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2017 Auction Strategy Guide

By Matt Schauf 8:08am EDT 8/2/17


If you've never done a fantasy football auction, then you’re missing out.

Whether in person (which I’ve actually never done) or online, auction drafting is really the ultimate way to start your season. (As I said last year.)

Rather than be tied down by a draft spot, you have every single player available. Wanna build your team around 2 first-round picks? Do it. Wanna skip the top-shelf price tags and buy all of Round 3 instead? Go for it.

You can literally get whomever you want. But that means you need to go in with a plan.


Learn from My Mistakes

There are many different ways to approach your auction, but I figured I’d start out with a consistent shortcoming of mine: I’m often too conservative with my spending – especially early.

Now, I’ll never be the guy throwing $70 at this year’s RB sensation. But more than once I’ve been wiggling my finger over the laptop as the clock ran out, wondering if I really wanted to throw in that extra dollar or 2 on a given player. Fast forward a couple of hours, and I’m sitting there staring at the last $10 in my bank, needing just 2 more players and realizing I could have had that upside WR I wanted.

Make sure you go in with a basic spending plan, but you should also know where you’re willing to break from it. Fantasy football drafts never go completely according to plan. But that’s way you plan for contingencies.


The Basics

In case you haven’t done an auction before, here are the basics:

  • League owners take turns nominating players to be purchased.
  • Anyone interested bids on the player until the bidding stops.
  • High bid wins the player and loses that amount of money from the owner's preset bank.
  • Repeat until all rosters are full.
  • After 3 hours, shrug and remind your spouse that draft season only comes once a year.


The Setup

Let’s use a common 20-player roster and $200 bank for the example here. Obviously, you can adjust the outline to fit different roster requirements and available banks.

You can use your MVP Board to help guide you through an auction just as you would any other draft, but the setup gets a bit trickier.

For 20 players, with 1 QB starter, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, a flex, a kicker and a team D, we recommend this breakdown on your Setup page:

2 QBs
5 RBs
6 WRs
2 TEs
1 Flex
1 K
1 D/ST
2 bench

That will probably leave the top player values short of what those guys will actually go for, but the dollar values line up better as you move down the board. At the very least, they start to paint the picture of value separation. Feel free to tweak these settings to get to an alignment you like better. And if your league starts 2 WRs, then just even out that position with the RBs.

The main point here is to set up the value levels, which will be key.


Budgeting

Let’s go with a slight tweak here from what I used last year. We'll again assume a $200 budget.

QB = 5-8% ($10-$16)
RB = ~40% ($80)
WR = ~45% ($90)
TE = 5-8% ($10-$16)
K = $1
D = $1 (per pick)

That’s a dip from ~10% at both QB and TE. I usually enter my auctions planning to spend $15 at each spot, and I’ve come in below that plenty of times – while getting starters I’m quite comfy with.

QB and TE have long been positions we prefer to wait on. Auction drafting accentuates the “wait” benefit, because the resulting extra draft capital is easier to see. If you buy Tyrod Taylor and Andy Dalton for $13 total, for example, you’ve got at least $12 extra over that league mate who paid $25 for Aaron Rodgers (and maybe more).

The caveat here: Know whether you’re willing to go up a little bit if you see a top guy slip. I recently found myself unprepared to jump on Rob Gronkowski, because I didn’t expect him to go for just $16 in a slow auction. I ended up with Eric Ebron for $8 and Jason Witten for $1, which is fine. But in hindsight, I certainly wouldn’t let Gronk stop at $16 again.

As your auction plays out, of course, and you start acquiring players, keep an eye on where you might need/want to shift your available money. If you had to pay up for that stud RB, then you might need to cut spending elsewhere or adjust your lower-roster targets. But if you snagged a player or 2 cheaper than expected, then you might be ready to hit a new spending bracket at another position.


Player Tiers

Budgeting is important. Setting up the dollar values on your MVP Board is key. But figuring out the tiers in your rankings will help you throughout your draft as well.

Let’s say you’re excited about Brandon Marshall’s upside with the Giants, but you also see him among a group of 5 wideouts with similar values and outlooks. Know that range ahead of time and you can avoid chasing Marshall’s rocketing price, because you know there are still 4 other guys in that range. Someone will likely come at a better cost.

The toughest thing about doing an auction can often be balancing your excitement for players with smart roster construction. So although you shouldn’t be too tight with that imaginary wallet, you will need some restraint.

Another benefit to creating your own tiers will be realizing which players you’re willing to pay up for on upside – and which players you don’t want to touch at their projected values.


RB/WR Strategy

I already touched on QBs and TEs. If you prefer to chase some studs at either of those positions, then you can certainly build a workable auction strategy around it. But we’d rather save the big dollars for the positions that will most drive your season.

