2021 Auction Draft Plan


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2021 Auction Draft Plan

Auctions (also known as salary-cap leagues) are my favorite way to draft, without any shadow of a doubt. There is constant action, with strategies changing on the fly. You have to pay close attention to the league around you — what other players are doing absolutely affects the way you should play. Most of all, you have to come in with a plan. That’s why I’m here to help.

Planning for an auction is a lot less precise, though — in snake drafts, Average Draft Position (ADP) gives us a reasonable, if not bullseye accurate, range where we can expect players to be drafted. That allows us to come into drafts with more specific plans than we can probably carry into an auction. After all, in an auction, you theoretically have a chance at every player. If you draw the #8 pick in your snake draft, you know you’re not getting Christian McCaffrey. But in an auction, it doesn’t matter what nomination slot you get.

That’s what makes them so much fun to do. You’re going to end up with some wild roster constructions in auctions, with some teams balanced from top-to-bottom, others loaded up at one position but not another, and yet other teams going with massive “stars and scrubs” approaches.

Because there’s no real way to predict what the other players in your auction draft are going to do, I want this to read like my thought process when I’m going through an auction draft, which is the format I use for two of my biggest leagues of the year with my friends. I’ve had good success in those leagues, and I think my plan is a pretty simple, common-sense one. This article will be an update on my 2020 Auction Draft Plan, with strategies specific to the 2021 season, and others adapted from past years.

For the purposes of this Auction Draft Plan, let’s assume a 12-team league with a PPR scoring system, with 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 R/W/T FLEX, 1 PK, and 1 D/ST starting. The budget we’re working with is the standard $200. Obviously, drastically different starting lineups or league size will dictate different strategies (for instance, leagues that require 3 WR to start), but I thought this was the most balanced starting lineup approach to take in breaking down my plan, and it’s the format I use in my longest-running auction league (though we eliminated kickers years ago).

Before getting to Draft Day itself, let’s get into a few universal tips every auction drafter should know as they prep.

Pre-Draft Pointers

Tiers, Tiers, Tiers

I think “Tiers” drafting — grouping similarly ranked players together as opposed to following a strict, rigid set of numerical rankings — is a good strategy to take in even a snake draft. One thing that fantasy players should pound into their heads is that, just because one player is ranked at RB7 and one player is ranked at RB8, doesn’t mean there’s a drastic difference between the two. Say you’re in 10 drafts and are given the same exact choice in every one. Sure, you’re drafting Tyreek Hill over CeeDee Lamb 10 times out of 10 if given the choice. But what about Allen Robinson vs. Lamb? Is it 7 to 3? 6 to 4? 5 to 5? That’s because Robinson and Lamb are similarly tiered on your draft sheet.

In auctions, since you have a shot to draft any player you want, tiering them is the most important thing you can do before your draft. That’s why we “tier” our Auction Cheat Sheet, though you could have some disagreements with us and might want to make adjustments (you might want to make narrower tiers, for instance).

Say AJ Brown went for $10 more than you thought he would, even though he was a target. See if you can get Keenan Allen or Terry McLaurin for a price more in line with what you thought.

It’s extremely important to keep in mind which tier you must get a player from. You’ve perhaps internally decided the Tier 1 RBs are too expensive, and that’s fine. But maybe you also decided to make your plan work, you need two Tier 2 RBs. It’s important to bid smartly but aggressively on player tiers you need to attack.

Also, do not assume the people in your league are dumb and that you’ll be able to get away with constant values. The average fantasy player has become much smarter, and one thing I’ve noticed in every auction I’ve ever done is that the “last” player available in a perceived tier gets priced up. For instance, even though Joe Mixon might be well behind Aaron Jones on your personal rankings, if everyone in the league perceives him as being the final player available in a certain tier, don’t be shocked if he goes for more money than the players taken before him.

That’s why I try to get players in my targeted tiers — at least at RB and WR — while there are still players left in that tier. Getting constantly caught bidding at the back end of a tier is a great way to run out of money quickly and to be “drafting from behind,” not to mention constantly drafting the last player in a tier might naturally result in a worse team — paying a premium for an inferior product.

