The article title speaks for itself. This is a rather meaty roundtable about auction drafts in fantasy football. With real drafts around the corner, let's dive right in.
How has your auction draft strategy evolved over the years? Do you stick to the same script every season, or have you found more effective strategies?
Daniel Simpkins: I used to be the type to price enforce every bid, to be super aggressive on bidding early, and to not watch my opponents as closely as I do today. I’ve grown to be more selective about price enforcement. I’ve learned to read the auction environment over the first few bids and use that as my guide of how aggressive I need to be over the course of the auction. I’ve developed the capacity to watch my opponents’ bids and rosters more closely for context clues that help me figure out if they are price enforcing or really want the player on which we are bidding. It’s no stretch to say that my strategy has had a complete makeover from the early years.
Sigmund Bloom: I've become more flexible. You can do the same auction with the same people two times and the values and teams can be very different. Every auction has its own flow and the one thing that remains the same is that you need projected values to know whether people are overspending (wait) or penny-pinching (jump out early and get your studs) at the beginning of the auction. The script can be very different from auction to auction, so you must be in the moment.
Will Grant: Auctions are different every time. No two are alike, even in the same season. Your strategy revolves loosely around value and then adjusting things as the auction progresses. You can’t stick to any one strategy without question or you could get hammered in a particular draft.
Take quarterbacks this year, for example. There isn’t a lot of difference between the #1 guy and the #5 guy from a production standpoint. Maybe a point or two a game. So, in a redraft league, you might mentally wait a bit until you draft a quarterback, knowing you can make up the difference with other positions. But in an auction, your league mates may decide they want to value quarterbacks and get into bidding wars for the first and second tier guys. If you blindly say I’m not paying more than $10 for a quarterback, then you might be stuck with platooning Marcus Mariota and Dak Prescott each week because everyone else in your league decided to overpay.
Andy Hicks: My initial experiences were like a kid in a candy shop wanting to buy all the nice things. Then while others were getting incredible value, I was frustrated at having to try and snare $1 bargains. Over the years since then, I have been too patient and now I am very strict in not going over an initial pre-planned dollar value. The most important thing is to gauge what others are doing and ensure you don't pay more than necessary if positions are going for way too little or way too much.
Matt Waldman: I take a flexible approach. I will often play the opponents in the room if I know their competitive tendencies. I also consider the player pool for the season in question.
I will use the first two or three bids to see how tight or how loose the bidding is. If the bidding is tight, I will likely make aggressive bids on top players. I've had success earning two, if not three, studs at a significant discount because the teams are too cautious about preserving cap space.
I'll give this method a try if the room is tight because I'm confident that I can land enough cheap players at the end to build a competitive roster. You can count on my squad making the Footballguys Rate My Team App want to snicker with disgust if it had human capabilities but I manage to craft strong contenders.
If I'm facing a room of looser bidders, I'll play it more conservative because controlling the auction will have maximum benefit. The risk with an aggressive strategy in a room filled with tight bidders is that they all want to control the auction at the end.
If I go aggressive early I'm trying to land 3-5 great values and wait out the rest of the auction until I'm in a position to control the final half-hour of bids. Otherwise, I will be at the mercy of these guys and my team will lack depth -- or even a decent starter at multiple spots.
Sometimes this happens, but I really don't worry about it because I'm confident in my abilities with landing helpful free agents and making trades. I'm satisfied building a team where 80 percent of the lineup has great talent but there's one major hole that I can address with two possible avenues after the draft. Some folks are so bent on a perfect draft that they lose perspective about team building.
If the room is loose early on, then I'm throwing all the players I don't want into the pool until the bidding gets tighter and I can land mid-round bargains while saving enough for the end.
The third potential play will be to bid aggressively early and spend a fair bit on a stud runner or receiver, listen to the room guffaw about how much I bid, and then continue with an aggressive bid shortly after to see if the room tightens up and I get a much bigger discount that equals out to a decent discount for those two options combined. Sometimes this happens because the trash talk directed at me causes everyone to get self-conscious about overbidding and they play tight. If I come away with two players in this manner, I disappear for a while, see if I can get another nice bargain in the middle of the auction and then wait until the end.
