart below gives us an indication as to how fantasy owners view the fantasy RB1 options. It includes Average Auction Values and Average Draft Position (ADP):

    #
    Running Back
    Avg $ Val
    % Of Cap
    ADP
    1
    Chris Johnson
    $49
    24.5%
    RB1
    2
    Adrian Peterson
    $48
    24.0%
    RB2
    3
    Maurice Jones-Drew
    $44
    22.0%
    RB3
    4
    Ray Rice
    $42
    21.0%
    RB4
    5
    Frank Gore
    $34
    17.0%
    RB5
    6
    Steven Jackson
    $31
    15.5%
    RB7
    7
    Michael Turner
    $28
    14.0%
    RB6
    8
    Rashard Mendenhall
    $27
    13.5%
    RB8
    9
    DeAngelo Williams
    $26
    13.0%
    RB9
    10
    Jonathan Stewart
    $25
    12.5%
    RB16
    11
    Ryan Mathews
    $24
    12.0%
    RB17
    12
    Shonn Greene
    $23
    11.5%
    RB11
    13
    Chris Wells
    $23
    11.5%
    RB14
    14
    Jamaal Charles
    $22
    11.0%
    RB13
    15
    Knowshon Moreno
    $21
    10.5%
    RB15
    16
    LeSean McCoy
    $20
    10.0%
    RB19
    17
    Jahvid Best
    $19
    9.5%
    RB25
    18
    Ryan Grant
    $19
    9.5%
    RB12
    19
    Cedric Benson
    $18
    9.0%
    RB10

    The top four ball carriers are in a class of their own. If you want a stud running back, expect the cost to be more than 20% of your cap. All four have a VBD higher than the average auction price and are worth this money if an owner can structure the rest of the auction the reduced amount at the other positions. This is one of the reasons we offered strategies in the last article as to saving money at the Quarterback position. Most fantasy owners would prefer to have strong running backs over a top shelf passer.

    This year is like any other, there are only a few running backs worthy of the money spent to be a RB1. I would suggest that only the top four (Johnson, Peterson, Jones-Drew, and Rice), along with Gore and Turner should be thought of as anchors at the running back position. It is best to let someone else bid up Steven Jackson, with his injury history lack of big years. Jackson is not better of an option than those costing less.

    The decision to target a top running back is a big one. Your answer will affect the rest of your auction. The top running backs are the most expensive players in the auction. There are ways to have a great group of running backs no matter which strategy you choose. Below are three ways to attack the position during the auction. Each of these will give your team a good running back group.

    Strategies

    Balance with stud running back: Chris Johnson ($49), Cedric Benson ($18), Justin Forsett ($5), Tim Hightower ($4), Javon Ringer ($1) and adding a couple of other $1 backs to fill out the roster. This would be using between 35-40% of the cap. If you are going to spend the money to get an elite ball carrier, Johnson is the guy. While he does carry injury risk, along with the worry of a prolonged holdout, he is a better value than the other three elite runners. Benson is a steal at $18. In fantasy drafts, he is selected as the tenth back off the board. This is because, when healthy, he is sure to get his share of carries. Forsett and Hightower provide depth and are decent options to cover bye weeks. Ringer makes great insurance for Johnson. If an owner went the ultra cheap route at Quarterback, there would possibly be money left for another depth back like Fred Jackson or Ricky Williams.

