Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
30 Aug 2006
by Ian Dembsky and Bill Barnwell
Ian: Welcome to an early-week edition of Scramble for the Ball. This past Sunday, the annual Football Outsiders and friends draft took place in Boston in a league known as the Boston Area Auction, a.k.a. the BAA, a.k.a. The Sheep League.
Our league runs in an auction format, which I've touted before. With an auction, the top players don't go to the people who randomly get the top picks. Instead, an auction lets you get whoever you want, if you're willing to pay the price. League scoring is pretty standard, though yardage is important. 1 point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving, and 1 point for every 20 yards passing. 4 points for a passing touchdown, 6 points for all others. Each team gets $160 to spend on 16 players. Starting rosters are 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DT, and teams also draft one bench player at each position, as well as one more bench player at any position. Onto the draft.
First, a warning though. It would be a mistake to take the prices we paid, and use them as clear guidelines for how you value your players entering your draft. A lot of people have been asking for us to produce auction projections as part of the KUBIAK spreadsheet, but as FO main man Aaron Schatz pointed out to me after the draft, "auctions are 90 percent poker and 10 percent projections." Adjusting on the fly based on how your opponents draft is a huge part of the process, and was a big reason why I think my team turned out among the league's elite.
The other difference in our league, of course, is that everybody knows exactly what one specific owner thinks about every single player, because he published all his thoughts in a large book.
It's well-known that the top running backs go for lots of money. They seem to go for more money each season. I don't know if they can go for much more than they did this year. Running backs were called early and often, and here were the top 10 salaries:
Shaun Alexander -- $90 (!)
LaDainian Tomlinson -- $86
Larry Johnson -- $80
Rudi Johnson -- $66
Tiki Barber -- $63
Steven Jackson -- $62
Ronnie Brown -- $61
Edgerrin James -- $58
Clinton Portis -- $55
Cadillac Williams - $55
Note that no non-running back came close to these prices; the top two other player salaries were Peyton Manning at $45 and Chad Johnson at $36. It's astounding that a single player went for $90. As grizzled veteran and ex-Scramble For The Ball writer Al Bogdan put it, "I'm pretty certain that soon the top running back is going for $145 [the maximum bid allowed]." Seeing so much money being spent on the top running backs could only mean one thing -- the money would run dry soon, and if you had some later you could buy anyone you wanted. Seeing this, I held off early and waited on Willie Parker at a nice value of $50, then got Frank Gore for $34. This allowed me to buy a starting wideout trio of Reggie Wayne, Donald Driver and Plaxico Burress, while adding Todd Heap at tight end. Here's my team:
QB: $7 Kurt Warner, $1 Chris Simms
RB: $50 Willie Parker, $34 Frank Gore, $7 Laurence Maroney, $3 Thomas Jones
WR: $18 Reggie Wayne, $12 Plaxico Burress, $9 Donald Driver, $2 Michael Jenkins
TE: $10 Todd Heap, $1 Alex Smith
K: $2 Josh Brown, $1 Sebastian Janikowski
DT: $2 Tampa Bay, $1 Dallas
My only mistake was not grabbing Matt Leinart to protect Kurt Warner, though he's still a free agent, and Chris Simms wouldn't be the worst fallback option. My running back depth is a strength -- Thomas Jones will be a nice third back, and I'm a big fan of Laurence Maroney this year. As team owner Rusty "Headphones" Dillon put it, "He's gonna be the guy after Dillon pulls his labia." Um ... yeah.