BJ VanderWoude: The one auction strategy that has evolved for me over the last five years is I have learned to not depend on one predraft strategy. I now lay out three separate strategies that are shaped around “if this happens, then I will do that”. I try to draft a stud running back who I think can finish as the overall #1 running back, that is the one constant strategy from year to year.
Alessandro Miglio: I find myself gravitating towards a more Studs 'n Duds approach as I get older. I used to eschew the priciest players altogether, favoring a balanced approach that netted me a sweet bench. Nowadays, I don't mind spending up for a couple of players because I can find some great bargains down the line. It means being more patient after you have blown $120 on three players, but it's worthwhile if you can nab fantasy stars who normally might go in the first or second rounds.
Justin Howe: I'm evolving. The more I look at an auction through the goggles of a draft, the more it slows down and makes sense for me. And it allows me to follow my preferred strategies - targeting specific positions at the quantity I choose. For example, lately, I've become more adept at putting together a strong auction with only one quarterback and/or one tight end. Knowing general ADP values helps me to plan for my late, $1 bids - I'm more aware of which sleepers I can target for a buck, and which I need to store an extra $2-3 for down the stretch.
Put on a commissioner's hat. What is an optimal auction setup that will maximize fun and competitiveness?
Simpkins: I really love auctions that rotate who nominates players on which to bid. I’ve seen some that nominate by ADP and that just seems soulless. I also enjoy those that extend the timer by only 10 seconds. It really makes people have to react from the gut instead of getting to look at their cheatsheet for 15 seconds and make a logical choice.
Bloom: I like letting the team that won the last player get to throw out the next player. It rewards being aggressive and gives more right to control the auction when a team is willing to open the wallet.
Grant: It’s not always possible, but I’ve taken part in a couple live auctions drafts and that’s about as fun as it gets. Getting everyone in a room, you can see the mental games going the entire time. People trash talking after they score a big win. People talking up players they have no intention of bidding on and even physical intimidation when people get into a bidding war. It’s a lot of fun when it’s all happening real time.
When it’s online, you want a timer – that keeps the draft moving along. In real time, that’s not as important – because you can all get into the ‘going once… going twice’ kind of thing.
Having one person who knows fantasy football but isn’t participating in the draft isn’t essential, but it is helpful – especially if disputes come up or when the clock is winding down on someone’s pick. Having an impartial person to act as the final arbiter is always a good thing.
I agree with others who have said everyone should nominate a player for auction. This keeps everyone engaged and fits into the strategy of who can you get spend their cap faster. I had a local league where one guy would almost never nominate a player he wanted. His goal was to get others to bid on players he didn’t want so he had more money to bid on the ones that he did. It was cool to see it play out and even though most of the league picked up on it – they still had to deal with it because someone usually wanted a guy he nominated.
Miglio: Agreed, live auctions are hands down the best kinds of drafts I have participated in. You need to plan to be there for a while, but what’s better than five or six hours of live auction drafting with buddies?
Hicks: I definitely agree that nominations should be random and at the discretion of each of the players. It means you need to be on your toes for the whole draft and have a strategy for nominations yourself. Having quirky rules such as 1.5 points for receptions for Tight Ends or something that makes quarterbacks valuable helps distribute the cash more evenly than everyone just unloading on running backs first and wide receivers second.
Waldman: One that happens in-person. Whenever you can eliminate the online element to a fantasy draft, the better. This especially true with an auction.
VanderWoude: Auction drafts are a lot of fun to begin with. In fact, I think the auction format is the most enjoyable way to draft a fantasy league. The optimal way to set up an auction draft is to allow each owner to nominate any player they like. I don’t like leagues that nominate based on ADP as that takes away a lot of the strategy involved. I’ve also found that giving owners a $250 budget, with a 20 round draft, PPR scoring and 1.5 PPR for tight ends to be the optimal league setup.
