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Draft Strategy

2021 Auction Strategy Guide

By Matt Schauf 10:08am EDT 8/19/21


There is no better way to start your fantasy football season than with an auction draft.

You’re not constrained by draft position. You don’t need to conform your plan to recent shifts in ADP. Everyone is in play.

That fact makes it more important for you to be prepared, though.

If you’re experienced enough, you could likely head into a common snake draft at this point and fare decently just by using up-to-date ADP as your guide.

Not so at auction. You need to know what you’d like to spend and where. You need to be even more aware of what’s going on around you in the draft room. And you need to be ready to make in-draft adjustments when your plan meets an unexpected hurdle.

We’re here to help you with all that. So let’s get started.


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

When you set up your War Room for your auction draft, you’ll need to select an “Auction Strategy: 1 of 5 options.

This will affect the dollar values assigned to each player on your board, especially those at the top. To show you what I mean, here are the top 50 dollar values from a board I just synced with an upcoming “expert” mock auction (12 teams, 16-man rosters):

You’ll see that there’s much wider variation in the top prices, with the numbers evening out the further down we go.

In no setting should you consider a player’s assigned value to be a spending limit -- or even necessarily what you should be spending. Christian McCaffrey isn’t likely to command $87 at auction in this format … perhaps ever. But that’s the valuation vs. the rest of the field.

Basically, if you want him, spend almost whatever it takes. And know that if you really want McCaffrey, then you’re pretty much choosing the “Build Strong Starting Lineup” path. Unless you’re playing in a best-ball format, you’ll probably want to go with 1 of the first 2 strategies.

One of the best things about auction drafting is that a number of different approaches can work. You’ll just need to know how to go about your specific strategy.


Budgeting

No matter what overall path you decide to travel, budgeting your auction spending will be crucial. Here’s my general breakdown by position (with dollar amounts for a $200 bank in parentheses):

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

Peruse our Average Auction Values before you set these numbers. Especially at the 1-starter positions (QB and TE), you might get a better gauge of how you’d like to spend.

Want to secure a top-6 QB this year? Then you might need to shift a little more of your budget to that position -- at least until you see how much that QB costs you.

Want an elite TE? Then you’ll definitely need to adjust your cap at another position or 2.

We’ll get to each position more specifically in a few minutes.

It’ll help to keep track of not only who leaves the board during your draft, but also the dollar amounts of their winning bids. The average values can give you some sense of the overall auction marketplace this year. But the market that you’re actually operating within is your specific league. So don’t get frozen out of a desired tier just because the whole group is costing more than you expected going in.


Setting Tiers

Positional tiers are important no matter what kind of draft you’re in, but they can help you even more in an auction.

You’ll notice in your Draft War Room that we’ve added tier designations to the positional rankings pages. We do this to show you which players we view as similar values at a given position and where we see a more significant drop off vs. the next option(s).

Let’s say someone has posted Bucs WR Mike Evans. You get in on the bidding, but then the price starts climbing higher than you might have anticipated. You notice that Evans resides in a fairly crowded 5th tier at WR on your board. How many other Tier-5 WRs have gone? What did they go for? And how many are left?

Beyond that, how viable would it be to target 2 guys in the next tier rather than chasing a higher price than you want on Evans?

The biggest mistake here would be to get complacent as the rest of a particular tier leaves the board, thinking you can just hang out and get the last guy at a bargain. Chances are, if that guy is truly any good, there’s probably at least 1 other drafter in your league eyeing him as well. A bidding war at that point could leave you either overpaying or needing to adjust your strategy at the position on the fly.

Setting your tiers ahead of time, tracking players as they leave the board and noting the winning-bid prices can help give you an edge for those split-second, in-draft decisions.


Posting/Nominating Players

I must admit that I’m still learning in this area. Part of that, of course, is that auction draft rooms can differ quite a bit depending on format and who you’re drafting with.

However, I believe another factor is that there’s no single correct approach here. Here are some of the tactics I prefer.

Lead with a high-priced player (or 2) you don’t want. There will always be some highly drafted players that I’m not at all interested in landing. So let’s get 1 or 2 such players onto the board early. The higher his profile, the better. Sure, only 1 league mate will wind up with that player, but that’s 1 drafter I’ve bled some salary from and 1 team with an early starting spot ostensibly filled. So he/she is less likely to then target another player at the position from a similar range. This can also help to set the market for your particular draft.

