Fantasy Football: Auction Draft Strategies, Including, Actually Nominating a Player You Want Early


Editor’s note: This post originally ran August 10, 2013

When it comes to fantasy football auction drafts, I’m not just a writer; I have been doing them for a decade. I’ve made my share of mistakes and also plenty of good decisions, and this is offered as the general advice I can provide if you are a novice to the auction method or trying to improve.

I have seen plenty of advice elsewhere that offers principles (nominate players early so others spend, save your money, etc) that I think are generally true, but certainly have many exceptions. The wonderful thing about doing an auction system is that every draft is different. I have been in some where the values came late; others saw some of the very first players up for bid end up going for value as the room was just warming up and everyone seemed to be following the “wait” advice.

Here are some general rules that I think you should keep in mind when participating in an auction:

1. YOU MUST HAVE GOOD PLAYER VALUES: I wrote about my method for setting auction values a couple of years ago. I also talked about other considerations you need to make when taking a pre-formed set of values and adapting it to your league. The first step, of course, is having good underlying projections; you can find these at many sites, or even use a consensus view. To be truly workable values, though, the total amount on your sheet should add up to the number of owners, multiplied by the total cap amount, spread amongst the number of players to be drafted. For twelve teams using a $200 cap, this would be $2400 dollars.

Use an excel spreadsheet, input all the amounts, and if the 192 players (for a 12 team league with 16 players each) on your sheet don’t add up to $2,400, you need to adjust. If you don’t, you will be either too high or too low at the auction.

2. CREATE A LIST WITH VALUES BY POSITION: I like to have a list separated by position, with players in descending order of my value, from the highest valued player to all the $1 players. I also like to color code or, if I don’t have as much time, put squiggly lines between tiers of players, so I can track how many are left in tiers as I cross them off my sheet, and see where the values or bidding wars might develop.

3. GO THROUGH AND VISUALIZE SCENARIOS PRE-DRAFT: It’s much harder to do mock drafts for auction. What you can do is play with scenarios using your values and some standard auction values from a website. No auction I have ever done has gone completely according to plan. However, I have built in contingencies, and understand where I need to go if strategy changes, based on understanding the values.

An example might illustrate. Let’s say I want a top five running back. Well, news flash: most people do. I’ve got to have plans for where I alter strategy and what might be available. If I have mapped 5 wildly different strategies to understand how the values fit, I know where I need to go next. Spend on another cheaper back and shift that to a top WR? Go with two mid-tier backs? Shift the money to get in the bidding for a tight end like Jimmy Graham?

So what I would suggest is that you take your draft list, and create five different teams adding up to the total cap number. Vary them, some RB heavy, some with stars at QB, WR, or TE. Obviously, at the draft, you want to get players for cheaper than you have them valued, but this gives you a sense of where the pockets are.

4. CONSIDER NOMINATING STAR PLAYERS YOU ACTUALLY WANT EARLY, WHEN NOBODY IN THE POSITION TIER IS GONE YET. Supply and Demand. I’ve seen it time and again, and auction drafts are no different than any other economic situation. The last of a tier will actually go for more because of demand vs. supply. Last year, Roddy White was the most expensive wide receiver in our auction, because he was the last of the top receivers put up for bid. Thus, while many advise to hold your money, it’s an art. Get it in when you get value.

Let’s say you want C.J. Spiller. Others might prefer Arian Foster or Ray Rice or Doug Martin. Put Spiller up early. You are not going to get him for cheap, but you might get him for a few dollars less while owners are holding out for someone else. If all those guys are gone, the Spiller bidders will increase in number.

5. TARGET SPENDING AT LEAST 85% OF YOUR CAP SPACE ON PROJECTED STARTERS AND TOP BACKUPS. I absolutely go in with a plan to spend $85-$88 of my $100 cap on the top QB, top 3 running backs, top 3 wide receivers, and starting tight end.  That should make up my starters (in a 2 RB, 3 WR league) plus my top flex backup for bye weeks. If I spend less than that on those eight spots, I feel I have too much sitting on the bench. That can be allocated fairly equally, or in a stars and scrubs approach, with most spent on two players. The remaining $12-$15 is spent on the final 9 spots in that league, including defenses and kickers. If I went QB by committee, maybe a few extra bucks, or it might get me the RB in the 35-45 range I want late in bidding.

6. ABSOLUTELY THROW OUT STAR PLAYERS YOU DO NOT NEED, FOR NOMINATION. Don’t feel bad about throwing guys out you do not need. Just do it for a low number. You have Brady, throw out Rodgers. Let someone else spend on a position you do not need.

7. DON’T BE TO PROUD TO LET OTHERS GET VALUE, TOO. You aren’t the only one at the draft. Others will end up getting a player for cheaper than you thought. Don’t upbid unless you want them at that price. I’ve learned this through painful experience. Yeah, you may bleed a guy of a couple of dollars. You also may get called and end up screwing your whole draft process.

I once got Kellen Winslow when I already had a tight end, because I thought he was too cheap and bid up one more dollar. I didn’t need him, and got called. It cost me my sleeper pick of young Willis McGahee a few rounds later because I spent that money. I can’t tell you not to bluff. Some people like that aspect. What I can say is I would rather do my bluffing with low price nominations than by up bidding. If you can’t live with the consequences of winning a bid, don’t bid anymore. I’ve learned over time that even if I have a guy at $15 and someone is about to get him for $10, it may destroy my draft by bidding up because I no longer need them. Tip of the cap to someone else getting a good pick, and move on to the next guy.

8. THROW THE FOURTH BEST KICKER OR DEFENSE OUT IN THE FIRST FIVE ROUNDS. This is a little thing, but if you want to spend $1 on both kicker and defense, you can’t get too greedy (don’t throw Seattle out there, you will get up-bid and burn a nomination). Pick a defense you like that is not in the consensus top three, and throw them out for a buck. You likely get it.

9. KEEP TRACK OF WHAT OTHERS NEED AND REMAINING MONEY. For those that use a laptop at the draft, you can actually set this up to update every time a pick is put in. A column totalling each team’s spend so far, combined with a count of players, can be used. This info comes in handy throughout, but particularly in the back half of the draft.  

10. HAVE FUN. Number one rule. Enjoy the wildness and creativity that this venture provides. It is as much art as science, getting a feel for when to make moves, but it is also one of the most interesting, challenging, and funnest things you can do.