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Draft Strategy

2020 Auction Strategy Guide

By Matt Schauf 10:08pm EDT 8/20/20


Every time I do an auction draft, I remember how I don't do enough of them.

It's the fairest way to conduct a fantasy draft, and it also requires a lot more strategy than a common snake draft. Every decision you make impacts the rest of your roster. Every player nomination tests how you really feel about that guy. And best of all, you can get whomever you want.

But that last part is only true if you go in with a plan and then draft smart.

That's easier said than done. But the purpose of this article is to help you go in ready.

My own personal weakness in auctions is a hesitation to spend up early in drafts -- even for top players who ultimately go at reasonable prices. I have tried to break that habit a bit more this year and will share some draft results to that end later in this article.

The other side of that hesitation, though, is patience. I believe that's a strength of mine in auctions, and it comes from knowing the ranges of players I'm most interested in.

Preparation and understanding your own strengths/weaknesses is all part of succeeding in an auction draft.

Before we dig further into the strategy, let's start at the beginning ...

The Basics

I assume that most of you reading this article have done auction drafts before. But just in case you’re not familiar with the format, 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.
  • Realize when it’s over that you couldn’t have spent those 4 hours in a better way.

Auction drafting is great because it gives everyone in your league a shot at every available player. You’re not subject to the luck of draft position. You’re limited only by your own strategy.

Some of those limits are necessary, of course. You can’t buy every player you want. But you can choose from many paths to build the team your way. And we’re here now to prepare for just that.


The Approach

Let’s start with your overall strategy, which has been built into the MVP Board for the past couple of seasons. Just like entering your league’s lineup and scoring settings can deliver appropriate rankings and pick recommendations for your snake draft, it can also assign auction values to the players who make up those rankings.

When you set up your MVP Board for an auction draft, you’ll find a box to enter your starting bank (“Auction $/Team”), and then an “Auction Strategy” dropdown with 5 options:

1. Build strong starting lineup
2. Focus on starters over depth
3. Balanced roster
4. Focus on depth over starters
5. Build strong depth

The board will adjust player values throughout the draft, based on what’s available and your team’s needs. Those 5 settings above, though, will matter most for setting expectations near the top of your board.

I tested a 12-team PPR league with 20 roster spots, a $200 bank and the following lineup specifications:

QB
RB
RB
WR
WR
WR
TE
Flex
K
D/ST

This table shows the difference in prices for the 5 strategy settings:

Column 3 above probably has the best chance of aligning with your league's prices, but choose the path that best fits your approach and format.

There's a bigger gap between this year's #1 and the rest of the group than we found in last year's rankings. That's no surprise, of course, after the year that Christian McCaffrey just put up.

You're probably not going to find an auction where McCaffrey actually goes for more than half of a team's starting bank. But the enormous difference in the valuations at least helps you visualize how much further we project McCaffrey ahead of even his nearest challengers.

Your MVP Board will adjust the auction values as you mark players drafted. You could view that as a positive (re-assessing value amid a changing market) or a negative (skewing the values of remaining players in comparison to those already drafted).

Either way, just be aware of it.


Budgeting

Whether you want to pay up to secure a couple of studs or spread your money around, you need to go in with a budget.

This doesn't need to be a strict spending plan for each spot on your roster, but you should at least have a pretty good idea of the total amount you want to allot for each position.

Here's my general setup (with the dollar amounts for a $200 bank in parentheses; adjust as needed for your format):

QB = 7% ($14)
RB = 45% ($90)
WR = 40% ($80)
TE = 7% ($14)
K = $1
D/ST = $1

You can certainly shift more cap room to WR than RB if you'd like. But the top of fantasy football drafts have gone especially RB-heavy this season. And the MVP Board agrees with that approach. Just check out our Perfect Draft articles from this week.

This is a good year to save a few bucks at QB, TE or both, which would leave more to spend at RB and WR. We'll get into more specifics on that in the next section.


How to Attack Each Position

Quarterback

This time last year, Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott were going 16th and 17th among QBs in 12-team ADP on My Fantasy League. Baker Mayfield sat 4th, coming off a nice finish to 2018.

Those are a few very specific examples from a single season, but consider it a reminder of what you can find at QB later in the draft. Sure, waiting on the position is mostly about taking advantage of how closely most of QBs sit to each other in scoring. But we see breakthrough passers from outside the top 12 every year. (Patrick Mahomes was going 15th in August 2018.)

Waiting on a QB can certainly work in auctions as well. Here, obviously, "waiting" just means not paying too much.