When it comes to nominations, I don’t always nominate a player I want. Let’s say I’ve already drafted a top-tier RB and don’t want to double dip, and I attacked the middle of the tier as I suggested above. If I see one player left in that tier — Austin Ekeler, for instance — I love throwing the chum into the waters and watching the sharks swarm. It creates action where I don’t need to exert energy, gets rid of money and competition for players I do want at other positions or tiers.

Get A Running QB

I had to alter my strategy this year. I’ve had so much success in the past of just letting all the fish in my auction leagues pay up for high-priced QBs, while feasting on the low-end starters with massive upside, or even high-floor “safe” options (the Matt Ryans and Tom Bradys of the world) while loading up at other positions.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen that advantage start to go away. We’ve all started looking for the next 2018 Patrick Mahomes, 2019 Lamar Jackson, and 2020 Josh Allen, but the guys most likely to take that title — like 2021 Jalen Hurts — are already priced highly. This year, I might just bite the bullet and pay more for a cheat-code QB than I ever have in the past. Indeed, that’s borne out in snake/best-ball drafts as well, where I’ve found myself dipping into the QB waters as early as the fifth round, something that would have been preposterous to me even a year ago (when, by the way, I was aggressively targeting Allen 90+ picks into drafts).

Still, this doesn’t mean I’m going to pay top dollar for Patrick Mahomes, though I’m willing to do that more often than I would have just a year ago. I will have a tier of targets like Jackson, Hurts, Allen, Dak Prescott, and Kyler Murray, and will try to get into that tier. But if I don’t, I’m more than willing to grab someone like Matthew Stafford on low-end starter money while dropping a buck or two later to draft Trey Lance or Justin Fields, giving me a reliable option to cushion against the rookies not having a job for a few weeks (Stafford and Ryan Tannehill are especially appealing in this approach, because they have late bye weeks).

While I expect the QB demand to be higher this year than in years past, the supply of capable fantasy QBs — Stafford, Tannehill, Kirk Cousins — still outweighs that demand. And it’s entirely possible to pair one of those guys with Lance, Fields, or Taysom Hill for cheaper than someone like Kyler will be drafted for. Eventually, even the most aggressive QB spenders in your league (every league has the doofus who has at some point drafted two elite QBs and loudly proclaimed “I’LL JUST TRADE ONE LATER!”) will have to dedicate financial resources to filling out the rest of their rosters.

My strategy is not nearly as rigid as in years past, when I was reliably one of the last two or three players in my auction league to draft a starting QB. But there are still plenty of ways to approach the position, and it all comes down to reading the room. If drafters are hesitant to pay up for someone like Kyler, I’ll be jumping in. If the prices are insane on the running QBs, I’ll pivot to something like a “Tannehill + Lance” strategy. Keep in mind that sometimes you’ll have the advantage over your leaguemates simply by reading an article like this — on Yahoo!, for instance, the average cost for the elite QBs hasn’t caught up to their value. Lamar Jackson is currently going for an average salary of $11.8, well below the $20-25 we have him valued at. So it’s possible you can get a value by drafting an elite running QB, something that just hasn’t happened in the past. This is where “reading the room” comes into play — if those prices are low, I’m all over them.

Obviously, this strategy changes drastically in 2-QB or superflex formats, but that is not the focus of this draft plan.

Go Big or Go Home at TE

This is a personal preference this year, and it might coincide with what you decide to do at the QB position, since spending big on both positions would force your hand into a hyper-fragile “Stars-N-Scrubs” kind of team.

But if I’m spending up at TE this year, I’m almost certainly doing so for Travis Kelce or Darren Waller. If not, I might default to spending less than $10-12 total on the position, trying to find a gem in the rough from guys like Adam Trautman, Jonnu Smith, Tyler Higbee, or Robert Tonyan, then being active on the Waiver Wire.

While we all love Kyle Pitts, TJ Hockenson, and Dallas Goedert, my contention is that if these players are going to float into the $20 range in your particular league, you’ll be better off bottling up that money and spending it elsewhere.

If your league has one TE spot and isn’t TE premium (i.e. 1.5 PPR for TEs), I think it’s only worth getting into a bidding war for a true difference-maker.

Only Enter Serious Bidding Wars if You’re OK Drafting the Player

It’s extremely frustrating to sit back in an auction and watch your competition select players for a value you think is way too low.