Don’t wait too long before nominating your guys. This is a mistake I’ve committed at times, and it has to do with mistreating tiers. As I mentioned above, if you sit around too long waiting to get the last guy in a tier at the best price, you just might set up a feverish bidding duel over that final guy.

Follow big-name RBs with their perceived handcuffs. If Ezekiel Elliott or Dalvin Cook just went off the board, then Tony Pollard or Alexander Mattison is bound to see his profile raised a bit. There are still drafters out there who seek to secure the handcuff to their top RB investment. There are others who missed out and will want to steal the insurance policy. Either way, getting a backup off the board at $7 instead of $2 will bleed someone’s bank.


Bidding

Don’t be afraid to go above market price early. Pretty much every player in your draft will go for a higher price early than if he gets posted later. That’s what happens when everyone has money. Don’t be afraid to pay up for that guy early if you want him. Sure, there are times where passing on the last few dollars helps you net a similar player at much better value. But be aware of how your tiers are set up and how quickly certain assets are leaving the board. Pulling those purse strings too tight can freeze you out of some top producers and leave you regretting your early spending habits later.

I’ve faced many more situations where I regretted not spending those last few dollars on a top player than I have regret over a player I won.

Know the difference between patience and hesitation. You can go above market value for a player, but there has to be some limit. You don’t want to wait and face a bidding war on the last player in a 5-man tier at a certain position. But you also don’t want to pay $12 more than you planned just to secure the 1st guy in that tier.

Being patient can help you secure value. Being too hesitant can leave you at the mercy of the market rather than leveraging it.

Don’t “price enforce” to a level you’re not comfortable paying. Price enforcing is when you bid up a player you don’t necessarily want just to make sure someone else in your league doesn’t get a steal. This is a good idea to a degree. Sometimes the bidding will just stagnate on a certain player with general hesitation among your league mates. If this happens well short of what you think the player should cost, then give that bidding another jumpstart. Just make sure you do so at a price you’d be OK with paying for the player.

There was a year -- a while back -- in which I stuck myself with a $30 Tom Brady by trying to push the bidding as high as it could go, even though I knew I wanted late-round types at QB (back when that was still more advantageous than it is right now).

I’m certainly not letting someone escape my draft this year with $16 Patrick Mahomes. But once we get into the $20s, I’d probably rather see him leave the board a little below market value than to be the one paying $24. I want that salary for other positions more than I care about the $5 a league mate might be saving vs. Mahomes’ market value.


How to Attack Each Position

QB

Perhaps we’ll collectively feel different next year, if QB scoring differs significantly in 2021 vs. last year. But right now, the top QBs look a lot more attractive across draft formats than they have in other recent seasons. So I don’t want to be out completely on the top 6 or 7.

Instead, we can seek value in this group. Judging by our Average Auction Values, Russell Wilson stands as a nice relative value vs. the rest of the top QBs. This could play out differently draft to draft. Some leagues are filled with drafters who don’t want to overpay at QB. So you might be able to land another top-5 QB for $15 or less.

This is an example of when price enforcing to a certain level can be good. Even if you entered your draft thinking you wanted to spend no more than $14 total at QB, leaving with Kyler Murray for $18 is not going to sink your draft. You’ll just need to plot out where that $4 is coming from. That could be as simple as replacing a $5 reserve at WR with a $1 player.

If no value winds up falling at QB, then Ryan Tannehill, Jalen Hurts and Matthew Stafford look like potential values. And the prices could drop sharply beyond that. Ideally, I’m either getting the cheapest of the top 6 QBs or pairing an upside duo in the single-digit range.


RB

RB and WR will primarily drive your auction strategy.

There’s room for variation even within a “build strong starting lineup” approach. Does that mean securing a pair of 1st-round types? Does it mean skipping that group but securing 5 starters from the Round 2-3 range? It could be either.

Tiers come in handy here. We had Dwain McFarland of Pro Football Focus on the podcast this week, and the question of Alvin Kamara vs. Aaron Jones at auction came up. We’re all taking Kamara ahead of Jones in a snake draft, but their proximity in outlook will likely make Jones the better value in most auctions. The average values from ESPN, Yahoo! and Fantasy Pros puts Jones just $7 behind Kamara, but the largest gap in that sample is a $12 difference between then in the Fantasy Pros chart.

