Auction Draft Strategy: Running Back Attack
June 5, 2014 | Jeff
Before we dive into the details of this particular piece of fantasy football strategery, I would first like to reiterate my favorite piece of fake football advice: Make sure you are in at least one auction league each year. Auction drafts are infinitely more fun, fair, and rewarding than antiquated “snake drafts” and the layers of strategy involved in an auction are enough to keep your brain tinkering all summer long while constructing draft blue prints. Once you try an auction draft, you will shudder at even the mention of snake drafts.
Now that you have officially promised to partake in the wonder of auction drafts this season (the fake football fairy is watching), let’s jump into a small piece of strategy as we approach the long summer months of fantasy football draft preparation. Prior to draft day, most folks tend to sketch out a budget in terms of how much money to spend on each position. Depending on league size and scoring settings, heading into an auction with a shopping list and budget is essential to your success.
Today, we will cover the running back position and a few targets that will provide fantasy teams with ample points and mountains of upside, all for a reasonable draft day price. While this sounds like an infomercial playing at 3:00 a.m., this tactic is definitely worth a shot, even though it doesn’t come with a free ShamWow. The criteria for this strategy is as follows:
1) A starting running back target must be of at least RB2 quality. Oakland and Carolina backs need not apply.
2) The starting running back must have a well defined backup serving as a “handcuff” to the starter. Backs like Toby Gerhart and Frank Gore don’t qualify, as their backfields lack clearly defined roles at this point in the offseason.
3) The handcuff back(s) must possess high ceilings in terms of fantasy production if thrust into the starting role. This rules out Bishop Sankey/Shonn Greene, Le’Veon Bell/LeGarrette Blount, etc…
4) The starting running back must fall in a middle priced tier. This approach wouldn’t be cost effective if we started by purchasing Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles.
With this brief set of guidelines established, there are two NFL backfields that immediately caught my eye. Purchasing these backs on the auction block will provide your fantasy team with solid production at the running back position while also affording security, and most importantly, plenty of leftover dough for buying top flight wide receivers.
Steven Jackson and Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta backfield is in for a massive improvement in 2014 and it has more to do with the 2014 NFL Draft than Steven Jackson. Our old pal Steven was banged up in 2013 and failed to deliver the heaping piles of potential touchdowns that lit up the eyes of fake footballers last summer. He managed only 542 rushing yards on 156 carries (3.5 yards per rush) while playing parts of twelve games. So, why are we targeting this backfield? The answer is Devonta Freeman. The Falcons snagged Freeman with the 103rd pick in this year’s NFL Draft and Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff has already declared Freeman to be ready to handle a big workload, stating, “He’s a versatile back. He has the ability to tote the rock as a lead back. He’s a strong guy. He runs with some authority and some anger to his running style. He can catch the ball well.” When Jackson goes down with his annual injury, Freeman should be able to step in and produce.
Now, when Steven Jackson gets nominated in an auction draft, eyes will likely roll as the idea of Steven Jackson staying healthy for 16 games is as likely as you actually finishing a P90x workout. That will likely leave Jackson at a reasonable draft day price, which makes this plan foolproof. Next, be sure to purchase Devonta Freeman to go along with your newly acquired Steven Jackson. This will give you a monopoly on the Atlanta backfield. Don’t be scared off by leaguemates bidding you up if you bought Jackson first, and nominating Freeman before Jackson is an even more savvy maneuver.
The point here is that by rostering both backs, you will have a high percentage chance at a starter each week of the NFL season. The reason that the Atlanta running attack was so putrid in 2013 wasn’t that Jackson was hurt. It was due to the ineffectiveness of the Falcons offense as a whole, and the fact that backups Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling simply are not very good. Both of those problems will be remedied by the renewed health of Julio Jones and Roddy White, and the presence of Freeman. Reasonable price? Check. Clear handcuff? Check. High ceiling? You bet.
Ben Tate and Terrance West / Isaiah Crowell
Another great auction opportunity comes from the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have been the center of plenty of offseason news in recent weeks, the most notable for fantasy owners being that the Cleveland Plain Dealer expects the Browns to be running the football at a high clip in 2014. I covered this news briefly in our latest News and Notes piece, but with a rookie quarterback under center and top receiving weapon Josh Gordon unavailable this season after spending too much time with Pink and Slater at the Emporium, this is a prognostication that will likely ring true. With a high volume of carries to be had, wrangling up Ben Tate and his new rookie pals will be an intelligent strategy to put to use this summer.
As the lead back in Cleveland, Ben Tate meets our criteria of being a “RB2” type back who will come at a reasonable price at auction. We currently have Tate ranked 15th in our preseason ranks, and his injury history and lack of experience as a lead back will keep him from ascending much higher in drafts as Week 1 approaches. With Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, and Andrew Hawkins headlining the receiving crew in Cleveland, the Browns and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will be feeding Tate all the carries he can handle. Remember, this is the same Kyle Shanahan that oversaw Alfred Morris’ 2,885 total rushing yards over the last two seasons and Tate could easily crack 1,200 yards this season in similar fashion.
The only issue with cornering the Cleveland backfield is that Tate’s backfield handcuff is a little unclear at the moment, but this should be worked out by the time drafts roll around. Leftover backs Chris Ogbonnaya and Dion Lewis are likely out of the picture with so much invested in Tate, a new free agency acquisition, and rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. If I was a betting man, and I most certainly am, I would be placing my hard earned Pesos on Terrance West as Tate’s handcuff. As our dynasty experts Chad Scott and Rich Hribar have pointed out on the Faked Goods Dynasty Podcast, the “draft capital” that Cleveland invested in Terrance West as the 94th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft far outweighs their investment in undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell. Crowell is certainly talented but West is the best bet for backup duties behind Ben Tate.
As we outlined with Steven Jackson, purchasing both Tate and West is the best bet to lock up a weekly fantasy starter in an extremely run heavy offense. If you are feeling extra saucy, Crowell could even be had as a cheap flier when the auction is winding down and your leaguemates are scraping the bottom of the guacamole bowl.
Equipped with two backfields worth of backs, you will be fully loaded with not only promising veteran running backs, but high upside handcuffs in the case of injury. With extra draft dollars leftover in your wallet and a shopping cart full of running backs, feel free to treat yourself to some high-end wide receivers. A 2014 Dez Bryant pairs nicely with a Demaryius Thomas, and would round out a championship fantasy football palate very nicely.