I can't imagine not being extremely competitive with this team -- It's solid top to bottom, and should put up good scores week in and week out. Here's how the rest of the fantasy teams panned out, listed in my view from best to worst:
QB: $2 Steve McNair, $2 Ben Roethlisberger
RB: $52 Brian Westbrook, $25 Mike Bell, $11 DeShaun Foster, $10 Tatum Bell
WR: $31 Larry Fitzgerald, $9 Santana Moss, $4 T.J. Houshmandzadeh, $3 Reggie Brown
TE: $5 Chris Cooley, $2 Tony Scheffler
K: $1 John Kasay, $1 Matt Bryant
DT: $1 Seattle, $1 Philadelphia
There's a lot to like here. I've been touting Steve McNair for awhile; he'll be a solid starting quarterback. It's an incredibly deep roster of running backs, led by Brian Westbrook, who should be healthy when the season starts. Having both Denver running backs can be looked at as problematic since they share carries, but that hasn't stopped them from being valuable in the past. Adding DeShaun Foster as a fourth running back was a nice pickup and good value at just $11. The wide receiving core is a very nice one. We here at Football Outsiders all seem to agree that Larry Fitzgerald has a great chance to have the best season of any receiver. Santana Moss was called out early, and it worked well, as he went for just $9 since other auctioneers were waiting to save their money for the bigger names still on the board. I'm not a huge Moss fan, but $9 is a very nice price to pay for his services. And finally, landing Chris Cooley for only $5 was a nice coup. He seems primed to have a great season, and many of us were shaking our heads that no one had the money to bid more than $5 on him. This team is good up front, and has running back depth, two of the most important qualities in a fantasy football team.
QB: $7 Eli Manning, $1 Jon Kitna
RB: $47 Willis McGahee, $20 Reuben Droughns, $4 Domanick Davis, $2 Cedric Benson
WR: $31 Torry Holt, $22 Steve Smith, $14 Chris Chambers, $1 Michael Clayton
TE: $2 Heath Miller, $2 Dallas Clark
K: $2 Neil Rackers, $1 Stephen Gostkowski
DT: $3 Carolina, $1 NY Giants
This would probably be the top-ranked team if not for the injury questions surrounding its top two receivers, Torry Holt and Steve Smith. Holt just underwent an MRI, and Smith's hammy problem is the kind that can linger throughout the season. If we were to assume that both of these guys will be the All Stars they can be, then this is a team to be feared. McGahee should have a very nice bounce-back season. Eli Manning is an above-average starter at quarterback. Heath Miller will probably score more touchdowns without a clear goal-line back in Pittsburgh. The biggest question here (aside from the wideout injuries) is at the second running back slot. As I've said before, I'm not a big fan of Reuben Droughns this season. $20 wasn't an unreasonable price, but I wouldn't be happy if he was one of my starters. At least Domanick Davis bottomed out to a $4 pick -- this is before Kubiak announced that he might get cut due to his knee issues -- and Cedric Benson has an outside shot of being useful as the season goes on.
QB: $9 Michael Vick, $3 Daunte Culpepper
RB: $62 Steven Jackson, $23 Chester Taylor, $18 Kevan Barlow, $2 Michael Bennett
WR: $25 Terrell Owens, $5 Joe Horn, $3 Derrick Mason, $3 Nate Burleson
TE: $2 Randy McMichael, $1 Jermaine Wiggins
K: $1 Jason Elam, $1 Mike Vanderjagt
DT: $1 Baltimore, $1 Minnesota
Admittedly, a lot hinges on Terrell Owens' performing like he's expected to. Even if he doesn't though, Joe Horn, Derrick Mason and Nate Burleson is a nice trio of wideouts. Steven Jackson and Chester Taylor should put together solid numbers at running back, though the backups are very questionable. Kevan Barlow for $18? Even if he becomes the clear-cut starter in New York, he's still playing for the Jets, who I don't see being much of a force offensively. That might have been the overbid of the draft. The $2 bid on Michael Bennett was intended to make Larry Johnson's owner go to $3, but he didn't bite, so be careful when playing those kinds of games. The quarterbacks are very nice though; Vick's running game makes him quite valuable in our league where you get one point for every ten yards rushing. Adding Culpepper as a backup is sweet. He could have a big year if healthy, and become a nice trading piece for a team that for whatever reason ends up in need of a quarterback. In the mean time, he protects against a freak injury to Vick, who tends to be exposed to more potential injuries than other quarterbacks.