Getting Jones for $38 after Kamara leaves the board for $50 would be a win for your team.

I’m more willing than I used to be to pay for 1 of the top RBs, but I still think there’s generally more value at the top of the WR board than RB. Just check the average values charts: Only 4 WRs carry valuations of $41+, compared with 10 RBs.

It is possible to find value even within those top tiers, though. If you believe Ezekiel Elliott sits right with Alvin Kamara and Derrick Henry, for example, there’s a chance you get him at a value relative to their prices. Even the $10 difference in average value between Elliott and Dalvin Cook can be the difference between Najee Harris ($38) and D’Andre Swift ($28) as your RB2 -- or Swift over Chase Edmonds ($18).

Obviously, these average values shouldn’t be treated as absolute prices on any of those players. But they set a decent level of expectation as we plot out our positional strategies. Just make sure you are ready to pivot if your primary strategy doesn’t match with what certain players actually go for in your draft.

There’s room for variation in setting your starters here, as well as following the market values in your specific draft. Ideally, I’d like to leave my draft with 2 of our top 16 PPR RBs. (Personally, I have #16 Chris Carson well ahead of #15 D’Andre Swift, which makes him a specific target for me.)


WR

Be ready for the recent rise in WR ADPs to affect auction prices as well. If drafters want more WRs in the middle of Round 2 and early in Round 3, then it makes sense that those players could see their bid markets rise. This will be an especially important area in which to track winning bids.

Although I said there’s more value in the 1st-round types at WR than RB, it’s also OK to eschew that range at this position in favor of 4 players from the Round 3-5 range. That’s roughly A.J. Brown through Amari Cooper in our PPR rankings.

Doing some mock auctions on Yahoo!, ESPN or another site can help you play around with the possibilities on this front.

Of course, if you’d rather chase a higher-priced WR or 2, you could make up the difference with players in the Robby Anderson-to-Brandin Cooks range of our rankings as your WR3-4 targets.


TE

Unless any of the top 3 at this position goes shockingly cheap, I’m never going to be the buyer.

It can be tricky to gauge. If you compare Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle to the players around them in ADP, then their auction price tags might look like bargains.

But you’re not just weighing them in that sense. You must also compare them with the rest of the position. And Kelce almost definitely isn’t going to score 2.5 times more fantasy points than T.J. Hockenson. And Waller probably isn’t going to quadruple Noah Fant’s output.

You’ll probably find some other drafters in your league reluctant to overspend at TE as well. I’ve found that more so affects the 2nd and 3rd levels at the position than the top shelf, though. So my plan at TE basically starts with my TE4, Hockenson, and works down from there. If I can get Hockenson anywhere up to that 7% share of my budget, I’m likely in. Whether I’m willing to go past that will probably depend on how far into the draft I am and what spending looks like at the other positions.

Fant is a favorite fallback option for me, as I think his upside easily exceeds his price.


Kicker and Defense

If you don’t need to fill every position in your draft, then feel free to leave these spots empty and instead grab a couple more upside reserves at RB/WR.

If you do need to draft a kicker and/or defense -- or just feel better having those positions outfitted at the end of your draft -- then try not to spend more than $1 on either. You could start at $2 if looking to secure a defense with a good opening schedule, such as Denver (Giants, Jaguars, Jets).

Some other cheaper defenses with potentially favorable starts:

Packers (at New Orleans, vs. Detroit)
Giants (vs. Denver, at Washington, vs. Atlanta)
Jets (at Carolina, vs. New England, at Denver)
49ers (at Detroit, at Philadelphia)


IDP

I hope some of you reading this play in auction leagues with IDPs, but I sure haven’t seen many of them.

The Draft War Room will help guide you with values and tiers here. The tiers can be especially helpful, because player rankings are likely to vary much more widely among drafters for defensive players than they are on offense.

You’re likely to find Eagles LB Eric Wilson, for example, in a tier with some LBs that will command much higher prices. Use a situation like that to your advantage -- either by nominating Wilson to secure a starter early or by saving him as a fallback in case spending goes higher than you’d prefer on similar players.

Whereas bottom-of-the-tier starters at WR aren’t likely to sneak through your auction, they certainly still can at the defensive positions.

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