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Fantasy Football Auction Primer

Is your fantasy football draft an auction? Here is a primer to give you an edge.

“We’re not ‘foodies’, are we?” I asked my wife recently, on our way to a great local restaurant called… The Local.

She laughed. “Of course we are.”

So it is with auction drafts. Like fine dining is to fast food, auctions are simply an elevated form of fantasy football. It’s scientifically proven. Don’t look it up.

Success in auction drafts is a lot like success in poker. You come in with a plan, adjust to your opponents, smartly manage your bankroll, strike at the most opportune times, and above all else: avoid tilting.

The Basics

Nominate player. Bid. Fill your team. It’s like eBay, but with football players. Simple enough, yes? But what kinds of players should you target? How much money should you spend at each position? What do you do when that one player you really want breaks your budget?

Fantasy owners typically start off with a $200 budget to fill their squad. That is the going rate at the major sites, and that is what we will use as the baseline here. Owners are free to spend those $200 as they see fit. Should you spend money willy nilly, or is there more finesse required? That depends on your style, and you can have equal success by being aggressive or cautious.

The Strategies

There are generally two ancient and hallowed strategies in the auction drafting world--Studs ‘n Duds and Balanced.

Studs ‘n Duds

Studs ‘n Duds drafting involves ponying up big bucks for star players and trying to be savvy with the rest of your budget. Normally you would target two or three would-be first-round snake picks using this strategy, and you would put up whatever amount of money is needed to grab those guys.

Here is an example of a Studs ‘n Duds approach.

Pos Player Price
QB Philip Rivers $5
RB Le'Veon Bell $64
RB Kareem Hunt $9
WR Odell Beckham Jr. $58
WR DeSean Jackson $7
WR Stefon Diggs $17
TE Travis Kelce $30
D/ST Los Angeles Rams $1
BN Tyrod Taylor $2
BN Travis Henry $2
BN Devin Funchess $1
BN Charles Clay $1
BN Sterling Shepard $1
BN Giovani Bernard $2

The trouble with this approach, as you may have noted, is that it leaves you with perilously little money with which to fill out the rest of your roster. Not only is your margin of error razor thin by drafting your studs--miss on one guy or have the injury bug hit your squad, and you’re toast--but the rest of your team will be filled with low-cost guys that must exceed their value. The upside, of course, is the likelihood you have a few high-producing guys in your lineup no matter what.

Balanced

The Balanced draft, as you may have guessed, is the antithesis to the Studs ‘n Duds approach. In lieu of spending big for any one player, auction attendees opt to spread their money around for a more robust collection of talent. Theoretically speaking, at any rate.

Being balanced increases the margin for error on your fantasy team, to be sure, but it also potentially decreases the ceiling. It might feel good to have money to spend on your bench, but no amount of money will feel good if you didn’t spend enough on quality starters. That said, here is a quality balanced approach, as I see it:

Pos Player Price
QB Russell Wilson $11
RB Ezekiel Elliott $37
RB Christian McCaffrey $31
WR Brandin Cooks $26
WR Tyreek Hill $21
WR Kelvin Benjamin $20
TE Martellus Bennett $9
D/ST Houston Texans $2
BN Darren McFadden $13
BN Ty Montgomery $17
BN Kenny Britt $8
BN Jason Witten $3
BN Jay Cutler $1
BN Jaron Brown $1

It should go without saying that whatever strategy you use will be useless if you don’t follow basic rules of fantasy drafting. That is to say, know your league settings before you step into the draft room. You wouldn’t want to be stuck with Tyrod Taylor and Brock Osweiler in a superflex league, would you?

Planning Ahead

Picked a strategy? Good. Now to plan for it.

Budgeting is crucial in auction drafts. It helps you keep tabs on where you spent your money, and how much you have left at each position. It also helps you adjust on the fly as the draft transpires. How you budget for a $200 draft largely depends on league settings and scoring rules. Here are some sample budgets based on different league settings:

Superflex, PPR: 1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE, 2-FLEX   Standard: 1-QB, 2-RB, 3-WR, 1-TE
Quarterback $48   Quarterback $13
Running Back $65   Running Back $63
Wide Receiver $70   Wide Receiver $110
Tight End $15   Tight End $12
Kicker $1   Kicker $1
Defense $1   Defense $1
         
FPC, 1.5 PPR-TE: 1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE, 2-FLEX   PPR: 1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE, 1-FLEX
Quarterback $22   Quarterback $30
Running Back $62   Running Back $46
Wide Receiver $79   Wide Receiver $102
Tight End $31   Tight End $20
Kicker $3   Kicker $1
Defense $3   Defense $1

Of course, there is a lot of personal preference here. If you like having a top-tier quarterback, you are going to need to budget more at the position. The sample budgets reflect different styles of auction drafting, too. The PPR budget looks like a top-tier quarterback is in the plan, for example.

Tiers Before Tears

Tiering is nothing new in fantasy football. You arrange players in groups based on quality and try to maximize your returns. Your top tier of quarterbacks is Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady in any particular order. If you can manage to grab one of those at a decent value, then you are golden at the position.

In traditional snake drafting, though, you are at the mercy of the randomizer gods and your leaguemates. Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson are in their own tier atop the running back heap. But if you don’t land a top pick, you aren’t getting Bell or Johnson.