QB: $24 Tom Brady, $14 Donovan McNabb
RB: $37 Warrick Dunn, $35 Julius Jones, $2 LenDale White, $1 Fred Taylor
WR: $20 Randy Moss, $10 Darrell Jackson, $3 Laveranues Coles, $2 Isaac Bruce
TE: $7 Jeremy Shockey, $1 Jerramy Stevens
K: $1 Ryan Longwell, $1 Olindo Mare
DT: $1 Indianapolis, $1 Buffalo
Ladies and gentleman, your biggest bargain of the 2006 Sheep League draft: Julius Jones for $35! Incredible. To explain how this happened -- Money was flying early and often. People were spending like crazy for everyone that was called, and eventually the money began to dry up. And for whatever reason, Julius Jones simply didn't get called for a long time. By the time he did get called, no one could really compete with the $35 bid; people were just out of money. And like that, he went for the astounding value of only $35. This allowed the luxury of spending on two top quarterbacks, though I highly recommend against the practice. Hopefully this team can trade one away for a better receiver, or maybe package one with a running back for an upgrade there. The recent injury to Greg Jones makes Fred Taylor's job safe, which makes LenDale White a reasonable fourth running back to take a chance on. The biggest problem here is at wide receiver. Randy Moss should be fine (although I thought the same thing before he killed my fantasy team last season). Darrell Jackson is a major injury risk. Laveranues Coles and Isaac Bruce will get some fantasy points, but are unlikely to be especially helpful. At least Jeremy Shockey will make up for some wide receiver issues.
QB: $4 Trent Green, $3 Drew Bledsoe
RB: $55 Clinton Portis, $55 Cadillac Williams, $4 DeAngelo Williams, $2 Marion Barber
WR: $16 Anquan Boldin, $7 Javon Walker, $2 Lee Evans, $1 Donte' Stallworth
TE: $3 Alge Crumpler, $3 Vernon Davis
K: $2 Jay Feely, $1 David Akers
DT: $2 San Diego, $1 Jacksonville
This team followed the sound strategy of spending lots of money on two good running backs, while spreading the rest of the money around the team. Drew Bledsoe should have a decent fantasy season, especially if T.O. gets on the field. $55 for Clinton Portis is a bit risky though -- The acquisition of T.J. Duckett could mean the end for his goal line carries. This would definitely make him overpriced, and that's not even factoring in his current shoulder injury. Boldin, Walker and Evans are a very nice trio of starting wideouts, and Crumpler will always be valuable as long as Michael Vick is healthy. Other than the risky Portis pick, the only other real problem is running back depth. DeAngelo Williams may or may not have much fantasy value in his rookie season, and it's probably leaning toward "not." The $2 bid on Marion Barber was simply bizarre. Not sure what the point was, though he'll probably just be waiver bait for someone more useful, like T.J. Duckett or Ladell Betts.
QB: $7 Marc Bulger, $5 Jake Delhomme
RB: $61 Ronnie Brown, $54 LaMont Jordan, $6 Jamal Lewis, $6 Corey Dillon
WR: $8 Hines Ward, $5 Rod Smith, $1 Kevin Curtis, $1 David Givens
TE: $1 Ben Troupe, $1 Courtney Anderson
K: $1 Jeff Wilkins, $1 Mike Nugent
DT: $1 Cleveland, $1 NY Jets
Again, another drafter spends his money on two reasonably-priced running backs, while spreading the rest of the money around well. The result here is a nice tandem of quarterbacks and some solid starting wide receivers. The backup running backs aren't all that exciting, but they're not worthless, either. The third wide receiver slot is horrible -- Kevin Curtis and David Givens? Hopefully a waiver-wire pickup will fix that; those guys could easily score a combined zero on any given week. The tight ends are also long-shots, as are starting the Cleveland or the New York Jets defenses. This team's strength lies mainly in its starters.