    Balance with great depth: It is difficult to have too much depth at the Running Back position. Injuries strike the ball carriers more than any other position. Add in the fact that there are a decreasing number of true primary backs, and it is easy to see how managing depth at Running Back is a huge key for success. An owner can spend less than the scenario above and have great depth. Spending less at Quarterback and Running Back would allow an owner to employ a "Stud WR theory" team, loading up on the premier pass catchers. Michael Turner ($28), Ryan Grant ($19), Cedric Benson ($18), Tim Hightower ($4), and a couple of $1 backs would yield great production and depth at the position. Turner is only one year removed from his huge year. He is back healthy and poised for a big season. Grant and Benson are primary ball carriers for their respective teams and will produce good fantasy points most every week. Hightower could have another good year. He finished last season as a fantasy RB2 at a reduced price because fantasy owners were too focused on Beanie Wells. This could be the case once again. At the minimum, he makes a good bye week fill in. This team would actually cost a few dollars less than the one above. Adding a running back like Michael Bush is also a good play with the balanced strategy. He offers great value for just $5. Other strategies to consider with this approach include taking both members of an underrated backfield. The Dolphins (Ronnie Brown $11 and Ricky Williams $5), the Giants (Brandon Jacobs $8 and Ahmad Bradshaw $6), the Cowboys (Marion Barber $8 and Felix Jones $17), and the Saints (Pierre Thomas $14 and Reggie Bush $10) offer great upside and are proven producers. Both of the Dolphin backs finished high in the fantasy rankings last year. Each of the Giant ball carriers are coming off injury but buying the pair ensures getting a fantasy starter most weeks. The Cowboys and Saints are passing teams who like to run the football. The offenses of both teams enable their backs to be fantasy factors. Utilizing a pair of rushers from the same team as a fantasy RB2 or RB3 is a good strategy. In auctions, it is best to get the most expensive of the pair first if possible.

    Studs and Duds at the position: Chris Johnson ($49), Michael Turner ($28), Tim Hightower ($4), Javon Ringer ($1) and few other $1 players. Yes, this is over 40% of the cap, but could yield top production to the owner. Substituting DeAngelo Williams for Turner would also be a decent option. One strategy to think about is targeting a committee for the RB2 position. This can provide insurance in case of injury. Combinations like the Cardinals (Beanie Wells $22 and Tim Hightower $4), the Jets (Shonn Greene $23 and LaDainian Tomlinson $3), the Chiefs (Jamaal Charles $22 and Thomas Jones $4), and the Colts (Joseph Addai $15 and Donald Brown $11) are good solutions for a fantasy RB2.

    Below are some of the options for the second and third fantasy running back position:

    #
    Running Back
    Avg $ Val
    % Of Cap
    ADP
    20
    C.J. Spiller
    $17
    8.5%
    RB29
    21
    Felix Jones
    $17
    8.5%
    RB23
    22
    Matt Forte
    $16
    8.0%
    RB22
    23
    Joseph Addai
    $15
    7.5%
    RB20
    24
    Pierre Thomas
    $14
    7.0%
    RB18
    25
    Ben Tate
    $12
    6.0%
    RB37
    26
    Ronnie Brown
    $11
    5.5%
    RB21
    27
    Donald Brown
    $11
    5.5%
    RB39
    28
    Reggie Bush
    $10
    5.0%
    RB28
    29
    Montario Hardesty
    $8
    4.0%
    RB44
    30
    Brandon Jacobs
    $8
    4.0%
    RB24
    31
    Marion Barber
    $8
    4.0%
    RB26
    32
    Darren McFadden
    $7
    3.5%
    RB35
    33
    Ahmad Bradshaw
    $6
    3.0%
    RB33
    34
    Jerome Harrison
    $6
    3.0%
    RB30
    35
    Fred Jackson
    $6
    3.0%
    RB32
    36
    Darren Sproles
    $6
    3.0%
    RB42
    37
    Steve Slaton
    $6
    3.0%
    RB43
    38
    Michael Bush
    $5
    2.5%
    RB40
    39
    Ricky Williams
    $5
    2.5%
    RB27
    40
    Marshawn Lynch
    $5
    2.5%
    RB53
    41
    Justin Forsett
    $5
    2.5%
    RB41
    42
    Tim Hightower
    $4
    2.0%
    RBR46

    There are a few of these players that stick out. It is interesting how drafters value Pierre Thomas, Ronnie Brown, Brandon Jacobs, and Ricky Williams higher than auction owners. The rookie backs look to be overvalued compared to some of the other alternatives. Acquiring both of the Raider backs is a good plan for the RB3 or RB4 position. Also, Forsett makes a great value play. For those worried about a potential Lynch trade to Seattle can always try to get the disgruntled Buffalo ball carrier on the cheap. Fred Jackson and Hightower are proven commodities who are left for dead, but each could surprise at such a small portion of the total cap.