Say you placed a value of $18 on Dak Prescott, and it looks like he’s about to go off the board for only $10. Meanwhile, you just spent $21 on Lamar Jackson. Ugh. You’d much rather have Prescott at $10 and $11 to spend elsewhere!

Because you’re frustrated, you put in an $11 bid on Prescott — there is no way you’re letting him go cheap. Your opponent counters quickly, entering a $12 bid. Well, he’s willing to go higher… so you click the bid button to raise it to $13.

And then… silence. You misread the room. No one else bids, and you’re stuck with Prescott at a value… but at a position you didn’t need. You have a great fantasy QB, yes, but you already had one, and now you have $13 fewer to fill out your roster. And now, you’re accidentally the doofus I referenced earlier — you’re stuck with two elite QBs, but can only play one, and are likely going to be eating up a bench spot, making impossible decisions every week, or forced to take nickels on the dollar back in a trade. None of those are optimal outcomes.

Handcuffing yourself in an auction draft is the most common and easiest way to lose. It’s also the easiest to avoid. It’s better to let your opponent get a value than it is to cripple your own ability to get a good player at a fair cost later.

Do Not Spend More than $1 on a PK or D/ST

Don’t do it. Just don’t.

As boring as it is, I like to throw out nominations for my kicker and/or defense early in my draft. It fills roster spots and gives me cost certainty (most auction softwares calculate your total budget remaining, but also the average and maximum bids you can spend on a player). If I get my targeted kicker for $1, great! If some moron in my league decided to bid that kicker up to $2 or $3, that’s a few bucks they can’t spend later.

Even if you really want Harrison Butker, do not get in a bidding war for a kicker! It is absolutely not worth it. You’ll see the rewards late in the draft, when you have that extra dollar or two to guarantee you get that final sleeper to round out your bench.

Know Your Software

Obviously, knowing how to work the auction/salary-cap software at Yahoo! or ESPN is critical to doing a successful auction/salary-cap draft. But you should also do a little research on the projected and average values those software platforms come with. In many leagues, especially early, fantasy drafters won’t stray too far from them. That can give you a leg up on identifying values even before your draft.

For example, here are Yahoo!’s projected values and ESPN’s projected values.

Make Sure Everyone is at the Draft

This isn’t so much a “pointer” as it is a quality-of-life tip. There is absolutely nothing worse than an auction that has an autodraft team. Why? Because most auction softwares will autodraft a team by having that player bid up until the software’s recommended auction value for a player.

You, and multiple other teams in your league, could be executing your strategy perfectly. You could have an excellent value lined up at the position and tier you targeted. You could be slated to land a player for $10 fewer than you expected. And when the clock is ticking away on the nomination… the autodraft team chimes in.

Make no mistake: the autodraft team is likely going to suck. It will pay a premium for both the QB and TE positions. It might bid up a kicker or a defense. It doesn’t have the intelligence to know when it’s prudent to go above projected value (eg. at the end of a tier), leaving the team shorthanded. But it also is going to take a lot of the fun and strategy out of your room. It will ruin the organic experience that makes auctions the most fun way to draft.

If someone can’t make your auction and rescheduling isn’t an option, have that person find someone to draft for them, or replace the team. It’s that simple.

On Draft Day

At the Beginning of Your Draft (First Three Rounds)

Consider this your plan for the first three rounds of nominations for your draft. This is where the elite players are going to go. Just like a snake draft, it’s probably going to be unbalanced — the first three rounds of nominations are going to carry much more weight than the next three, though in auctions some players can slip through the cracks.

This is where you want to be “selectively aggressive.” I’d like to leave this portion of the draft with at least two high-level players I feel good about, but I don’t want to go nuts here and leave my bankroll short for the very important middle rounds. However, if I leave all my money for the middle rounds, I’m going to have a very deep but dreadfully mediocre team.

While there are multiple ways to construct a winning roster, I’m making it a point that at least one of the players I draft in this stage is a running back from my top two tiers. We’ve broken it down in countless articles (including John Hansen’s Draft Plan), podcasts, and radio shows, but this season, we’re all in on the old-school early-round RB strategy. Scott Barrett calls it the “Bell Cow or Bust” strategy, and while the strategy had a rough go of it last year, it’s still the most preferred way to approach a redraft league.

