Anatomy of a Zero-RB Auction

Tuesday afternoon, a number of RotoWire staff and friends held the auction for the latest season in the Steak League — a name that stems from the fact that the GMs who finish at the bottom of the standings end up buying steak dinners for those at the top. As you might expect, it’s got some big-time internal bragging rights associated with it, and it’s a league I last won in 2013, when an unproven young pup named Le’Veon Bell hurt his ankle a few days before we auctioned and I was able to land him dirt cheap.

It’s a 14-team league with standard scoring (non-PPR, although this might be the last year we stick to the Old Ways) that starts one QB, two RB, three WR, one TE, one Flex (RB/WR/TE), one K, and three IDP (one each DL/LB/DB) with five bench spots. We’ve got a $200 auction budget, and it tends to go quickly. The competition is fierce — other GMs in the league include Chris Liss, Jeff Erickson, Mike Doria, Scott Jensted, and plenty of other names you’d recognize from around the site.

My strategy in the league has been consistent over the years — let the premium RBs go and hit WR hard instead, as top-shelf wideouts tend to be more reliable investments. I’ve never really committed to a full zero-RB approach, though, always fudging with a Kerryon Johnson or other mid-priced back who had some perceived upside, but this season I decided there would be no more half-assing it — let’s see what happens with a full-on zero-RB auction.

After doing lots of prep in terms of preferred targets, sleepers, IDP lists etc., I hit an unexpected pothole on my way back to the winner’s circle. All that info was on my laptop, and life instead decided I was going to be out of the house and stuck on my phone using ESPN’s app to do the auction. (By the way, ESPN, it needs work – the search functionality didn’t work at all on my Android, making the endgame a bit frantic while I scrolled through a seemingly endless list of scrub or retired DBs looking for the guys I actually wanted, and twice the wifi unexpectedly dropped out and Autobid decided that yes, I *did* want to spend $7 on J.J. Watt even though I had never placed an initial bid for him, forcing us to roll back a couple of players.)

I’m not using that as an excuse, though, no matter how crap you think my team ended up — I stuck to and accomplished my plan, so if it doesn’t work, it won’t be because of a wonky app or because I didn’t have a bunch of prepped lists to fall back on.

I had the third throw, and decided I was going to do something potentially crazy right out of the gate. I nominated Andrew Luck, eventually landing him for $9, which was the most I was prepared to pay for him. Sure, he’s hurt and every time any member of the Colts’ front office talks about the injury they sound like they’re just making it up as they go along, but none of the actual analysis from medical professionals or such makes the… whatever it is sound super-serious. It’s the uncertainly and confusion (and, granted, Luck’s history with uncertain, confusing health issues) that are worrying and driving down his price, not an actual set absence of X number of weeks. If he plays even 14 healthy games, nine bucks is a steal. Deshaun Watson, by contrast, went for $18, and Luck ended up in the same price range as Lamar Jackson ($9), Kyler Murray ($7) and Russell Wilson ($10). Baker Mayfield also went for $11, though.

My next buy was George Kittle at $27. His calf injury seems minor, and Travis Kelce went for $39 while Zach Ertz also went for $27. Not a bargain necessarily, but a solid buy and one I needed to pull off a zero-RB roster.

Then, back-to-back, I landed my two stud WRs in Tyreek Hill ($47) and JuJu Smith-Schuster ($48). I wanted two of the non-Hopkins tier of elite receivers, with JuJu being a specific target, and after DeAndre went for $54 soon after I got Kittle, these seemed like reasonable prices. That quickly proved to be not quite the case. Immediately after I thought I’d set the market, Davante Adams went for $45, Mike Evans for $42 and Michael Thomas for $44. Ick. I don’t mind one or two slight overpays — it’s better than leaving money on the table — but those extra dollars would have come in very handy in the endgame.

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Later on, I rounded out my receiving corps with Calvin Ridley ($24) and Geronimo Allison ($4). Three every-week starters (four if you count Kittle) and a possible breakout for the bye weeks. So far, so good on zero-RB.

As for those backs, after locking up my top WRs, it was time to start rummaging through the bargain bin. A $7 James White and $6 Tony Pollard got me rolling — Pollard has obvious starter upside if Zeke stays away, while White is a reliable, “no better options” plug-in, even if it’s not a PPR league. Justin Jackson at $4 soon followed — if I was going to get a piece of one holdout situation, might as well grab a piece of both. I then added my most expensive back — Kenyan Drake at $12. Sure, he’s also banged up, but I’m a Kalen Ballage skeptic, and with Adam Gase gone the Miami offense should… (checks Dolphins QB situation), well, I don’t think Ballage is the answer, anyway.

Late in the auction, with the endgame going full bore, I make a tough decision and landed Matt Breida for $6, which was my max bid at the time. Truth be told, I thought someone would go to $7, but I’m not at all unhappy about getting a Kyle Shanahan back. Those extra dollars spent on Tyreek and JJSS came back to haunt me here, though, as I had to watch as Justice Hill went for a measly $2. Ugh. Instead my final RB at $1 was Qadree Ollison — what can I say, I wrote his name on a Post-it before the auction with the message ‘No matter what’, and I stuck to it even though there were more obvious backs (including Ito Smith) still on the board. I just think Dirk Koetter will find a way to turn Ollison into his new Peyton Barber.

In the end I’ve got potential top-three players at QB and TE and two potential top-five WRs, and a mittful of RBs who have varying degrees of starting potential, none of whom I’ll bat an eye at cutting to churn their roster spot for another potential starting RB in FAAB if they prove to be bums. As far as zero-RB goes, that’s close to the ideal. I’d like the roster a lot more if, say, I had Michael Thomas and Justice Hill instead of Tyreek and Qadree, though.

Incidentally, it probably helped that I was the only one employing zero-RB among the 14 teams. Every other team spent at least $38 on their most expensive back (Damien Williams, and that team also dropped $37 on Marlon Mack). Regardless of what strategy you’re using, zigging when everyone else is zagging can only improve your odds.


My final roster:

QB- Andrew Luck, IND $9; Dak Prescott, DAL $1

RB- Kenyan Drake, MIA $12; James White, NE $7; Tony Pollard, DAL $6; Matt Breida, SF $6; Justin Jackson, LAC $4; Qadree Ollison, ATL $1

WR- JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT $48; Tyreek Hill, KC $47; Calvin Ridley, ATL $24; Geronimo Allison, GB $4

TE- George Kittle, SF $27

K- Jake Elliott, PHI $1

DL- DeMarcus Ware, DAL $1

LB- Demario Davis, NO $1

DB- Earl Thomas, BAL $1