    The answer to the second question above is an important one. There are cheap running backs that emerge every year. Here are the inexpensive running backs. We will look at how best to address the bottom of the roster running backs below.

    #
    Running Back
    Avg $ Val
    % Of Cap
    ADP
    43
    Thomas Jones
    $4
    2.0%
    RB34
    44
    Tashard Choice
    $4
    2.0%
    RB56
    45
    Laurence Maroney
    $4
    2.0%
    RB45
    46
    LaDainian Tomlinson
    $3
    1.5%
    RB38
    47
    Cadillac Williams
    $3
    1.5%
    RB31
    48
    LenDale White
    $3
    1.5%
    RB62
    49
    Chester Taylor
    $3
    1.5%
    RB47
    50
    Jonathan Dwyer
    $3
    1.5%
    RB60
    51
    Toby Gerhart
    $3
    1.5%
    RB52
    52
    Kevin Smith
    $3
    1.5%
    RB49
    53
    Clinton Portis
    $3
    1.5%
    RB36
    54
    Arian Foster
    $2
    1.0%
    RB55
    55
    James Starks
    $2
    1.0%
    RB66
    56
    Willis McGahee
    $2
    1.0%
    RB48
    57
    Joe McKnight
    $2
    1.0%
    RB73
    58
    Derrick Ward
    $2
    1.0%
    RB59
    59
    Leon Washington
    $1
    0.5%
    RB50
    60
    Julius Jones
    $1
    0.5%
    RB63
    61
    Anthony Dixon
    $1
    0.5%
    RB68
    62
    James Davis
    $1
    0.5%
    RB82
    63
    Bernard Scott
    $1
    0.5%
    RB65
    64
    Charles Scott
    $1
    0.5%
    RB81
    65
    Larry Johnson
    $1
    0.5%
    RB51
    66
    Le'Ron McClain
    $1
    0.5%
    n/a
    67
    Mewelde Moore
    $1
    0.5%
    n/a
    68
    Deji Karim
    $1
    0.5%
    n/a
    69
    Mike Bell
    $1
    0.5%
    RB57
    70
    Rashad Jennings
    $1
    0.5%
    n/a
    71
    Jason Snelling
    $1
    0.5%
    RB71
    72
    Brandon Jackson
    $1
    0.5%
    n/a
    73
    Javon Ringer
    $1
    0.5%
    RB61
    74
    Jerious Norwood
    $1
    0.5%
    RB69
    75
    LeGarrette Blount
    $1
    0.5%
    RB77

    With these inexpensive players, we want to look at ones that serve one of three purposes: handcuff to a rostered stud, viable spot starter to cover bye week or injury, or have great upside if given the opportunity. There are several listed that are the primary backup to a stud ball carrier. It does seem odd that a spot starter can be had for so little. Ball carriers like Cadillac Williams, Chester Taylor, and Clinton Portis could all be decent options for the bottom of the bench. But, what most auction owners are seeking are players who cost very little that could provide a big pop to the starting lineup if something were to happen. Thomas Jones (if injury to Jamaal Charles), Tashard Choice (if injury to either Felix Jones or Marion Barber), Jonathan Dwyer (if injury to Rashard Mendenhall), Arian Foster (who might hold onto the starting tailback job), Bernard Scott (if injury to Cedric Benson), and Ringer (injury to or holdout of Chris Johnson) all could be very good fantasy options for very little expense.

    As stated in the introductory article to the series, fantasy owners must formulate a plan ahead of time. There are good value options at the Running Back position. The key is to come into the auction with a strategy as to how you want to apportion the cap dollars.

    Please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any questions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there.