The first thing I’m going to do is watch the rest of the room. I want to see if players are being ridiculously aggressive (bidding Christian McCaffrey up to $75, for example), or are being sheepish. Even in an auction when any player can be nominated at any point, there will be at least a handful of elite-level players nominated early. If the bidding for the McCaffreys, Kamaras, and Cooks of the world is approaching 30-35% of the total team budgets, I’m probably going to sit back and watch the money drain out of the rest of the league and start targeting Tier-Two backs. If I find the bidding reasonable, I’ll be in on the action. It’s up to you to decide where you’re comfortable, and it’s impossible for me to predict how your specific room will react. That’s what makes auctions fun!

This is the area of the draft in which you’ll almost certainly be interested in most of the players who go up for nomination, since they’re good players. When I’m nominating and bidding at this stage of the draft, I’m going to start with a competitive bid. There is no reason to nominate Davante Adams at $1 when there’s no chance he’s going for that little! Nominate a player at this stage of a draft for at least 40% of his projected cost (for instance, if Adams’ projected value is $50, start with a bid of at least $20). This will help your draft move along quicker, and it’ll be a more pleasant experience for all involved. It’ll also get only the serious bidders to bite, which speeds things up as well.

When I’m bidding on an early-round player I really want, I try to be “stealthy.” That doesn’t mean I wait until the final second to bid that extra dollar, but I try to let the majority of the bidding get done before I wade into the waters. An elite player is always going to get a flurry of activity very quickly. Once that activity starts to slow down a little bit, that’s when I might pop in my bid. I don’t want to make it blatantly obvious that I really want a player, because that could encourage someone else in my league to bid that player up. In some ways, it’s almost like betting in poker. You have to be assertive, but not obvious. You want players to wonder what you’re doing, not feel like they can exploit your strategy. This is another reason why I like to get my players before a tier is dried up — I don’t want my leaguemates to be able to look at my roster and my bids and know I’m desperate, exposing myself to bid-ups.

After I get a player in the early rounds, I typically like to sit back and wait for a couple of nominations to see where the room is going and to wait for more money to clear out. There are enough high-quality players to go around in this stage, so I’m not going to feel terribly left out if another team grabs someone I had my eye on. But I’m still paying attention because I will get involved if a player is getting underbid.

Still, you do not need to be involved in the bidding for every player! There is no worse feeling in an auction than trying to encourage a “bidding war” on a player you didn’t want and getting saddled with that player, destroying your budget in the process, as mentioned earlier. If you don’t want a player, I wouldn’t go past bidding 70% or so of that player’s projected value, even if it’s a “bargain.” (For instance, if I wanted nothing to do with Josh Jacobs this year, even getting him for $15 of a projected $23 salary — a “bargain” — takes $15 away from my budget to target someone I actually wanted.) This can especially be a big mistake if you’ve already spent up on a position like QB or TE, where you only need to start one, and get saddled with an expensive backup at a position you don’t need. It’s the most avoidable but most crippling mistake one can make in an auction.

Two more things about these early rounds…

While this is a range where you’re likely interested in most of the players, I also might use this opportunity to throw up elite-tier players if I’m not interested in that particular cost, like if I had a predraft strategy to avoid paying up for Patrick Mahomes. This sucks money out of the draft and gives me more resources to attack the tiers I want to draft from.

I also like to nominate my preferred defense and kicker early, for multiple reasons. First of all, it gives me some cost certainty. The auction software you’re using likely calculates both your maximum remaining bid and your average remaining bid. Since I’m not paying more than $1 for my kicker or defense, this gives me a more accurate representation of how much money I have left per player. Secondly, if anyone in my league wants to actually bid up a kicker or a defense, I will allow them to. You’ll be surprised later in your draft how much that extra dollar or two will come in handy (more on that later).

In this range of the draft (not counting if I selected a PK or D/ST), I probably want to secure my roster with 2 RB, plus 1 WR or 1 TE (Travis Kelce or Darren Waller), though that obviously isn’t a rigid strategy. Ultimately, I want to leave the first three rounds of nominations with between 40-60% ($80-120 in a $200 cap) of my budget remaining. That might sound like a lot to spend on just a handful of players, but it’ll become obvious soon that players are going to become drastically more affordable… and that’s where you win your draft.

