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Perfect Auction (PPR)

Strategies to Dominate your 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 Tom Brady, Julio Jones, David Johnson, and Rob Gronkowski and are successful at outbidding everyone for these players, then you get them 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 attempt 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 maximize value in an auction draft.

To maximize value in an auction draft you need to accomplish these things:

  1. Predict what players will cost
  2. Value what players are worth
  3. Get value with the majority of selected players

1. Predicting What Players Cost

I used average draft position and my PPR Draftlist to determine prices. I then normalized this data based on the auction curves I have created in my VBD app to reflect approximately $2400 spent on the top 240 players.  

2. Value What Players are Worth

Using the VBD App, I calculated worth and projected fantasy points for all of the players I expected to get purchased.

3. Getting Value with Most Selections

This is pretty easy to do. Simply don't pay more than a player is worth. I say most selections here because sometimes it does make sense to target a certain player that will make your team very dominant. And if you get value up to that selection, overpaying slightly could likely make the most sense.

I have provided a table that attempts to explain my thought processes that are in play during an auction. I have ranked the players according to my worth by position. I have provided the "normalized" pricing as a guide on what this player will typically go for. I have provided what I view as this player's value and a 75% value number that I generally make sure the top players sell for unless he ends up on my team.

All of this is visible here. I show this to work through the example, but if you are serious about dominating your auction, you are crazy to use old school methods when our Draft Dominator software will do all the calculations necessary. This includes establishing prices and modifying those prices based on money spent and your own team needs.

Let's have the perfect auction...

This article is going to jump around a bit because there are a few dynamic strategies that are taking place. Namely, the early auction pricing (and what players you get here) and your overall positional spending plan. Both are dynamic based on the players you get making this article very difficult to write to handle every possible scenario.

Early Auction - First 40-50 Nominated Players

In most auctions, these first players nominated (and selected) will be overpriced. That's not always the case, but when owners have the majority of their cap available, usually at least two owners want the star that is being bid on. This practically guarantees "market" or "above market" price for the star players. This is also compounded because at least a few owners will pursue a "stars and scrub" approach to an auction where they spend 90+% of their cap on 5-6 players and fill in the holes with $1-$2 bargains. You may even end up being one of these teams too, but you should not go into an auction with only this approach. Let value guide the type of team that makes sense to build.

Your strategy: Using the Auction Value Chart here, there is a 75% value level for all of the players.  You should actively bid on nearly every one of the first 75 players (overall is between 1 and 75) up to the 75% level early in a draft if the player can be used in your starting lineup (ie your first quarterback, top two running backss, top three wide receivers, top tight end, etc). You have a strong chance at landing players highlighted in green at or below the 75% level. Grab enough of these and your team will be very hard to beat. In most auctions though, you are likely to get outbid on most of these players as owners go to the wall for their guy.

Nominating players during this phase: I suggest not nominating players you want during this phase. In fact, I suggest nominating the guys that have higher costs than worth.  Your goal here is to drain as much of the cap from other owners to ensure better pricing on players that you are targeting. As a general rule, the later players get nominated the better value they will represent.

Assessment during this phase: As these first players are being auctioned off, keep track of their actual values against their projected average cost. Is massive overspending happening? Are the prices close? Are the other owners allocating more for a certain position than another, etc? What makes auction pricing difficult is that you have to make certain adjustments on the fly. And those adjustments are likely going to happen based on the pricing of these first 40 players. The good news is a program like the Draft Dominator will dynamically adjust auction pricing as completed bids are finished.

Besides assessing the overall and positional pricing, you have to assess how to spend the rest of your cap after every player selected. Obviously, if you land a top running back that costs you $50, that will impact what other players you should target. I generally don't worry about this IF I am adding starters. If you get another stud running back at 75% of value, pull the trigger. But be VERY CAREFUL bidding on players that will not be starters for you. Getting value on the 3rd and 4th running backs after spending half of your cap on your RB1 and RB2 will not yield the best possible team.

This is where all this gets really messy with a one article fits all strategy. After 40-50 players have been selected, I think to be successful, you have to have a very detailed positional plan that you are building your team towards. At your team's core are the players you selected in the first 40-50 picks. Each of these should be a great value. The players in the table listed in green are the players you likely can build your auction team around.

The Master Plan for your 20 Roster spots

I go into every auction and map out a general strategy. This is the strategy assuming you got everyone at average cost and you built your team around the best of these values (players highlighted in green in the chart). I usually pencil in my hopeful player, but I am not locked into these players. The values are placeholders and reflect the $200 cap. As you add players (hopefully at deep discounts), you need to adjust the Master Plan based on cap left and changes in strength/weakness of your roster.

