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The Perfect Auction

Note: This is the third of a 5 part series. The principles in this article covers auction drafts. The other articles will cover 10 teams, 12 teams, 14 teams, and WCOFF scoring.


Aaaah....The Perfect Auction. We have all dreamt of having it. Some of us have experienced it. And for those that have....we want it again and again. And why not? You surely did not subscribe to this website to be average. You want to dominate. You want to have such a good roster that others salivate over who you have. You want them all to come to you when discussing trades. And in this article I am going to break down how to have that perfect auction.

More and more leagues are abandoning the round-by-round draft in favor of auction style play. This type of play allows everyone in the league to have a shot at every single player in the draft. If you want LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson and you are successful at outbidding everyone for both, then you get both on your roster. You will probably not get much else, but you get the idea. This article isn't going to debate the merits of auction leagues, but simply attempts to explain the art of succeeding in one.

The following assumptions will be used in the analysis that follows:

  • 12 team league that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3WR, 1 TE, 1 DEF/ST and 1 K
  • Scoring is performance based
  • $200 salary cap per team, $2,400 dollars available league wide
  • Bids are whole numbers only
  • Draft will last 20 rounds for a total of 240 players selected
  • Teams are allowed to pick up free agents during the season (with a different cap or waiver system)

    Some people seem to think the Principles of Value-Based Drafting (VBD) don't apply to an auction draft...that you can just show up with a cheat sheet and write down the values as they get determined, then pay a little more for a better position player and a little less for a worse one.

    I am not going to deny that you could do that, but that won't lead you to maximizing value in an auction draft. It also won't lead to consistent successful play. To have a successful auction draft you must know and do these things well:

    1. Understand the characteristics of a winning auction team.
    2. Correctly evaluate the value of all players worth drafting.
    3. Master the techniques of successful nominating and bidding.
    4. Be prepared for unique situations.

    A. Understanding the Characteristics of a Winning Team

    I have generated a lot of data to support what I believe are the characteristics of a winning team. For the sake of fitting this article into a readable article, I am going to just state the conclusions here.

    1. A winning team averages the following position cap percentages (dollar values represent amount of $200 cap allocated to fill all roster spots for this position):
      • 11% of team cap value while drafting 2.4 QBs ($22)
      • 50% of team cap value while drafting 5.7 RBs ($100)
      • 33% of team cap value while drafting 7.0 WRs ($66)
      • 3% of team cap value while drafting 2.1 TEs ($6)
      • 2% of team cap value while drafting 1.5 DEF/STs ($4)
      • 1% of team cap value while drafting 1.3 PKs ($2)

      Conversely, a losing team generally spends significantly more dollars on quarterbacks (20%), less on running backs (around 40%) and similar dollars on the rest of the positions.

    2. A winning team generally allocates between 75-80% of their cap to their top QB, top 2 RBs, top 3 WRs, top TE, top kicker and defense (we shall refer to these players as the starters).Conversely a losing team will spend less than 65-70% of their dollars on starters.

    3. Winning teams spend all (or nearly all) of their cap dollars.

    B. Correctly Evaluate the Value of All Players

    There are a lot of ways to do this, but it all starts with having projected statistics for all of the players. You then convert those statistics to fantasy points based on your scoring rules. Finally, you compare all of the positions into one list via Value-Based Drafting (VBD) principles. If you do not know what VBD is or how it works, you can click here to read an excellent article about it.

    The good part to all of this is that we offer two unique tools (Draft Dominator and VBD Excel App) that will handle all of these calculations for you (including generating customized auction values for your league).

    C. Master the Techniques of Successful Drafting

    1. Combining the results from A and B above, you will quickly notice that you usually cannot have the prototype winning team by doing the following:
      • Drafting a top 4 QB
      • Drafting a top 3 TE
      • Drafting a top 5 Defense
      • Drafting a top 5 Kicker

    2. The reason you don't want these positions is that this will usually skew your team away from the winning team design (as stated in A) by spending your cap dollars inappropriately. I am not going to suggest you cannot win by deviating, but it will require a lot more sleeper type picks later in the auction to achieve success. History tells me that it is easier to stay within the confines to produce a quality team.


    3. Nominate players you can't use early in the process. If you know you aren't going to bid high on Peyton Manning then nominate him early while everyone has lots of dollars available. Remember your goal is to start every other team going down the wrong road of cap allocation.


    4. Follow an overpriced bid with a player from the same position that is generally considered better. If Kevin Jones fetches $40 (against a value of $34 based on your calculations), then nominate Willis McGahee or Lamont Jordan next. The point you are attempting to achieve is to continue having people overbid on players.