In the Middle of Your Draft

This is going to be the biggest part of the draft, somewhere between 10-12 rounds of nominations. And this is where the majority of your team is going to be constructed (presuming, of course, you didn’t go “Stars-N-Scrubs” and need to wait impossibly long to fill out your roster). I think this is where I’ll be doing the majority of my WR drafting — I love the values in this group, and I think I can get three to four really strong WRs for the combined price I paid for my top two RBs (I especially love Chase Claypool and Jerry Jeudy).

During this part of your draft, you have to pay attention to multiple things. First of all, keep an eye on “The Hammer” — this is the term I use for the drafter with the most money left. This player can throw around weight to get a target, which can be problematic if that player is the last in a tier.

But in addition to keeping watch on The Hammer, you need to know the construction of the other rosters in the league. That’s because, even if you execute your plan flawlessly, you’re going to run into some competition for players. If you need a wide receiver and you notice that three teams with more money than you also need a wide receiver, you had better get on that sooner rather than later because, again, you do not want to get caught in a bidding war at the end of a tier.

This is also the part of my draft where I’m going to strategically nominate players I don’t want. It’s a wonderful exercise to enter an auction draft with 10-15 players you’d rather pass on (I touched on this in the last section). But you might also add players to that list during the draft. Perhaps you got someone like Kyler Murray a few rounds of nominations in. If Aaron Rodgers is still on the board, I may nominate him at a low price to encourage a bidding war and get some money out of the room (but again, don’t get in a bidding war for a player you don’t need to try to get extra money out of someone). If a big-named player I’m out on — someone like Julio Jones, just for an example — has slipped through the cracks and still hasn’t been nominated, I’m giddy to throw him to the wolves and watch from a safe distance.

My goal in this section is to “wax and wane” — that is to say, float between having “The Hammer” for myself, while not being afraid to use it and then fall to the bottom of the league in terms of available budget for a little bit. While you don’t necessarily want to get caught in a place where you’re spending $30 for a player you had valued at $15 because he’s the last start-worthy RB left, you also should not be afraid to spend $5 or so extra to get that player you need. As I said earlier, I want to try to be “stealthy” and not make it obvious that I really want a player. A flurry of bidding activity early could encourage less plugged-in players to get involved and push that price up. (“Oh crap, the whole league wants this guy, I should go get him!”)

The worst thing you can do in an auction is leave a serious portion of your budget left. I think anything more than $5 left over from a $200 cap is criminal and the only person you’re robbing is yourself. Believe me, this is the range where spending a couple of bucks over your projected value is fine — there is a big difference between bidding aggressively and bidding stupidly. If you sit back and wait for values to fall into your lap, your team is going to suck. Sure, you might get a value or two that really helps you open up your wallet for other players, but as can be applied to so much in today’s world, “hope is not a strategy.”

If you haven’t yet drafted your starting QB, this is where you do it — ideally toward the back end of this stage. I typically don’t like to spend more than $5 if I’m grabbing a non-elite QB. You can even add an upside QB2 to the equation for $1-3 and spend a fraction of what Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen went for.

The meat of your draft ends when you have three or four roster spots remaining. Somewhere between 5-10% ($10-20 in a $200 cap) of your budget left for the stretch run should be the goal.

At the End of Your Draft

Once you get to this part of the draft, you should identify the player you must have at the end of the roster. And pay to go get him… provided you have the capital to do so.

Here’s why it’s so important to have those few extra bucks lying around from not paying up for a PK or D/ST. There are going to plenty of players nominated here who are “projected” to go for $1-2 on your auction cheat sheet or by the auction software, but the reality is the most appealing players in this tier go for significantly more than that because everyone with money left is going to spend up to get the late-round guys they want.

Nominations and bids can get tricky here. If you think the rest of your league has the same sleeper or two in mind as you do, you might think to avoid nominating him so you have a better chance of landing him. However, if you try to get cute and nominate a scrub, it’s entirely possible the rest of the league calls your bluff and you get stuck with a $1 jabroni you didn’t want! You can’t un-nominate a player just because you didn’t get any bites on your lure.

