Tuesday night, RotoWire’s finest minds gathered for the grand-daddy of all staff leagues, the Steak League. The league takes its name from the side bet riding on it every year, as the second-division finishers have to treat the top clubs to a fancy steak dinner once the season is concluded.
The format has a couple of wrinkles, foremost being that it’s an auction league and not a draft, and that we use IDP rather than team defenses. We have $200 budgets, standard (non-PPR) scoring, and rosters have a 1 QB/2 RB/3 WR/1 TE/1 K/1 DL/1 LB/1 DB/6 Bench set-up.
Expansion in recent years caused the league to split into two last year. We now play two separate 14-team leagues (one roughly centered on RotoWire’s Los Angeles-based crowd and one on the Madison office), with the winners of each league meeting for a Week 17 Super Bowl. I won the whole thing in 2016, finishing with the No. 1 seed in my league through 13 weeks on the strength of the Aaron Rodgers-Jordy Nelson connection plus Mike Evans and, uhh, Isaiah Crowell (???), running the table in the League 1 playoffs and then winning a ridiculous nail-biter over League 2 champ Eric Caturia (120.5-119.1) in the Super Steak Bowl. It’s also my second title in four years, so no pressure continuing the semi-dynasty this year or anything.
Heading into this year’s auction, I planned to use what has become my usual strategy: construct a WR-heavy, zero-RB style roster. No, the league doesn’t use PPR, but that’s beside the point. Elite WRs, year after year, have a lower bust rate and more consistent production, while it’s been easier to scrounge for value at RB. That combination makes investing heavily in WRs and not RBs a strong starting point for a competitive roster, with all the usual caveats about avoiding injury etc.
My rough budget was as follows:
QB- $20 for two
RB- $50 for two starters
WR- $100 for three starters
IDP- $5 for three
TE/K/Bench- $25 for seven (six bench spots minus a QB)
With elite RBs typically pushing $60 and elite WRs generally topping out at $50, I was walking in knowing I wasn’t going to be competing for the likes of Zeke or DJ, but I could grab one top wideout and two strong tier 2/3 guys behind him if all went according to plan. Saving more than a buck per bench spot would also allow me to grab priority sleepers in the endgame, rather than hoping no one popped one of “my” guys in the dollar days rounds and shut me out.
Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan.
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In order, here were my roster buys:
LB: Jatavis Brown, LAC $1 – I had an early nom slot (fourth out of 14) so rather than throw out someone and set the market at a position, I elected to lay back and grab an IDP sleeper target. Brown didn’t become a starter last year until Week 5 and missed four games with a knee injury, but still finished with 79 tackles and 3.5 sacks, and was active in coverage as well even though he didn’t get a pick (six PDefs). With a starter’s workload, he could explode. Linebacker is also a great spot to gamble in a shallow IDP league – if Brown doesn’t pan out or gets hurt, there are plenty of solid 100-tackle guys littering the waiver wire.
WR1: Odell Beckham. NYG $51 – Beckham was the first elite WR tossed out, and he was also my top target at the position. It’s been a pattern in recent years in this league that the first big-name player bought in a particular position group tends to look like a bit of a bargain in retrospect, and this year’s auction was no exception. After I nabbed OBJ as the 10th player nominated, Antonio Brown ($55), Julio Jones ($54) and A.J. Green ($54) followed within the next 10 picks.
RB1: Carlos Hyde, SF $28 – I laid low for a while after getting Beckham. OBJ was the 10th buy, while Hyde was the 46th. There was no particular strategic reason for this, I just felt like players were either going for more than I was willing to spend, or there were better options still available that I thought I could get at a similar price. There were a couple of players who, in retrospect, I wish I’d tried harder for, though. Dez Bryant ($39) and Devante Adams ($29) would both have looked good behind Beckham, while the whole room had a brain fart and let Lamar Miller go at $19. RB was starting to run a bit dry at this point, and I like Hyde’s upside in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, so I was willing to spend up a bit for him. Two picks later, Demarco Murray went for $31 and I kicked myself, but then Crowell — my $10 darling from last season — went for $42 and I felt better about Hyde’s price.
DL: Aaron Donald, LAR $2 – Donald has basically had two good fantasy years and one great one so far in the NFL, and now has Wade Phillips is his coordinator. Gimme. If his holdout doesn’t linger too long he could look like a steal at a position where J.J. Watt went for $5, Khalil Mack for $6 and Joey Bosa for $7.
WR2: Golden Tate, Det $20 – This is where I had to start deviating from the plan. Wide receiver dried up on me in a hurry, which is why I now look back wistfully at the Dez and Devante salaries. Earlier in the auction, mid-tier guys were going in the $20s (Sammy Watkins $23, Demaryius Thomas $29), and I figured I could get two more guys in that range. Then I blinked, and suddenly there were few players worth bidding on at the position and it was clear their prices were going to skyrocket. Sure enough, five buys after I landed Tate, Amari Cooper went for a ridiculous $47, and Tyreek Hill went a little later for $32.