    5. Don't feel left out if you are consistently being outbid early. Conservative cap management early usually leads to great teams. Just don't be so cheap that you find yourself without good starters to purchase.


    6. Zero in on two RBs that are in the top 14. Good teams spend nearly 50% of their entire cap on their RBs. This typically has you avoiding the top 3 backs (because someone will pay an outlandish sum for them at all cost), but stay active in the RB bidding until you get 2 quality starters.


    7. Since only the top defenses and kickers usually go for anything more than the minimum, nominate the 5th or 6th best at these positions for a dollar. You will either get this player or force someone to waste a dollar or more. Either way you have succeeded.


    8. Never increase your bid by more than the minimum. The auction is not the place to show how macho you are. Getting players as cheaply as possible is always the correct route.


    9. If every RB is going for significantly more money than projected, make sure you still get a top 10 back even if you overpay. You can make up the difference later by having more dollars to spend than everyone else. This is a time when the "winning ratios" possibly need to be deviated from as it will likely take a top QB, top WRs to overcome a hole at RB.


    10. Very early in the auction, you can sometimes get cute by announcing junk at the minimum bid. Junk players have some value, but would likely go for the minimum at the end of the auction. But announced early, they sometimes go for $5. Sit back and smile when RB Mewelde Moore gets bid up and these same owners don't have the money to bid on quality elsewhere.


    11. Don't participate in a bidding war (cost of bid is greater than player's worth) in an attempt to drive up what others pay. This can backfire fast and mess up your roster in a hurry.


    12. During the auction, adjust undrafted player values dynamically based on previous bids in this auction. (This is very hard to do manually, but we do this automatically with our Draft Dominator software). This is very important to make sure you are not overbidding during the draft. A player's dynamic value can change significantly during the draft if massive over-bidding/under-bidding occurs.


    13. When the bid gets to two to three owners, evaluate the seriousness of their bid by examining their core roster and dollar requirements left. It might be wise to give up on a player as the dollars drained may serve a better purpose towards minimizing the number of owners who can block you from getting certain talent later.


    14. Never leave money on the table at the end of the auction. Winning teams spend all of their cap and you need to do the same. Being so conservative that no good players are left to spend all of your dollars at the end of the draft is terrible cap management.


    15. Generally speaking I like to get a 10% discount on the top 5 at each position, 20% on picks 6-10 and 30% on others. This can change late in the draft if you have significantly more money and are a player or two away from a great team.


    16. Consider creating value by taking two players involved in a depth chart controversy. The controversy allows both of the players to be undervalued and can protect your roster against injury.


    17. Don't assume a few overvalued superstars will kill a team. Just because an owner overpays for a few players does not mean they will be terrible. Owners that power their team with a few superstars usually lack depth, but if they are anchored by Larry Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson, they may not need it (if both stay healthy). I prefer a solid deep team, but have seen some experts allocate 80-90% of their cap on their 4 top players. Just don't let these teams steal guys real late when everyone else is broke.


    18. Track everyone's picks and dollars available. You can easily do this by using the Draft Dominator

    D. Unique Situations

    1. You have just landed 2-3 top players early and you got them at deep discounts. What do I do next? Change your sights to start looking for value at greater than 25%. If you are patient, you should end up with a great team.


    2. Everyone is overpaying. Terrell Owens just went for $36, Tomlinson just got $80. The draft is 30 picks old and I don't have anybody. Take a deep breath and do not panic. If you have done your math right, you'll end up with a great roster


    3. I count about 26 starting running backs and the first 14 taken have all been overvalued. I think the owners are allocating more dollars because of the scarcity factor. What should I do? Not a cause for panic, but you don't want to be stuck with absolute trash either. Overpay by a little on your first RB and be in a position to control the rest of the draft.


    4. I am getting great value (15-30%) on every selection, but I have many more players than everyone. This is how it is suppose to go. Hang in there and enjoy the ride. Ask yourself, Is this the team I'd like to start? If it is not, target a few players left and overpay a bit to solidify your team. If you believe you have your starting team, keep value drafting and locate a good engraver for the trophy. Make sure to target needs in the final rounds. If your value has been in the 10-20% range, you probably want to shift to the 20-40% range for the final spots.


    OK, with the basic game plan in place, Let's execute the Perfect Auction.