The percentages I laid out above – 40% for RBs and 45% for WRs – would be $80 at RB and $90 at WR. That should be plenty of starting spending room whether you choose to chase some studs or spread the money around.

Try to consider these positions together, as any over- or under-spending at one is likely to affect what you have for the other.

If you covet a top-3 RB this year, expect to spend $50+ on him. That would still leave room for a ~$20 starter in the RB2 spot, but know that you’ll also need to seek out some cheap upside for the bench.

If you’re just looking for 1 first-round level player between the positions, then the better buy will often come at WR – where you might be able to get a top-tier guy for less than $40. Obviously, whether you’re playing PPR or not will impact this quite a bit.


Posting/Nominating Players

Each of us on the staff has used and seen varying strategies in this area, and there are no iron-clad rules. After all, you’re likely only nominating 1 player every 12 (or 10, or whatever) turns. You’re not going to kill your team in this area. But there are some strategic ways to play it.

Try to secure your kicker/defense for $1. Locking in your starters at these spots early will keep you from having to chase them later when everyone’s filling positions of need. And if you get bid up on early kicker/D nominations, then a league mate is throwing away a few dollars that just might prove valuable late in the draft.

Post high-dollar players you don’t want. Every draftable player has a value point. But there will always be guys destined to go for more than you’re willing to spend. (Lookin’ at you, Todd Gurley.) Throw them up on the board to get someone else spending big and take a contender out for when your fave gets nominated.

Nominate lower-level players you’d like to have but are willing to lose. None of us will finish an auction with 20 players that we absolutely love. We’ll all be picking through the $5 bin at some point, like when we used to listen to CDs. Sometimes tossing DeSean Jackson out there early will make someone with too much money left pay up from him. Other times, though, you’ll find owners preferring to save their money for the more meaningful players. This is a good tactic if you’ve noticed your league starting a draft conservatively. And if you’re not sure about the mindset of your fellow drafters, then throw out 1 of these guys to gauge it.

Post other owners’ handcuffs. Your league mate might be fired up about securing LeSean McCoy. But now he’s probably hoping that he can wait and get Jonathan Williams for $1 or $2 late. Don’t let him. Throw Williams out there when the dollars are still flying. He’ll have to throw in a little extra – or someone else will. The more prominent the handcuff situation the better. And the current uncertainty surrounding Ezekiel Elliott (suspension?) and Le’Veon Bell (holdout) make Darren McFadden and James Conner strong candidates.

Wait as long as possible to post any players you really want. Others will nominate players that you want along the way. And sometimes it might help to post such a guy just so that you can line up your spending the rest of the way.

Let’s say you’re crossing your fingers for A.J. Green, whom no one has nominated through the 1st hour and a half of your draft. You want him. But you also can’t just keep $40 in a safe until the end. If you try to, you might miss out on other players. And if someone outbids you for Green when he does come up, then your strategy might be caput.

So yeah, don’t necessarily wait until the very end to start pursuing your own targets. But don’t sling Jay Ajayi onto the board with your 2nd nomination if he’s the main guy in your crosshairs. If you really like a prominent player, then others in your league do to.


Don’ts

There’s plenty of room for varying auction strategies, but there are also some things that you should just never do. Some of these seem obvious to me, but I’ve seen them happen.

Don’t spend on a backup QB, especially if you paid up for a starter. The only benefit to paying more than, say, $16 on your starter in a 1-QB league is that you can afford to either forgo a backup or at least get 1 on the cheap. Paying $10 for your QB2 is stupid.

Don’t spend on a backup TE. Same deal, but this rule reaches even further down. QBs are easier to platoon (or stream) successfully in fantasy. Their volume is more consistent and predictable. TE is a low-volume, TD-reliant position. If you bother drafting a 2nd at all, make sure he’s $5 or less (barring a TE-friendly format or leftover dollars for a favorite option late in your draft).

Don’t overpay for a handcuff. If someone else picks your starter’s handcuff before you’re ready to in a regular draft … oh well, you missed out. It’s harder to say that in your mind if you have Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams is sitting there on the auction block at $4. Always keep in mind that a true handcuff is going to just eat a roster spot most of the time. That doesn’t mean those players have no place. It just means that you shouldn’t treat them all as necessities.

Don’t bid up a player you don’t really want. This rule becomes more steadfast the higher the bids climb. You might see your league mate rapidly topping every bid past the $30 threshold and think that you can make her pay a couple of extra bucks by jumping in once. But if she reached her preset limit, then you’re suddenly stuck with a $32 wideout you didn’t care about. Be smart.


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