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The fun thing about auctions is that each position has a vastly different strategy for attacking it. It can be a stumbling block for beginners or even veterans if you don’t realize the differences at the four major starting spots. As you saw in the first piece, quarterbacks and tight ends have much different scarcity questions and starting requirements. On top of that, depth varies widely among all four positions. Quarterback in a start-one quarterback league is just too deep to sink a lot of money into the position. On the other end of the spectrum, tight end is so top-heavy that it’s the best strategy to get one of the top guys or dive deep into bargains. But running backs? They are unique creatures all on their own. Not only is the position scarce in that there are not many true bell-cow backs left, but it’s also scarce in that a lot of leagues allow multiple flexes at the position, so people push even harder to get as many relevant backs on their team as they can. The comfort level as each tier drops off the board makes fantasy auction drafters nervous like at no other position. This seems to be a part of a fantasy drafter’s brain that is hardwired. As a result, you have less of a chance to grab the bargains at running back if you are not strict with when you are attacking which players. This is not always in your control, but then again, sometimes it is, and that’s why you need some value possibilities to put your roster over the top. You are going to have to pay, or even overpay, for the most sought-after guys at running back, so it is even more critical to find some valuable nuggets that can explode for your team.
One other thing to remember is that a target does not necessarily mean a low-priced player. It means you are seeking out a lower-priced player as compared to other players similarly ranked. Most often, in the case of running backs, you will not see many, if any, deals on the top guys. Instead, try to find a couple of dollars off the prices at the top of the position, but more than ever, you should be looking to take advantage of players who have a role that may not be what you want, but that could develop into a bigger role down the line. This is not always easy to anticipate, and the cheaper the running back, the more you’ll be wrong, but when you’re right, you’ll push your auction roster over the top.
Ezekiel Elliott – Everything went poorly for Elliott and the Dallas offense last year. Dak Prescott was lost for the season in Week 5, the offensive line was decimated by injury, and they lost starting tight end Blake Jarwin for the season in Week 1. On top of that, Elliott was uncharacteristically dinged up and struggled through several games before finally missing a week to rest. Even so, he finished fifth in the NFL in rushing attempts inside the ten-yard line and second in attempts inside the five. The offense wasn’t efficient in 2020, but the return of Prescott and the offensive line will correct that issue. In the four full games Elliott played with his quarterback last year, he averaged 5.8 receptions per game and scored four touchdowns. In 2021 drafts, Elliott is being pushed down the draft board by people wondering if 2020 signals the beginning of the end for the Cowboys runner. So, in your auction, you should try to take advantage of that general malaise and nominate him when the top running backs are still available. Drafters waiting to score a top running back may let Elliott go a few dollars cheaper because they know they have 3-5 elite options still to pick from.
Austin Ekeler – Concerns that Ekeler might see a significant drop in targets after the departure of Philip Rivers turned out to be unfounded. If the Chargers’ running back hadn’t missed seven games with a severe hamstring injury in the middle of the year you could very well be talking about him catching 90 passes last year. He averaged 5.9 per contest, and his number was even higher with Justin Herbert as the quarterback. Ekeler is being drafted as a back-end RB1, and his auction price is often that of a top-end RB2. It is hard to find a discount on running backs, so if you can take advantage of the dip in price after Ekeler’s injury you get a back that has a real shot to lead the league in catches at the position. He’s a PPR machine, but in half PPR leagues, his value does take a bit of a hit as his touchdown totals are usually a bit pedestrian.
Chasing Workhorse Backs
J.K. Dobbins – The Ravens love to run the football. They led the NFL by a wide margin in 2020 with 555 rushing attempts. That was almost three more attempts per game than the second-place team. Their identity will not change drastically in 2021, even if they made moves to improve their passing game. Fantasy drafters are correctly paying attention to the fact that last year even after Dobbins entered the rotation for good in Week 8, he still only played on 52.8% of the snaps the rest of the way. Gus Edwards will still play a role after signing an extension after the season, but that seems to be accounted for in Dobbins’ current price tag. Nevertheless, Dobbins is a special player and should show that when he gets a full year of 55%-65% snap counts. Last year he was second in the NFL in Rushing Yards Over Expectation (per attempt) according to NextGenStats, and Pro Football Reference had him as fourth in the league in Yards After Contact (per attempt). He’s a gifted runner and the bonus for auction drafters is that when people have the whole running back pool to choose from his role tends to scare people off. His AAV is only $29 and he’s going on average as the RB16 despite finishing the year out as the RB11 in PPR formats from Week 8 on. He’s a relatively cheap option for your RB2 slot as a young, explosive guy, who plays for a team with a dynamic running game, and who could find his way into the end zone for double-digit touchdowns.
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