Stars and Scrubs or Balanced Auction Roster: How to Decide (Fantasy Football)

by Raju Byfield | @FantasyContext | Featured Writer
Jun 7, 2019

A “stars and scrubs” approach calls for drafters to spend much of their budget on top-tier players, like Ezekiel Elliott

How does one decide what strategy to use from a team construction standpoint when it comes to auction leagues? There are two approaches that are the most common. One is to build your roster with a few stars and to find value picks to fill out your roster. The other is to attempt to find a balanced roster, at least as far as your starters. We will avoid discussing actual numbers or percentages as league size, roster size, and league settings all play a factor in determining what price or budget percentage specific players should be valued at.

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How to Decide Which Strategy to Use

Know Your Draft Room
Knowing your draft room is key, but as one may expect, it is simpler said than done. Knowledge of your draft room will give you some insight on which strategy is the better option. Here are some things you will want to endeavor to identify.  

Rookie Aversion
Rookie aversion can help you decide which strategy is best to employ. Owners averse to rookies will be spending the majority of their money on veterans. Owners who are not rookie averse can drive up the price on coveted rookies. Why does this matter? Rookies often present some of the best values in auction leagues and are high-upside targets to fill out the scrub portion of a stars and scrubs roster.

Depth of League and Rivals’ Depth of Knowledge
Similarly to how many deep snake draft leagues are won in the later rounds, auction drafts can be won by snapping up the top sleepers “on the cheap.” An understanding of your rivals and their depth of knowledge is crucial to ascertain what type of values may be available late in the auction. Again this is key if you plan to build a stars and scrubs roster. Scrubs does not mean adding the fifth receiver and third running back from teams. Rather, it means obtaining excellent values on players that may have been overlooked or left off of nominations for other reasons that we will go into later.

12-team leagues are standard, but roster size could make yours a deep league if you are at 25+ roster spots. If you play in a league with more than 12 teams and more than 21 rounds, you are also in a deep league. The depth of player knowledge needed to win late in auctions in deeper leagues can present advantages to those who go 400+ deep in their research. You can bet that not all players will research this heavily, regardless of if they are in deep leagues or not, and that some will opt to rely on the waiver wire to fill out the end of their bench. This presents a strategic advantage that you can exploit.

Expertise of Rivals
The expertise of your draft room is another thing to consider. Depth of knowledge is important, but having a somewhat accurate gauge of what a player may or may not do from a production standpoint is even more critical. It is also important to note which of your rivals has experience in auction drafts. If you are a first-year league, there is a good chance that one or more managers will be participating in their first auction. This provides an opportunity for both approaches based on how they bid at the start of the auction.

Another important thing to note is the level of rookie expertise your draft room may hold. This is different from rookie aversion, as now we are gauging familiarity, comfort, and depth of rookie knowledge. Everyone knows the rookies that will go in the first round of dynasty rookie drafts, but are they familiar and comfortable projecting players like Justice Hill, Terry McLaurin, and undrafted free agent Preston Williams? If you are playing in a redraft auction with players who only know redraft, there are some managers that will not even know players who have not yet been hyped by the fantasy analysts they rely on.

History of Drafters in Previous Years
If applicable, the history of your rival managers can help clue you into what strategy you may wish to employ. If you have drafted with some or all of them before, you have actual data you can rely on. Do your rivals employ a stars and scrubs strategy? If this is the case, you may find that all of the top stars are sold for significantly higher than their average auction value or AAV. If this is the case, a balanced, value-based approach may be the best option. If they are a group that predominantly likes to feed the bots, a stars and scrubs approach may work.

This means only a few teams will be nominating top players and that there will undoubtedly be late values to fill out the “scrubs” portion of your roster. This also means there may be some great values within the first few nominations, while your rivals are gun shy about blowing their auction dollars too early.

Your rivals’ draft history can also clue you into what positions or players may go for more or less than expected. Do they go crazy and blow their wad on the top running backs or receivers? In these cases, it may be wise to avoid a top-five WR1 or RB1 in favor of two RB1s or WR1s who may go at a much better value and produce at a similar statistical level. If you have taken over an orphan team, be sure to ask the commissioner for the previous year’s auction results as it can help you better understand your draft room and their tendencies.

Nomination Collusion
The final thing to consider before deciding on a strategy is nomination collusion. This pertains to nomination collusion you partake in, or that other league members may be a part of. Nomination collusion lends itself to the stars and scrubs approach, as you purposely leave all your top targets off of your nomination list. This is done so you can add them later in the auction at a value. If you are participating in the collusion, you know there will be values to be had in the later rounds.

If you are aware of collusion that you are not actively participating, the same knowledge can be gleaned. If there is no collusion and your entire draft room continually nominates your top targets and sleepers, the stars and scrubs strategy may not be wise. This strategy can result in you ending up with true scrubs, or players you had to settle for. The last thing you want to see happen after you spend wildly early is to see your top value-based targets all get snapped up for significantly less than their AAV, while you can only look on in disdain due to a lack of funds.

The Strategies

Stars and Scrubs
There are two approaches to the stars and scrubs strategy. The first approach is to load up on first-round talents and then fill the remainder of your roster with a QB and $1 and $2 bids. Generally, when using this strategy you will spend between 65-80 percent of your budget on stars. Using this approach requires a deeper knowledge of the player pool since you will have very limited control over the players you are able to land with your $1 or $2 bids. Which players you target and the draft room’s demand for them will determine how many stars you are able to net with this strategy.

There are some variations of the stars and scrubs approach. One is to spend up to 80 percent of your budget on two or three of the truly elite fantasy options, regardless of price. The owner will then fill out his roster with scrubs. This differs from the normal approach as the intention is to land players deemed fantasy game changers. Examples of players targeted with this approach include a DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas, and Odell Beckham Jr. combo or an Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffrey combo.

Another variation is to focus on landing the two top talents and then look for deals to fill out the rest of your roster. This approach requires extraordinary patience, as you may have to wait until the final quarter of your draft to fill some of your starting roster spots. This approach often entails targeting two of the top five players on your draft board, and then looking for sleepers to fill out your roster. An example of this is someone targeting Patrick Mahomes for up to 40 percent of their budget and Ezekiel Elliott for 40-45 percent.    

The balanced approach is when an owner looks to apportion a fixed amount of their budget per starting roster spot. Owners who opt for this method often come prepared with a cheat sheet that has information on expected AAV, as well as true value, or the value an owner is willing to spend on that particular player. Of course, acquiring certain players may require spending a little over the targeted amount, but a lower spend on a flex or a QB can help balance it out.

The impetus behind the approach is to field the most competitive roster possible without leaving any major holes. The owner will still have some stars on their roster, but will likely not have multiple first round picks. This is where the strategies diverge. Spending less on players with lower round grades allows an owner to field a more complete lineup from top to bottom.

A variation of the balanced approach is to target only budget bids and values for the entire draft. This may mean an owner has zero first- or second-round picks, but it often ends up leading to an owner having one of the more talented teams from top to bottom.

A balanced approach is often the strategy those who play in auction dynasty leagues follow. In dynasties and keepers, your auction dollar spend carries over from year to year along with a set ‘inflation’ amount. This makes finding values critical. Choosing the right strategy to employ can be make or break as far it pertains to having a successful fantasy season, so choose wisely.

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Raju Byfield is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Raju, check out his profile and follow him @FantasyContext.

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