    Execution of the Perfect Auction

    1. Create First Pass Player Values by Using the VBD App. For this example, here is the output.

    2. I like to fiddle with these values a tad to reflect what the likely bid will be for all of the players. In our example, I want the top 29 QBs, 68 RBs, 85 WRs, 25 TEs, 15 PKs and 18 Defs to add up to total cap allocation. This is far from an exact science, but history tells me the big name players at all the positions go for a tad more. ADP lists also help to target players that will likely go for more or less. I leave players in their original ranking order (and just adjust the price though). This allows me to easily identify players to avoid and players I am likely going to target. Here is my revised output. This is the sheet that will guide you to the Perfect Auction.

    3. Highlight the best values and the team you PLAN to build your auction around. In my example, I have identified these players at QB.

  • QB Brett Favre, Value = $8
  • QB Billy Volek, Value = $1

    But don't get caught up on EXACT players you have to have. You want to build your team by grabbing value. It's quite possible no one at your auction likes Jake Delhomme and you can grab him at a significant reduction.

    4. If you are not using the Draft Dominator, I would print out your revised output and record how much everyone goes for. You should also keep a +/- calculation going to see if the cap is getting spent too fast or too slow. This will help you evaluate waiting for even deeper discounts later. This recorded value also helps to gage what future players will be worth. If you are using the Draft Dominator, record all prices and it will recalculate auction pricing as the auction continues.

    5. Create an allocation plan that will list what you are trying to do in this auction in regards to prices for starters and backups. Allocate all roster spots. Don't worry about players so much here. In our example, here is my allocation plan:

  • QB1 $16, QB2 $3, QB3 $1 (QBs = 20)
  • RB1 $43, RB2 $36, RB3 $12, RB4 $6, RB5 $1 (RBs = $98)
  • WR1 $23, WR2 $18, WR3 $14, WR4 $6, WR5 $3, WR6 $3, WR7 $2 (WRs = $69)
  • TE1 $5, TE2 $1 (TEs = $3)
  • PK1 $1 (PKs = $1)
  • Def1 $2, Def2 $1 (Defs $3)

  • Starters allocation = $158 (79%)

    6. Possibly the most important piece to having the perfect auction is to simply NOT BID ON THE FIRST 20-24 NOMINATIONS. The reason is that everyone has all of their cap. Plus these early nominations are the stars and favorite players of the league. Let others take these players. You accomplish two things by waiting. You begin to see the pricing structure of this auction. Are people overpaying at RB? at QB? Who are the crazy bidders? etc. You cannot win an auction in the first 20 nominations. But you can certainly lose it here. Trust me on this one...There is usually a strong correlation to spending money on the first 20 players nominated and auction success. And it's an inverse relationship. Be the thrifty owner and just wait these nominations out.

    7. Early in the nomination process, throw out people that will likely get overbid to what you would be willing to spend. The primary goal is to drain everyone's cap so the players you are targetting later come at a discount. If you love Brian Westbrook this year, do not nominate him. Let someone else nominate him. You know he is not going to go for a $1 so there is no point in nominating him. Towards the middle of the nomination process (100 players have been selected), try to slide average PKs and defenses through at $1. You want to be the person who nominates Jeff Reed and not the person who would need to bid $2 to get him.

    8. Nominate against your strength early. If you have just secured two top backs then you want to keep nominating other backs. No way do you want someone like Frank Gore to come at a deep discount late in the auction. Introducing a person's handcuff right after the other player was selected also tends to drive up cost on both players. Example: Someone just outbid you for Dominic Rhodes at $18. I would look to nominate Joseph Addai as soon as possible while everyone is still aware of the handcuff here.

    9. After winning a bid, slot that player against your allocation plan. Adjust remaining dollars to create a revised plan. Remember to try and craft a team that has the winning design characteristics stated at the top of this article (Spend 75-80% of your cap on starters, 50% of total cap on your RBs, etc).

    10. In the early to middle stages of the auction, keep plugging away looking for value and players that fit the mold of your allocation plan. Read the Perfect Draft to see my views on players that should likely come at a discount.

    11. In the later stages of the auction, your strategy will differ if you have a lot of cap space or hardly any at all. If you have a lot of cap space, you need to focus on a few players and get them almost regardless of price. It's OK to overbid to get the last real option at WR (that will start for you) when you saved dollars making solid selections in all of your picks so far. If money is tight, look to pounce on key players in the $2/$3 range. Never drain your cap so much that you are forced to bid $1 on a lot of players at the very end of the auction. People that excel at auctions will constantly steal these players away at $2 from you and you will likely be left holding many bad players. Typically $2 and $3 players are worth a LOT more than $1 players if the auction proceeds correctly.

    Hope this article helps. It's hard to define ever situation. All players can possibly have value in an auction which is what makes this format exciting for many.

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