Howe: I think it's best for competitive leagues to auction from a $200 budget. It makes the late nominations a little more nerve-wracking - you think you can sneak Keelan Cole or Frank Gore through the pack for $1, but you're on pins and needles when you try. You're facing two or three other rosters who could use another name at that position and could go up to $2 and snipe you. But that heart-pumping wonder is often the most fun point of an auction.
Fantasy websites essentially dictate how much we pay for players, and those prices differ from site to site. What are some values and busts based on base prices on the major sites (e.g. ESPN, Yahoo!, MFL, etc.)?
Simpkins: Alex Collins at $15 on ESPN is a bargain. A starting running back with no challengers behind a great offensive line? Sign me up!
Mark Ingram II is at $18 in Yahoo and that is too much. Not only will he miss four games, but are we completely sure that he resumes his old role when he returns? Willie Snead IV is the cautionary tale we need to consider for how the Saints deal with suspensions. That and Jonathan Williams is probably every bit as talented as Ingram at this stage in his career.
Waldman: Really? Hmm. I don't pay attention to them. I imagine that sounds nutty but I believe in converting projections to dollars and following my own price structure within some scope of ADP. I can see how examining other price lists can help you set some reasonable maximums but it also can create biases against players you've actually done your homework on.
If you believed Alex Smith would be a top-five quarterback last year and spent $12 on him but the price lists suggested $5-7, sure you didn't maximize your bargain but most people who paid too much attention to the price list did so at the cost of whatever real homework they did to anticipate Smith having a higher end-of-year value. As a result, there's a greater likelihood of allowing a price list to influence you.
The beauty of the auction draft is that at least until the end, you don't have to wade through a matrix of pick orders to get players that you want. You get to rely more on your eye for talent and situation. Paying too much attention to price lists diminishes the value of the format.
Miglio: That is an excellent point – price should be a reflection of your value of a player, not a website’s. But, tendencies as they may be, most of your leaguemates are probably going to use the website’s valuation of a player as a baseline.
VanderWoude: There is a ton of value at the quarterback position, as that group is really deep this year. The middle tier of Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jimmy Garrapolo and Kirk Cousins provides great value and quite a bit of upside to match.
At running back, pass catching specialists like Chris Thompson, Duke Johnson Jr Jr., and Tarik Cohen can be had for very cheap. Jerrick McKinnon, Jordan Howard, Joe Mixon and Kenyan Drake all have their prices set around $20, which is fantastic value considering the top running backs are going for three times that price.
The wide receiver position is also deep, with guys like Jarvis Landry ($25), Stefon Diggs ($29) and Adam Theilen ($30) available for 12%- 15% of your budget. Chris Hogan, Cooper Kupp, Emmanuel Sanders, Marquise Goodwin are all underpriced around the industry.
At tight end, there are two levels of value. You have Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce, who are fairly-priced overall, but are much more valuable than their price ($30-$38) because the tight end position is very shallow and they give you a huge positional advantage. If you can’t get either, then the best thing to do is wait and snag undervalued players Ike Kyle Rudolph ($12), Trey Burton ($7), David Njoku ($3) or Charles Clay ($3).
Howe: Austin Ekeler remains underpriced.
Ekeler was a true spark plug last year -- following a dazzling small-school career -- and looks unchallenged as Melvin Gordon III's handcuff. In fact, Ekeler spelled Gordon for huge swaths of time here and there in 2017, sometimes for a quarter or two. I love Gordon as a fantasy producer, but his nasty little secret is the fact that his first two seasons ended abruptly to knee injuries and he needed quite a few breathers last year.
Build your ideal auction team, within reason. Let's assume a $200 budget, PPR scoring with the following roster: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex (RB/WR/TE), 1 D/ST, 1 PK, 6 bench spots.