QB: $4 Jake Plummer, $1 Byron Leftwich
RB: $66 Rudi Johnson, $58 Edgerrin James, $2 Chris Brown, $1 Jerious Norwood
WR: $5 Eddie Kennison, $2 Drew Bennett, $1 Antonio Bryant, $1 Braylon Edwards
TE: $8 Tony Gonzalez, $5 Ben Watson
K: $1 Matt Stover, $1 Jeff Reed
DT: $3 Chicago, $1 Cincinnati
Here we go again. Unfortunately, the amount spent on these two running backs made things really tight for the rest of the roster, which made the terrible bid of $8 on Tony Gonzalez all the more painful. Thankfully, picking up Ben Watson (for less, ironically) salvages the tight end position, but this roster is a mess beyond the big two. Jake Plummer is decent, but nothing special. Chris Brown may be the starter for now, but he hasn't exactly proven he's going to keep the job. The switch from Billy Volek to Kerry Collins will make a it a rough season for the Titans passing game and for Drew Bennett, and I wouldn't be happy with a team that has Eddie Kennison as its top wideout -- especially in a three-wide receiver league. Antonio Bryant and Braylon Edwards? Maybe later in the season there will be some value there, but there isn't right now. And finally, while Rudi Johnson will have a very nice season, Edgerrin James is primed for a regression following his transition to one of the worst offensive lines in football.
QB: $45 Peyton Manning, $1 David Carr
RB: $90 Shaun Alexander, $4 Ahman Green, $2 Dominic Rhodes
WR: $3 Terry Glenn, $2 Joey Galloway, $2 Keyshawn Johnson, $1 Eric Moulds, $1 Amani Toomer
TE: $1 L.J. Smith, $1 Bubba Franks
K: $3 Adam Vinatieri, $1 Kris Brown
DT: $2 New England, $1 Detroit
A trend you'll notice in my rankings is that the teams that paid for the big three are all near the bottom. This is because of the insane cost it took to get these guys. Surprisingly, I find that the best of the three teams is here, after having also spent $45 on Peyton Manning. This is because this team came away with the best group of cheap wide receivers in the league. Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson can provide solid fantasy stats week in and week out, while Eric Moulds is nice to have as a fourth receiver. The $1 L.J. Smith pickup was also a nice bargain; he was the only $1 tight end drafted that is truly worth starting every week. Vinatieri should add a nice handful of points each week. The obvious problem is the second running back slot. Both Ahman Green and Dominic Rhodes are risky propositions to have as starters, though it's not unreasonable to think they'll turn out useful. Basically, this team blew its wad on Alexander and Manning, but did a nice job of filling out the rest of the team with solid bargains.
QB: $1 Drew Brees, $1 Philip Rivers
RB: $80 Larry Johnson, $30 Reggie Bush, $27 Kevin Jones
WR: $5 Andre Johnson, $4 Muhsin Muhammad, $2 Matt Jones, $1 Keenan McCardell, $1 Troy Williamson
TE: $3 Jason Witten, $1 Kellen Winslow
K: $1 Nate Kaeding, $1 Josh Scobee
DT: $1 Arizona, $1 Green Bay
Larry Johnson was the first name called in this year's draft, and he went for the seemingly crazy price of $80. Amazingly, this turned out to be a bargain when Alexander went for $90 and Tomlinson went for $86. The rest of the money was spent on running backs, netting the useful Kevin Jones and the high potential of Reggie Bush. I really like the $3 Jason Witten and the $1 pickup of Keenan McCardell, but not much else. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers are very questionable as starting fantasy quarterbacks. Andre Johnson might be nice as a third wideout, but it's a bad situation when he's your most expensive one. I don't expect much out of Muhammad, Matt Jones or Troy Williamson either. This team has a good chance of winning when L.J. has his 180-yard, 3 touchdown games, but is extremely unlikely to win when he has more "human" ones. I'd have liked to see this team spend its money on some wide receivers and a decent starter instead of buying both Jones and Bush. It could have easily been a top-three team in that case.