Why is this important? Because not only is your budget finite, but so are your roster spots. If you fill a 16-man roster but still have $15 left on your budget, you don’t get that $15 back. You don’t get to create an extra roster spot to use that $15 on. And you’ll make yourself sick looking at the WR3s you could have scored for that $15 in hindsight, or the late-round “sleepers” on whom you could have spread that money around. I don’t know about your league, but I’ve never been in one in which the person who had the most money left over got rewarded.

Along the same lines, this is yet another stage where it’s cognizant to be aware of “The Hammer.” If you have it, use it. It’s not really the time to be patient with it like you might have been in the middle rounds. Don’t get into cutesy bidding wars — if there’s a player you want, go get him. If you don’t have it, try to keep an eye on what position “The Hammer” might be eyeing up.

Remember, there will be preseason games this year, ANC and beat writers are able to observe training camp more than last year. There will be millions of reports about low-end players you might not even be thinking about now whom you might want to draft in early September. The sleeper you’re convinced you’re really going to slip through the cracks and get for $1? Chances are others in your league think the exact same thing.

That leads me to another late-round auction point: never get caught in a position where you can’t make your maximum bid on a player you really want. So not only do you want to be aware of “The Hammer” and how much he can spend, you also want to be aware of what everyone’s maximum bid is and how many roster spots they have left.

Here’s an example. Say you now have two roster spots left and $4 to spend. You really want 49er QB Trey Lance, because you opted not to pay up for a top-tier QB. You need that cheap, league-winning rushing upside. Your leaguemate, who has $3 left to spend on one roster spot, nominates Lance for $1. You immediately top the bid with a bump to $2… but your opponent, who has $3 left, is able to top that bid. Even though you had $4 left, you put yourself in a position where you couldn’t top a $3 bid because you needed to fill two roster spots and must have $1 left over to do so.

What should you have done? If you’re down to your last two or three roster spots and really want a certain player, immediately put in your maximum bid. If someone can top it, then so be it. But making a simple accounting mistake like outlined above is a really big bummer.

Example Teams

I was hesitant to do this since auctions are extremely fluid and values really do move up and down during a draft (something our Auction Tool accounts for). If spending is out of control early in your draft and players are going for significantly more than you expected, then the middle rounds will be full of players going for less than their projected values.

But presuming sane drafting — rarely a safe assumption — let’s take a look at what ideal teams, using ranges from our Auction Values Cheat Sheet, would look like.

This is a 12-team, $200 budget PPR league with 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 R/W/T FLEX, 1 PK, and 1 D/ST starting and 6 bench spots (16 spots total).

The Balanced Approach

QB: Jalen Hurts ($10), Kirk Cousins ($1)

RB: Derrick Henry ($55), Chris Carson ($22), Michael Carter ($11), Leonard Fournette ($5), Gus Edwards ($1)

WR: DeAndre Hopkins ($40), Ja’Marr Chase ($21), Chase Claypool ($12), TY Hilton ($2), Jalen Reagor ($2), Jakobi Meyers ($1)

TE: Mark Andrews ($15)

PK: Younghoe Koo ($1)

D/ST: Tampa Bay ($1)

On a balanced team, I’d allocate 5-10% of my budget for each of QBs and TEs, 35-45% for each of RBs and WRs, and 1% for kickers plus defenses.

My goal with this team was to get a #1 at each position I felt very good about, while not skimping as much on depth. I have a strong RB2 in Chris Carson, and if Chase hits in his rookie year as my WR2, this team is going places. However, you can see how just one injury to a stud could really set this team back if one of the guys I’m betting on for upside — Hurts, Chase, Claypool — doesn’t come through.

This is a viable strategy for sure, though, especially if you’re willing to drop down $10 or so, to a guy like Jonathan Taylor as a #1 RB, giving yourself more money to spend at WR. I would venture to guess most auction drafters, especially those just beginning, will try to accomplish this strategy. It’s harder than you might think, because you really need to be disciplined with your tiers.


QB: Ryan Tannehill ($4), Trey Lance ($2)

RB: Jonathan Taylor ($45), D’Andre Swift ($33), Javonte Williams ($16), Latavius Murray ($4), Tony Pollard ($3)

WR: Adam Thielen ($28), Brandon Aiyuk ($23), Jerry Jeudy ($16), Tee Higgins ($13), Mecole Hardman ($4)

TE: Robert Tonyan ($5), Adam Trautman ($2)

PK: Younghoe Koo ($1)

D/ST: Tampa Bay ($1)

On an RB-leaning team, I’d allocate 3-5% of my budget for each of QBs and TEs, roughly 50-55% for RBs, 35-40% for WRs, and 1% for kickers plus defenses.