That’s the beauty of auction drafting--no player is impossible to get as long as you are willing to open up your wallet. There may be several other fantasy owners bidding up the price for one of those two running backs, but you aren’t automatically excluded unless you spent your money elsewhere.

Beyond all that, though, tiering is a valuable strategy to keep track of players as they get drafted. If you have your list of players and values in a tiered structure, you will be able to see when each tier is about to dry up and act accordingly. There is a tendency for fantasy owners to panic when the last players in a tier get nominated. If that happens, the cost for a player could balloon well beyond what you expected him to cost. If you were counting on that player, you will either need to overspend or settle for a lower-tier option.

Leave Emotions At the Door

Why do you play fantasy football? If you’re like most people, it’s because you were a football fan first. Growing up a Dolphins fan, I could’ve gone after everybody on offense as a kid if I played fantasy football back then. I also would have avoided all other AFC East players like the plague. Would that have helped me win championships? Probably not.

Being a homer is a quick way to the cellar. Especially if you are a Jets fan. I have Washington fan friend who refuses to draft Cowboys players. That’s well and dandy until Ezekiel Elliott is beating you in the fantasy playoffs.

Beyond homership, though, being as cool and calculated as possible is key to coming away from the draft with a result you like. Remember, avoid tilting. Players you like are invariably going to get bid up. What will you do when your top target, Russell Wilson, sits $5 more than you have budgeted for your starting quarterback and you have already spent 60 percent of your budget? How will you react when that cheap sleeper you were targeting for later gets nominated three rounds early?  

Practice, Practice, Practice

Need help reining in your emotions? Mock drafts are a great way to do just that.

Have an hour to kill at your kid’s practice? Jump into a mock auction draft. Husband went to bed early because of a big day tomorrow and can’t sleep? Put in another few rounds of practice. Everyone went to lunch without you at work? You know what to do.

Doing mock auction drafts is absolutely the best way to prepare for the real thing. As I mentioned, simply going through the motions and getting used to the volatile nature of an auction draft will sharpen your skills and dull your emotions. Depending on the platform where you are drafting, you will get a much better sense of how players are priced and what other fantasy owners are willing to pay for them. Take note of trends--whether certain players routinely go for less money than their recommended price, for example. The more you do mock drafts, the more prepared you will be come draft day in your home league.

Incidentally, practice may be less necessary for seasoned auction veterans, but it’s still useful. Wrangling information on this year’s pricing or how other fantasy owners are feeling about players is always a good thing, even if you’re a pro.

Auction Drafts Are Snowflakes

Not that kind of Snowflake.

Whether you consider them beautifully unique or maddeningly inconsistent, no two auction drafts are ever the same. Subject to the shifting sands of human emotion, strategic idiosyncrasies, and the NFL itself, auctions vary even within longstanding leagues from year to year.

Because of this, it is essential to approach every auction draft with a flexible strategy. Rigor leads to panic. Panic leads to bad decisions. Bad decisions lead to hating your team. Hate leads to suffering.

Being flexible means setting goal prices for your players and being willing to spend more at certain positions when your opponents start bidding them up. It means changing your roster construction strategy when that running back you weren’t expecting to get so cheaply suddenly worms his way onto your squad. Coming into your auction draft with a plan will be meaningless if you blindly stick to it while your opponents blow by you for a bunch of players you were targeting. Be willing to go above budget and adjust on the back end.

My wife and I were given this piece of advice when she was pregnant with our firstborn, and it’s the advice I give every soon-to-be new parents--write down a birth plan, then burn it. Nothing ever goes the way you plan it. Make sure you’re ready.

Tips and Tricks

Don’t Get Caught

Never bid money on a player you don’t need or want. I know, it’s completely unfair that another owner got Russell Wilson for $9 after you shelled out $37 for Aaron Rodgers, but if you already have a backup, hate the player, don’t have the money, or can’t afford to lose the bench spot, don’t get caught enforcing the prices on other players.  

Nominate Players You Aren’t High On Early

Keeping in mind you don’t want to get stuck with players you don’t want, nominating players you don’t like early is a good way to get your opponents to spend money while you save up for guys you like.

Nominate Kickers and Defenses Early

If you know your leaguemates well, then this little delaying tactic may not be necessary. Nominating kickers and defenses early serves two purposes. First, if nobody else outbids you, you’ll get a top-ranked kicker or defense--assuming you don’t nominate bad ones--out of the way. Second, and more importantly, is the fact it will extend the early portion of the draft, when you are still learning about how the other owners are spending their money.

Nominate Players for Homers

Done a good job letting go of your emotions? Good. Now take advantage of your leaguemates. Chances are you play in a home league with a bunch of fans of the same team. So why not nominate players from that team and start a feeding frenzy? Note: this may not work for Jets, Browns, or 49ers fans.

Vary Your nomination Strategy

You wouldn’t play every hand straight in poker, would you? Then why would you do the same exact thing every time in auction drafts? These tips and tricks can be helpful, but don’t telegraph what you are doing. If everyone knows you always nominate players you don’t like, what else do they know about you? Change things up.

Spend Your Money

It’s a good rule of thumb to use up most or all of your budget. Otherwise, you are missing something. Ending the draft by spending $17 on a kicker means you missed opportunities elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to use that money or you could be left behind. Typically you don’t want to be left with more than five percent of your overall budget at the end of a draft. That’s $10 in most leagues these days.