Four years ago, I posted a list of tips for fantasy football auction drafts. Most of this is going to borrow from what I already wrote, but it’s 2017 so I figured I would update with additional thoughts and more relevant references.
I have participated in auction drafts since 2000 (and regularly since 2003) so I’ve been through quite a few scenarios, made my share of errors, and had plenty of lessons learned.
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:
You must prepare mentally and be ready. Things will move fast. If you have no plan, you will come out making bigger errors. Most of your work for a draft, even an auction draft, should come before you walk in the room.
What does this pre-draft preparation involve?
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 MUST 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.
In addition to having my own values, I also go through and try to estimate how much I think players will go for, using draft rankings and league behavior patterns. Those numbers also add up to the total amount to be spent at draft. This gives me a way to see where the league is going to view tiers.
If you have been with largely the same group, you get a feel. If you are new to a league, see if you can get past results. I was within $3 on every drafted quarterback except Drew Brees this year, and the same with most running backs and receivers. When I was off, it was usually because of how the draft went and a player falling through after money had been spent.
3. RUN SOME MOCK SCENARIOS PRE-DRAFT USING THOSE ESTIMATES
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. USE A COMPUTER WITH EXCEL IF POSSIBLE AT DRAFT AND HAVE AS MUCH RELEVANT INFO PREPPED AS POSSIBLE
Here’s what I had already loaded, in an Excel spreadsheet, before walking in to my auction draft this year:
a) in Sheet 1, a draft board with each team on it, and columns for positions, blank slots for player names and prices, color-coded by position required by the league (In my case, 2 QB slots, 3 RBs, 4 WRs, 1 TE, 3 Flexes, etc). At the bottom of each team, there were cells set up to add the amount of money spent, and number of players drafted and remaining. You set these up by typing =Sum(Cells You Want to Add) and =Count(Cells You Want to Add).
b) in Sheet 2, a quick visual summary of each team that I can check when needed. This summary includes total players drafted, total money spent, player spots remaining, money remaining, max bid, average money left.
To calculate Max Bid (which tells you the ceiling that team can get to if you want to freeze them out–important once the draft has progressed) you subtract Number of Spots remaining from Money Remaining, and then add $1 back in. So if a team had $30 left and 10 spots to fill, they would have a max bid of $21 and have to spend $1 each on the remaining 9 slots.
c) in sheet 3, player lists by position, color-coded separately by position. Here’s where I put my rankings and projected prices out to the side, but leave a blank column right next to the player name for actual winning bid amount. When a bid is complete, I can then type the price in that sheet and immediately copy and paste the name and price cells into the draft board under the correct owner (and it then automatically adds up the money spent, and all the fields in sheet 2). By having this already set up with player names typed in, I can quickly just add the winning amount and do a copy/paste, and be ready to move on to the next player within a few seconds.
That is the extensive preparation process, let’s move on to the actual draft strategies (and even if I lost you above, you can use the in-draft strategies).
DURING THE DRAFT
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 my top QB, top 3 RBs, top 4 WRs, and starting TE. That’s because my league has a 2 RB, 3 WR typical starting spot so I’ve accounted for important top reserves/flex starts at those positions.
If I spend less than that on those nine spots, I feel I have too much sitting on the bench.
Within that goal, you can allocate it any number of ways. A couple of stars and then cheaper players. A more even allocation where you get a top QB, two mid-level RBs and three good, but not star, WRs. Spending big on TE or going cheap at TE. If I spend 30% of my cap on, say, Julio Jones early on, I know that I still have 55-60% to spend on my QB and other starters at RB/WR/TE.
6. 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. While many advise to hold your money, it’s an art. Get it in when you get value.
You also have to know yourself and how impatient or patient you are, and know whether you need to get money in early.
Let’s say you want one of the top backs, and you know that your draft strategy largely pivots on it. You don’t want to be bidding on the last in the tier while multiple owners still have plenty of money. If you want Melvin Gordon, you are probably going to get him for $1 or $2 cheaper if he goes up before David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy.
7. ABSOLUTELY THROW OUT STAR PLAYERS YOU DO NOT NEED, FOR NOMINATION AS THE DRAFT PROGRESSES.
Once the draft board is starting to fill, and you get a sense of what you need–and where others need to spend–it’s time to force others to use money now so it won’t be used against you later. You can also do this with your first nomination if it’s someone you don’t want, but could draw a high number.
If you know you don’t need a QB, or aren’t taking one of the big names, push them out. Make sure no one else gets them for cheap later. And even when you aren’t nominating, you can absolutely play the game just like you would at the poker table. If someone else seems to be hesitating on finding a name, add, “well, Rodgers just went a few picks ago, but Brees is available.”
8. 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 the player 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 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, and I just committed pretty much all my remaining money. Tip of the cap to someone else getting a good pick, and move on to the next guy.
9. THROW THE FOURTH TO FIFTH 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 Denver out there, as 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. It just can’t be the hottest couple of names. There are always a few guys willing to spend money at those positions regardless of when it comes up in a draft.
10. MONITOR THAT REMAINING MONEY AND WHO IS STILL OUT THERE SO YOU CAN TARGET RUNS AND WHERE THE VALUE POCKETS ARE
See Step No. 4 above. This is why that’s here. Some people will give you draft advice that save your money and profit in the end. In my experience, every draft is different. The values come at different points. Sometimes it’s early, sometimes it’s in the middle when a couple of guys that might go in the 2nd and 3rd slip to later nominations, and sometimes it’s near the end when one or two guys can push around and max out the others. But that’s only true if there are players worth spending on.
If you look up, and there are three owners (see #4(b) above) with $20 maximums that can bid more than you, and you don’t have a single player valued over $10, then you aren’t getting value in that range. You either need to max the best remaining player and push all-in, or start throwing out the $5 guys for $2-$3 and try to pick up value that way while those with more money target the remaining big names.
11. DON’T BE PREDICTABLE
I said “don’t bluff” but that’s different than varying your game when it comes to raises and nominations. Don’t bid $10 for a player you want at $3 because you think the other guy will go to $12.
Sometimes fire out with early raises on a big name even if you have no intention of getting near where you think he ultimately goes. Sometimes wait to jump in until a guy gets nearer your target. Sometimes throw out the $1 bid on a player you aren’t going to raise if someone else calls $2, and other times throw out $1 bid on a player you are willing to go to $5 or $6 on. Vary that so they don’t know who you are targeting as a sleeper.
And sometimes, slow play a raise when you are still willing to spend $5 more, but seem to be down to battling with someone else. If you have a tell, just like in poker, that you immediately and forcefully raise if you really want a player, you are more likely to draw the up bid than if they think you are at your limit.
12. HAVE FUN
The most important rule. All the prep work is so you are in a position to have fun. Football players spend countless hours practicing mundane techniques so they have fun when the pressures on, and same with this venture. Enjoy the wildness and creativity that it 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.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]