The publicly available auction values on Fantasy Pros list Tom Brady (their QB9) at $8, Drew Brees (QB10) at $7 and Carson Wentz (QB12) at $6. If you really want to save, you could likely get a pairing such as Ben Roethlisberger (4 home games among his first 6, plus visits to the Giants and Titans) and Derek Carr (Week 6 bye that aligns with Roethlisberger's home Browns date).

You could probably land that duo without spending more than $5 in most auctions with $200 banks. That would free up another $9.

Of course, that's just a couple of potential names. QBs such as Ryan Tannehill, Joe Burrow, Baker Mayfield, Gardner Minshew and Jimmy Garoppolo also present platoon potential at bargain prices.


Running Back

RB and WR will most drive your auction strategy.

Are you a "studs and duds" drafter? That would mean you pay up for a few top options and make up for it by loading up on $1 reserves late. The downside, obviously, is that you're stuck with who you can get in those slots rather than dictating more of your roster. The benefit, of course, is what should be a stronger starting lineup.

Or maybe you prefer to spread it around? This doesn't necessarily make you Bernie Sanders. It just means you're willing to sacrifice the most expensive options to fill your roster with more mid-range players.

Either path can work, of course. Otherwise there would be only 1 approach and we'd just quibble over specific players. And the year of COVID-19 could alter your plan.

The downside of the "studs and duds" approach is that it gives you a more fragile roster. You'll generally be in bigger trouble if you lose your 1st-round-level wideout than your league mate who's shuffling 4 guys from the Round 4-6 range. Injuries have always and will always be a part of navigating the fantasy season. But regular COVID testing increases the chances that you'll suddenly need to replace a starter.

Does that mean we should all shift to spreading the auction dollars around this year? No. But keep it in mind, at least, as you're planning and then building your roster.

The next thing to consider is how these 2 positions compare. The top scorers at RB perennially outperform their WR counterparts, but you don't have to look far down the list to see when the wideouts take over.

Here are the top 50 PPR totals at each position over the past 3 years:

The relative scarcity at RB obviously helps drive up the top prices at that position. But if you're going to pay up, then try to do so for a truly top option. After the gap between McCaffrey and the rest of the position, you'll find another projection gap between Dalvin Cook at 5 and Derrick Henry at 6.

What does that mean for your auction? It means you should be more willing to toss those few extra dollars at 1 of the top 5 RBs vs. Henry or Joe Mixon (#7), than you should to secure Henry or Mixon over, say, Miles Sanders and Josh Jacobs.

Tiers matter here. Our base PPR projections have Cook 33 points ahead of Henry. Count 33 points down from Henry, and you get all the way to #19 Le'Veon Bell.

Of course, the chart above looks at scoring finishes rather than finishes vs. ADP. So ideally, we're finding a RB who can give us a high-level finish without a top-shelf price. James Conner stands out as player who might come more cheaply but has already displayed RB1 scoring potential. He's going 19th among RBs in current Best Ball 10s ADP vs. our RB15 ranking in PPR.

Chris Carson is another potential value in this range. His current RB20 ADP sits just 2 spots below our RB18 PPR ranking. And he finished last season as the PPR RB12, despite missing a game.

Some dirt-cheap RBs with upside paths who can fit into any build: Jamaal Williams, DeAndre Washington, Bryce Love, Gio Bernard, Frank Gore/Lamical Perine.


Wide Receiver

Wideouts will cost less than their RB counterparts at every ranking spot in starter territory, so there's value to be mined.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean you should just target top WRs over top RBs. Receivers outscore backs as we move down the board because their scoring flattens out more. Opportunities get more easily spread around to wideouts than to backs.

So there's room for you to pay up for a stud RB, a sub-$20 RB2 and then spread the salary around a bit for your top 3 WRs.

Of course, there's also room for you to pay up for a top-level WR and then fill in behind him.

Here's 1 recent auction I completed with a league of fantasy analysts. It's PPR, 20-man rosters, $200 bank, with the lineup settings I listed above ...


The Guice pick was obviously unfortunate. (It was a slow auction, and I "won" Guice shortly before he decided to prove what an a-hole he is ... allegedly.)

I got Gurley and Godwin at favorable prices. Really, I also nabbed Elliott for less than his market value. Paying 1st-round level prices for 2 guys is out of my usual comfort zone or auctions, but I was pleased with how it worked out (even with the $5 sunk on Guice). I think I landed somewhere between full "studs and duds" and pursuing a balanced roster.