Here is an example of a Master Plan with inexpensive quarterbacks (My preferred strategy) and getting Devonta Freeman at a decent price:

Here is an example of a Master Plan with limited depth (Studs and duds philosophy).

Recapping, you use a plan as a baseline. As you land players, pencil them in and adjust the plan accordingly. As players you had hoped to land go for more than expected, cross them off the plan and adjust the plan accordingly with other players.

Early Middle Auction - Picks 50-100

Just like the middle rounds of a draft, there will be varied opinions on a lot of these players. Some will be very expensive and others should be nice bargains. Bid to secure the people within your plan during these middle stages. I prefer to nominate positions where I am the strongest at during this phase. If you landed Devonta Freeman at a discount, just keep nominating RBs since you would like these players going as close to full price as possible.

Keep adjusting your master plan to ensure you use up all of your dollars available without overspending too much on any one player to limit your participation in the back half of the draft.

Late Middle Auction - Picks 100-150

If you weren't active much early in the draft, you likely will control the action in this stage. These players usually come at a discount, but a team crafted with all $5-$10 players is usually a weak one (deep, but usually not explosive enough to beat teams in non-bye weeks). I like to have done solid bidding up to this phase so that I am just looking for the best of these deals. In this phase, you should try and slide your $1/$2 players you have targeted through. Most of the owners will allow a cheap defense or kicker through because they don't want to spend the extra dollar.

The End Game

Usually, this phase consists of bad players left, but if you have crafted a team with great starters with limited depth then these nominations can be the difference between a good and great auction. Cheap handcuffs, swing-for-the-fence picks are the norm here. If I need to be active in the end game, I prefer allowing myself at least $2 for half of my remaining picks. Let's assume you have 8 spots left to fill. You should leave yourself with at least $12 to fill these spots. This allows you maximum flexibility to nominate at $1 and bid $2 on the best players left. You should not bid $5 and then leave yourself with just $7 to get seven players (even if the $5 bid is a player worth more than the $5). It's all about cap management in the endgame. You can squeeze a considerable amount of value in this phase, but unfortunately, it's mostly bench strength. Always manage your cap sufficiently so that you can spend all your dollars, but if it means controlling the last 50-75 picks, I think eating a dollar or two is ok too.

The QB Plan

Not a lot of value with the early picks. I start paying close attention at the Matt Ryan / Jameis Winston level.  These two are usually priced a little too expensive, but after most owners have a quarterback, getting a guy like Philip Rivers, Marcus Mariota, Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr, or Kirk Cousins usually is pretty easy to do.     

The RB Plan

Outside of Devonta Freeman, I am mostly avoiding the top names at the position. There should be at least one owner willing to go to the wall for David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, and even Ezekiel Elliott.  Actively bid these guys up to well above the 75% cap level, but you will likely craft a better team without these guys.    

The Running Backs I have my eye on include:

The WR Plan

Value always emerges at wide receiver. Just stay active and you will grab some players at a deep discount. Avoid the consensus top wide receivers, but be active in landing solid ones (WR10 through WR25) to field a solid team. WRs 22-36 usually are among the best bargains in any auction. Even if you can't start all these players, most will command good trade value in start-three-wide receivers leagues once the bye weeks hit.

The wide receivers I have my eye on include:

The TE Plan

Just wait out the position and you should be able to land Zach Ertz, Hunter Henry, or Eric Ebron at a decent price.

The tight ends I have my eye on include:

The PK Plan

My plan usually involves spending just $1 to get a kicker.

The Defense Plan

A lot of this depends on how well I end up managing my cap. I generally will spend $2 or $3 to get a top 5 defense.

More Thoughts

  • Nominate players you can't use early in the process. If you know you aren't going to bid high on Aaron Rodgers 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.
  • Follow an overpriced bid with a player from the same position that is generally considered better. If Michael Thomas fetches $42 (against a value of $36 based on your calculations), then nominate Jordy Nelson or A.J Green next. The point you are attempting to achieve is to continue having people overbid on players.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 TE Tyler Higbee gets bid up and these same owners don't have the money to bid on quality elsewhere.
  • Don't participate in a bidding war (the cost of a 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 from their roster may serve a better purpose towards minimizing the number of owners who can block you from getting certain talent later.
  • Never leave money on the table at the end of the auction. Winning teams spend all of their salary caps 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Aaron Rodgers, David Johnson, and Odell Beckham they may not need it (if all stay healthy). I prefer a solid deep team but have seen some experts allocate 90+% of their cap on their 4 top players. Just don't let these teams steal guys real late when everyone else is broke.
  • Track everyone's picks and dollars available. You can easily do this by using the Draft Dominator.