QB: $14 Carson Palmer, $1 Brett Favre
RB: $63 Tiki Barber, $3 Deuce McAllister, $1 Mike Anderson, $1 Ryan Moats
WR: $36 Chad Johnson, $3 Roy Williams, $2 Jerry Porter, $1 Reche Caldwell
TE: $29 Antonio Gates, $1 Zach Hilton
K: $1 Shayne Graham, $1 Lawrence Tynes
DT: $2 Pittsburgh, $1 Miami
If Carson Palmer turns out healthy, he will obviously be one of the better bargains of the draft. If his knee flares up, Brett Favre isn't a very sexy backup option. It would have been preferable to spend the extra buck or two on a better backup. Tiki Barber is good, but I don't see him being worth $63 due to the presence of Brandon Jacobs. The second running back spot is a mess -- No one should have Deuce McAllister, Mike Anderson or Ryan Moats as a starting running back in all but the deepest of leagues (or maybe Anderson in a touchdown-only league). I've never been a big believer in Roy Williams, and apparently it wasn't noticed that Jerry Porter seems to have lost his starting job. It's great to have Antonio Gates, but it left too many holes elsewhere on the roster here.
QB: $30 Matt Hasselbeck, $1 Aaron Brooks
RB: $86 LaDainian Tomlinson, $5 Joseph Addai, $2 Michael Turner, $1 Wali Lundy
WR: $23 Marvin Harrison, $4 Deion Branch, $1 Roddy White, $1 Ernest Wilford
TE: $1 Eric Johnson, $1 Daniel Graham
K: $1 Michael Koenen, $1 Joe Nedney
DT: $1 Atlanta, $1 Washington
At last we come to the team at the bottom. Guess which team ran out of money first? Being at the bottom of these rankings isn't all that bad, as every team has $160 worth of value in one form or another. There are certainly three players to be proud of here -- Hasselbeck, Tomlinson, and Harrison. It's what lies beneath that's the problem. Joseph Addai and Wali Lundy are completely unproven, and having one of them as a starter is not a good place to be. When Deion Branch signs the receiving core will certainly improve, but even then, Roddy White and Ernest Wilford aren't very pretty as third wideouts. Eric Johnson and Daniel Graham? It's not like your starting tight end is crucial to the success of your fantasy team, but this is really terrible. Neither one is even the number one tight end option on their own offenses! Without a trade or a decent waiver pickup, this team is likely looking at zero points from its tight ends every week.
Still, maybe Wali Lundy will take the starting job and run with it (literally). Maybe Carson Palmer will be fine and a fantasy force. Maybe Andre Johnson will have a huge bounce-back season. Early waiver pickups can make a big difference. And that, as they say, is why they play the games.
Bill: We forgot to include this last week and really, it's a shame that we did. This week's Keep Choppin' Wood Award goes to Lions head coach Rod Marinelli for the following quote:
"I'm very aware of that," Marinelli said of the team's past road woes. " The way I've put it is that we're just going to keep chopping wood. We're just going to go do what we do, we're just going to go pound. I don't care if we go to Alaska, I don't care where we go.
Yes -- you read that right. The man actually urged his team to, in fact, keep choppin' wood. What's more beautiful than that? Life is wonderful, folks.
Next week, Scramble will have a look at the likely fantasy free agents to be coveted after Week 1, just in time for you to snap them up beforehand, plus a new Scramble for the Ball Mailbag. Jason Beattie's cartoon returns next week to its regularly scheduled place and time as well. If you'd like to see your fantasy football question answered in next week's column, send an e-mail to scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com.
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