On this team, I didn’t spend up at either QB or TE. I really got some depth at WR, where the values are. My RBs are top-heavy, but have some upside if any of Williams, Murray, or Pollard get a big role.

I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this squad. I’ll have a comfortable amount of depth, especially at WR, where I have significant young upside behind Thielen, but I really need Swift to hit or I could be hurting at RB early in the season, before Williams takes a big role. If I’m spending that much at RB, I’d probably want a little more certainty there.


QB: Ryan Tannehill ($4), Trey Lance ($2)

RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($26), Darrell Henderson ($22), Kareem Hunt ($14), Kenyan Drake ($7), Gus Edwards ($1)

WR: Calvin Ridley ($45), AJ Brown ($34), Diontae Johnson ($22), Tyler Boyd ($10), Laviska Shenault ($3), Parris Campbell ($1)

TE: Robert Tonyan ($5), Adam Trautman ($2)

PK: Younghoe Koo ($1)

D/ST: Tampa Bay ($1)

On an WR-leaning team, I’d allocate 3-5% of my budget for each of QBs and TEs, roughly 35-40% for RBs, 50-55% for WRs, and 1% for kickers plus defenses.

This is the same exact QB/TE group as the team above… but with the RB and WR strategies flipped. I have to admit, I like this team more than the “RB-leaning” team above. This isn’t exactly a “Zero-RB” team, but there are both upside and downside with this RB group. It’s the WRs — including a Tannehill/Brown stack — who carry this team.

I’m intrigued by this build.

RB-Heavy (RB-Robust)

QB: Kirk Cousins ($2), Tua Tagovailoa ($1)

RB: Christian McCaffrey ($67), Antonio Gibson ($38), David Montgomery ($24), Raheem Mostert ($9)

WR: Tyler Lockett ($15), DeVonta Smith ($14), Tyler Boyd ($10), Odell Beckham ($10), Antonio Brown ($5), Henry Ruggs ($1)

TE: Adam Trautman ($1), Anthony Firkser ($1)

PK: Wil Lutz ($1)

D/ST: Indianapolis ($1)

On an RB-robust team, I’d allocate 2-4% of my budget for each of QBs and TEs, 65-75% for RBs, 25-30% for WRs, and 1% for kickers plus defenses.

In order to fit three high-priced RBs into my budget, I had to load up on WR3s and dollar values at QB and TE. This is a more fragile approach than I’d recommend, but if some combo of Smith, Beckham, and/or Gibson hit near their ceiling, I could be in business.

Still, while I do like getting a bell-cow RB, this seems like too much to one side. I don’t like the “Zero-WR” approach in redraft formats at all. You can win with this kind of team, but I don’t think it’s for me given historical injury rates at RB vis-a-vis WR.


QB: Dak Prescott ($22), Carson Wentz ($1)

RB: Chase Edmonds ($13), Trey Sermon ($10), Damien Harris ($6), Ronald Jones ($5), Tony Pollard ($4), Alexander Mattison ($1)

WR: Davante Adams ($43), Terry McLaurin ($37), CeeDee Lamb ($33), Chase Claypool ($11), Jakobi Meyers ($2)

TE: Noah Fant ($10)

PK: Tyler Bass ($1)

D/ST: Washington ($1)

On a Zero-RB team, I’d allocate 15-30% for QBs plus TEs (spending big at one or both positions), 20-25% for RBs, 45-65% for WRs, and 1% for kickers plus defenses.

My entire RB corps for this group cost $39… or $28 fewer than I spent on Christian McCaffrey alone on the last team. The money saved from going Zero-RB went to an elite QB and a loaded receiving corps — I got a Prescott/Lamb stack, and obviously the presumption is I’ll be using my sick WR group to fill my two FLEX spots.

Obviously, this team needs one of these RBs to hit big time. Maybe Edmonds can come through with more volume. Maybe Sermon can take the 49er gig and run with it. Maybe Zeke Elliott’s decline is real and the Cowboys use Pollard more and more. If just one hits, I can put everything else together by mixing-and-matching my RB2 the rest of the year. But if that happens…. well, you see the appeal of Zero RB.