DB: Karl Joseph, Oak $1 – In 2015, I bought Landon Collins a year too early. Last season, I bought Joseph what will probably end up being a year too early. I’m not making that mistake again. Plus, this gives me an all-California defense, which is cute.
TE: Jordan Reed, Was $21 – The money I wound end up shifting away from WR had to go somewhere, and this was it. Reed’s injury risk is more than priced in here — Gronk went for $29, Jimmy Graham for $26 and Greg Olsen for $24 — so if he managed to stay healthy for once, he’ll be a steal.
RB2: Dalvin Cook, Min $29 – The rest of the shifted WR budget went here. This is about on par with his peers, as Christian McCaffrey went for $28 and Spencer Ware (my other target in this slot) a couple of picks before Cook at $27. On the other hand, Joe Mixon was the first player nommed in the entire auction and went for $18. D’oh. Again, early buys in this league often end up looking pretty sweet.
WR3: Stefon Diggs, Min $13 – If Diggs were my WR4 I’d be laughing, but instead he’s a little iffier than I normally like my WR3 to be. I could have gotten Jarvis Landry or Jamison Crowder for this price a little later on, but couldn’t bring myself to roster a Jay Cutler target and frankly I expected Crowder to go for a lot more, given the preseason buzz around him. Other comparable buys included Kelvin Benjamin for $19, Brandon Marshall for $15 and Vikes teammate Adam Thielen for $11.
QB1: Dak Prescott, Dal $9 – This buy prompted groans from Jeff Erickson, who bought Matt Ryan for $17 a lot earlier in the auction. The top tier of QBs had all gone for a little more than I was prepared to bid (I would have loved Russell Wilson, but he went for $20 right before I bought Tate), so my plan at the position was to get Dak and Matt Stafford, as the Lions played in New Orleans on Dallas’ bye week and had decent matchups when the Cowboys were playing the Giants, their one divisional opponent with a potentially scary defense.
K: Jake Elliott, Cin $1 – The Bengals used an actual draft pick on this guy, so I expect him to win the job, and he’ll be riding shotgun on a good offense. He also had the right bye week. I like to have my kicker and IDP players with different byes in this league, so I can rotate them through one bench slot if they all happen to be hits. If they aren’t, of course, I just replace them completely when they’re on bye.
Bench 1 (QB2): Matthew Stafford, Det $7 – Boom. I can’t wait for that Week 6 shootout with Brees in the Big Easy. (Yes, I have now jinxed it and the game will be a 12-10 snoozer.)
Bench2 (TE): Jesse James, Pit $1 – If and when Reed gets hurt, James should be a solid plug-in as the top tight end for Ben Roethlisberger.
Bench3 (WR4): Josh Doctson, Was $5 – My top Year 2 breakout WR pick.
Bench4 (RB3): Latavius Murray, Min $3 – I normally don’t like to handcuff, preferring instead to try and hit on two starting players, but this seemed like a prudent time to do it.
Bench5 (RB4): Aaron Jones, GB $1 – My one real screwup in the auction. It was late, the nom clock had been sped up, and I wanted to bet against Ty Montgomery keeping his job. Unfortunately, I meant to grab the player most likely to replace him, which is Jamaal Williams. Instead I plucked Jones, the Packers rookie back who could take on the third-down role but may not profile as a three-down option. Higher floor, but lower ceiling. Ah well, I’ll need players to cut eventually anyway.
Bench6 (WR5): Jordan Matthews, Phi $7 – It was my last $7, so when other GMs showed vague interest in him I just bid it all to shut them out. Folks seem down on Matthews, and I’m not sure why. Is Nelson Agholor really that big a threat to his snaps? It’s not like Torrey Smith is a roster lock, either, given that only $500,000 of his three-year contract is guaranteed. A healthy Matthews is a starter in Philly, and if Carson Wentz takes a big step forward in 2017, that’s a role that will have serious value.
Overall, I’d grade this auction performance a B-. The GB rookie back mix-up was inexcusable, but the hindsight regrets I have in passing on specific players are just that — at the time, the decisions were (mostly) sound. It’s a roster I think has a good chance at being competitive, and that’s the most important thing coming out of an auction or draft.
QB: Prescott / Stafford
RB: Hyde / Cook / LMurray / AJones
WR: Beckham / Tate / Diggs / Doctson / JMatthews
TE: JReed / James
IDP: Donald / JBrown / KJoseph
Budget comparison vs actual spending:
QB: $20 for two / $16 for two
RB: $50 for two / $57 for two
WR: $100 for three / $84 for three
IDP: $5 for three / $4 for three
TE/K/Bench: $25 for seven / $39 for seven
Complete league rosters can be found here.