Getting Elliott for less than $50 certainly helped. But that was kinda part of the plan. I wanted to come away with a top-5 RB, and he just happened to go for the lowest price in that tier ($1 less than even Dalvin Cook). The risk to waiting out the low man in a tier, of course: You might wind up overpaying for that last guy if he doesn't happen to wind up the low man.

That's why it's important to go in with an idea of what you're willing to spend rather than just gauging the prices during the draft. This obviously gets easier if you draft against the same group repeatedly and get familiar with your league's spending practices.

Back to WR: The nice thing about top-shelf PPR wideouts is that we can expect consistently high target counts. This year's WR crop, however, presents likely team target leaders beyond even the top 20. Our Breakout pick, Terry McLaurin, might come off the board for less than $20 in your auction. He has the upside to dominate Washington's target picture this season.

Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, DeVante Parker and D.J. Chark look like potential values in the same vein. Tyler Boyd fits into this category as well. His draft-day price could look ridiculously low by the end of the season.

Low-dollar upside options at WR include: Brandon Aiyuk, Parris Campbell, Tyrell Williams, N'Keal Harry, Allen Lazard, Curtis Samuel and DeSean Jackson/Jalen Reagor.


Tight End

Like at QB, you can save money by mining this position's depth in your auction. I paid market value for Engram in the draft above and still saved a couple dollars on the position vs. my initial allotment.

Travis Kelce and George Kittle look like values if you compare their salaries to RBs and WRs going around them in the draft. But the impact of spending up at TE is greater in an auction than in a snake draft.

Getting Kittle in the 2nd round of your snake draft, for example, has no impact on whether you land Saquon Barkley or Miles Sanders in Round 1. But the $20 difference between Kittle and, say, Hayden Hurst will certainly affect your spending flexibility.

And if you really want to free yourself, you could open the year with 2 among Blake Jarwin, Chris Herndon and Jack Doyle. I'd bet on at least 1 of those 3 guys finishing among the top 12 PPR TEs, and all 3 carry that kind of upside.


Kicker and Defense

You shouldn't be spending more than $1 apiece on starters here in most cases. If league mates keep bidding up your $1 kickers, then just keep throwing guys out there until you get 1 for a dollar.

As for D/ST, here are some favorable schedule starts:

Bills (vs. Jets, at Dolphins)
Colts (at Jaguars, vs. Vikings, vs. Jets, at Bears)
Patriots (vs. Dolphins)
Eagles (at Washington)
Chargers (at Bengals; vs. Panthers in Week 3)


IDP

I'm sure IDP auction leagues exist, but I have yet to encounter one. The MVP Board will help guide you through the values there. And even if the specific dollar amounts don't like up with how your league typically spends for the positions, the salary breaks between players at those positions should help you figure our your draft tiers.

Posting/Nominating Players

Now let’s wrap it up with some tips on nominating players ...

Try to secure your kicker/defense for $1 early. This assumes, of course, that you can’t skip kicker or D in your draft. In that case, 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 higher-dollar players you don’t want. Every draftable player has a sensible dollar value. But there will always be players you won’t want at their expected cost. I like to post some such popular players early in auctions to get fellow owners chasing -- and perhaps paying even more than they were hoping to. DeAndre Hopkins is a good example for this year. First-Round Bust Nick Chubb could also be a good early post, once he's back from his concussion.

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 dollar bin at some point. Sometimes nominating a lower-level player such as Zack Moss or Emmanuel Sanders can let you sneak that player through at a good price while drafters are trying to conserve their banks. The risk, of course, is that others covet the same guy and are willing to throw a few more dollars at him when flush with spending room. Only take this path if you're willing to lose that player -- or pay a little over your pre-set value.

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 Kenyan Drake. But now that person might be hoping to wait and get Chase Edmonds for $1 or $2 late. Don’t let it happen. Throw Edmonds out there when the dollars are still flying. That owner will have to throw in a little extra -- or someone else will. The more prominent the handcuff situation the better. And if this scenario doesn't force a spending spree on the handcuff, you have a chance to sneak an early reserve through (in the vein of the previous suggestion).

Hold off on posting players you really want. Let someone else put that favorite sleeper WR of yours on the auction block. Until that happens, patiently wait while everyone drains their bidding account. Of course, this depends a bit on how you’re spending is going. The more aggressively you’re going through your money, the less viable this trick is.

Got any other tips or tricks? I'd love to hear them in the comments section below ...

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