I personally would not take this approach this year, but plenty of successful fantasy players have won doing just this.

“Hero RB”

QB: Russell Wilson ($11)

RB: Dalvin Cook ($66), Michael Carter ($10), Damien Harris ($7), Alexander Mattison ($2), Giovani Bernard ($1)

WR: Keenan Allen ($33), Diontae Johnson ($23), Tyler Lockett ($18), Marquise Brown ($11), Brandin Cooks ($6), Elijah Moore ($1)

TE: Dallas Goedert ($8), Gerald Everett ($1)

PK: Greg Zuerlein ($1)

D/ST: Miami ($1)

On a “Hero-RB” team, I’d allocate 25-35% of my budget to one RB… and then 10-15% on the rest of my RBs combined. I’d want to spend no more than about 45% of my budget on the RB position, even including the “Hero RB.” I’d then try to get my QB and TEs for 10-20% of my budget, and the rest allocated to WRs (35-50%).

This is Graham Barfield’s favorite strategy — and at least in best ball, it works. “Hero RB,” or “Modified Zero RB,” involves drafting one high-priced RB and attempting to “stream” RB2 the rest of the way. It also produced a higher win rate in best ball over the last five years than either “Robust RB” or “Zero RB,” as the linked article puts out.

The appeal is evident. Not only did I land a super-stud in Cook (and protected him with Mattison, if you want to be a little careful), I was able to get a higher-priced QB in Wilson, stack Wilson with one of his receivers, and still have a balanced and deep WR corps.

I didn’t have to go dumpster-diving at TE either, getting an upside play in Goedert and another potential Wilson stack in Everett. If one of Carter, Harris, or Bernard hits even low-end RB2/high-end RB3 value, this team is cooking with grease.


QB: Josh Allen ($21)

RB: Christian McCaffrey ($67), Ronald Jones ($3), James White ($1), Alexander Mattison ($1), Darrel Williams ($1)

WR: Stefon Diggs ($45), Darnell Mooney ($3), Jarvis Landry ($3), TY Hilton ($2), Marvin Jones ($1), Nelson Agholor ($1), Rondale Moore ($1)

TE: Travis Kelce ($48)

PK: Harrison Butker ($1)

D/ST: LA Rams ($1)

The top four players on this roster cost me $181 of a $200 budget — leaving me $19 to fill out the rest of my roster, and 12 spots to fill. Whew. For this to work, you might even want to eschew a true “stud” QB, going more mid-tier, but I wanted to examine just how difficult it was to build a team while preserving an Allen/Diggs stack.

Stars-N-Scrubs a hyper-fragile strategy in a normal year. But keep in mind we still have lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, though hopefully not as bad as last year (I wouldn’t put big money on that). As we saw last year, if you spend this kind of money, one injury means your team goes up in flames. Hell, we saw it with one of the players on this team (McCaffrey).

It is possible for Stars-N-Scrubs to work… if you pick the right players. A team with Patrick Mahomes, Kelce, Davante Adams, and Dalvin Cook on it last year would have been really tough to beat, even if that team was fielding sub-replacement-level players at all its other positions. But again, if one of those guys were to miss significant time, that team was going belly-up. Replace Cook with Saquon Barkley on that hypothetical team in 2020, or Adams with Michael Thomas, and you see what can go wrong easily. There is a significant amount of luck involved with this strategy — it’s not hard to figure out which individual players might be worth 15-25% of your budget by themselves, but it’s not up to you to keep them on the field.

On the side of pure pleasure (and after all, we’re trying to have fun here), loading up on stars early in your draft and having to wait until the end of your draft before you can even consider bidding on more players is not the best of experiences. Tom Brolley, Graham Barfield, and I have literally been in a league in which someone who did this fell asleep during the draft.

As an aside, when I say a “balanced” roster approach, I don’t necessarily mean spending evenly at all positions. You could potentially decide to be stronger at WR than RB depending on how your draft goes. But I would not recommend sacrificing depth for star power across the board in most years.

Joe Dolan, a professional in the fantasy football industry for over a decade, is the managing editor of Fantasy Points. He specializes in balancing analytics and unique observation with his personality and conversational tone in his writing, podcasting, and radio work.