Simpkins: Total: $200
- Patrick Mahomes- $1
- Marcus Mariota- $1
- Todd Gurley- $56
- Royce Freeman- $16
- Alex Collins- $15
- Isaiah Crowell- $8
- Kerryon Johnson- $6
- T.Y. Hilton- $30
- Corey Davis- $22
- Amari Cooper- $21
- Juju Smith-Schuster- $14
- Sammy Watkins- $6
- Kenny Golladay- $2
- Minnesota Vikings -$1
- Jake Elliott- $1
- Cheap at quarterback: Alex Smith
- Running backs: Melvin Gordon III, Alex Collins, Marshawn Lynch, Dion Lewis
- Wide receivers: Tyreek Hill, T.Y. Hilton, Chris Hogan, Tyler Lockett, Kenny Golladay, Corey Davis
- Tight end: Rob Gronkowski
- Defense: Saints or Broncos
- Kicker: Someone for a dollar
- QB: Roethlisberger, Cousins
- RB: Hunt, L. Miller, Ajayi, Cohen, Thompson, Carson
- WR: Evans, Diggs, Stills, Moore
- TE: Engram
- PK & DEF – whoever you can get for $1.
The reason I asked this question is that this exercise is rather useful in my draft preparation. Take an Excel spreadsheet and build a few teams based on how much you think you can pay for each player. If you build six to eight teams with varying strategies, it'll help you think flexibly during the draft. Let's say you built one team with Rob Gronkowski at $29, but you wound up somehow paying $24. You can allocate those extra $5 elsewhere in case a bidding war breaks out on one of your targets, and it is easier to see that if you already have something down on paper.
- 1 - Jared Goff
- 2 - Derek Carr
- 3 - One of the top 4 running backs
- 4 - Kenyan Drake
- 5 - Ronald Jones
- 6 - Peyton Barber
- 7 - A top 10 receiver
- 8 - Brandin Cooks
- 9 - Kelvin Benjamin
- 10 - Robert Woods
- 11 - Josh Doctson
- 12 - Evan Engram
- 13 - Austin Hooper
- 14 - $1 Defense
- 15 - $1 Kicker
Waldman: I got Patrick Mahomes for $3-$4 this weekend. Considering he's the best quarterback talent that I've evaluated in at least five years in a stacked offense, I'll roll with it.
In this format, I'd probably roll with a stud running back like Gurley or Bell, a second-tier guy like Alex Collins and/or Jordan Howard, and then shoot for 2-3 values like Marshawn Lynch, Kerryon Johnson, Peyton Barber, and/or Frank Gore who can often be had late (when they fall) for less than $15 and sometimes as low as $3-$5.
Wide receivers are easier to find. If I can wrangle a deal on players like Marvin Jones Jr, Chris Godwin, Jordy Nelson, Anthony Miller, and Cameron Meredith between $5-$20 -- I got Jones somewhere around $15-$17 this weekend, I feel comfortable about targeting receivers in free agency if needed.
Tight ends can wait until late. You can find deals and play match-ups with 2-3 of Cameron Brate, Austin Hooper, Ricky Seals-Jones, Ben Watson, and even Dallas Goedert as a high risk-reward option as your third guy.
I'll pay a slight premium (usually no more than $4-$6) for a good defense so I don't have to rent a unit while prioritizing waiver pickups at more essential positions like wide receiver and running back. The Rams have been at the top of my list.
Harrison Butker is a kicker I've been targeting all year and he can be had for $1-$3, easily.
- QB: Philip Rivers ($3)
- QB: Jared Goff ($2)
- RB: Ezekiel Elliot ($44)
- RB: Jordan Howard ($20)
- RB: Joe Mixon ($19)
- RB: Chris Thompson ($10)
- WR: AJ Green ($40)
- WR: Chris Hogan ($15)
- WR: Corey Davis ($13)
- WR: Brandin Cooks ($19)
- WR: Martavis Bryant ($2)
- TE: Trey Burton ($7)
- TE: Charles Clay ($2)
- D: Denver Broncos ($2)
- K: Will Lutz ($1)
- QB - Jared Goff ($2), Jameis Winston ($1)
- RB - Ezekiel Elliott ($59), Joe Mixon ($25), Duke Johnson Jr ($6), Austin Ekeler ($2)
- WR - Doug Baldwin ($29), JuJu Smith-Schuster ($23), Will Fuller ($6), Julian Edelman ($6), Kenny Golladay ($5)
- TE - Rob Gronkowski ($31), Cameron Brate ($2)
- PK - Matt Bryant ($1)
- D/ST - L.A. Chargers ($2)
What are some pitfalls to avoid while doing an auction?
Simpkins: There are many, but the one I will share is to be careful not to price enforce on players you couldn’t stand the thought of owning. I remember getting stuck with Andre Johnson in his last year with the Texans at a high price in an auction when I had no intention of owning him - all because I was too aggressive in my price enforcement. If you can’t stand the thought of owning the player, it’s better to let the chips fall where they may rather than take a risk that you are the one left holding the hot potato.
Bloom: Don't bid on a player just because he is below his projected value. There's probably a reason no one else is bidding. Don't be afraid to overpay for a player. Many players will be worth a lot more than the projected preseason value. Don't bid up a player to "stick it to the competition", you will be the one stuck with someone that you lack conviction on.
Grant: Don’t panic if you lose out on a couple guys you want because someone bids you over your projected value. This happens sometimes early in the auction and I see a lot of guys start to panic and overbid on a player just so they can write a name on their roster.
By the same token, don’t be afraid to overpay a bit for a guy you really like. Last year Kareem Hunt was an under-the-radar kind of pick, depending on when your auction happened. If you thought he was going to be a star and you paid a couple extra bucks to land him, you probably had a great season given what you paid.
Finally – don’t be the GM that bids on a player just so someone else doesn’t get a deal. If you have two quarterbacks already and Jimmy Garoppolo is going to go for $2, don’t feel like you need to bid on him to prevent someone else from getting a deal. Yes, the more money they spend, the better your chances are to get a player you want. But don’t bid on a guy who can’t help you much just because he’s on sale either. If the other owner drops and you’re stuck with three quarterbacks you have even less flexibility than you would if you just let the other team have the win.
Hicks: Getting caught up in a run. For example, if tier two running backs are going early for over $40 don't join in and pay $45 for Joe Mixon. The value will come back to the field and you will find out very quickly that some owners are running out of money quick smart.
Also, don't get caught in the game of trying to force up the value of a player you don't believe in to try and bankrupt another owner.
Make sure your roster balance is correct and that you don't overload on a certain position because there is incredible value. The rest of your roster will suffer considerably.
Waldman: Price-enforcing players that you wouldn't be happy owning if you fail to get a competing team to bid higher. If you price-enforce, it needs to be players that you think are about to be had at a bargain, you will value that bargain if you wind up with the player, and that you can adjust your strategy mid-auction if you inadvertently land him.
Losing patience with a late-auction strategy because players you covet are placed for bid early. If you haven't identified enough combinations of players that you would build a team with then you're going to blow your strategy if you react to seeing 30-40 players that you like leave the board.
Before you decide on an own-the-auction-late strategy, you should place players in tiers of values and determine the number of players in each tier that are gone before you have to switch up your approach to begin bidding.
It makes no sense to wait until the end to acquire players if the pool of options you value is depleted and you don't think you're getting bargains.
Be certain that you understand how that late phase bidding pool needs to look so you can begin bidding earlier if you need to land at least 3-4 high-quality players.
VanderWoude: The main pitfall to avoid is to ALWAYS stick to your strategy and don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Your strategy should be flexible, but not to the point where you abandon your pre-draft pricing just because three or four players went for more than you thought they would.
Auction drafts are marathons, not sprints. Be patient and remember that the price of the top players will always be indicative of how the middle tier of players will be priced. There is only a limited amount of draft capital, so the more the top players go for, the more value will be available in the middle tiers.
Howe: I love Waldman's advice to tier your prospects up before marrying yourself to a low-dollar strategy. You need a strong understanding - before the auction begins - of what pools of 10-20 favorites will likely be around as a $1 or $2 option.
Miglio: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Grant said it best: Don't Panic. The draft is almost immediately going to go differently than you anticipated. Be flexible, and adjust fire as needed. Never bid on a player you don't want or need, lest you get stuck with a third quarterback and a dwindling budget. Wear sunscreen.
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