How To Auction Draft | Best Strategy Salary Cap Fantasy Football
Build the Best Team (Imaginary) Money Can Buy
Which fantasy football draft format is best? That’s subjective.
But which is the fairest? That has to be fantasy football auction drafts.
With Auction draft fantasy football, there’s none of the luck or hierarchy that comes with snake or linear drafts.
Every player is available to every team
Although you can draft anyone, you obviously can’t have everyone. And this format forces a lot more strategy than your typical round-by-round draft.
If you prepare properly, you can gain an unfair advantage over your league mates in this fairest of formats.
Don’t Lose Sight of the Overall Strategy
Plan out how you want to build your roster
As in any fantasy football format, there is more than one way to approach an auction draft. And no single method is necessarily the “right” way.
However, you can get it wrong by not entering your draft with a clear vision.
We’ll dig into the details throughout this article, but you should start with an overarching roster-building strategy.
When you set up your Draft War Room for the auction, you can set a strategy. The price limits for each player will be affected by the chosen strategy in your Draft War Room.
(We’ll address those “limits” more in a minute.)
Choose Your Build
Your draft approach boils down to one of two paths:
1. Focus on Starters Over Depth
This will often be your best approach to a single redraft league.
Beyond the auction draft, your league usually functions like other redraft leagues. You’ll have waivers and trades to refine your roster throughout the season.
So you’ll want to start the year with as strong a starting group as possible – even if that means some sacrifice at the reserve spots.
In this approach, you should come away from your draft with at least several $1 players
And that’s just fine.
Think of how many season-long solid contributors commonly emerge on waivers over the first few weeks (or even later in the year). Now realize that you can dump those $1 guys off your roster for the hot waiver pickups whenever you want.
This setting in your Draft War Room will increase the suggested bids for the highest-rated players in your league.
Consider that an encouragement to go harder after the players most likely to deliver points in your lineup week to week. As you progress down the rankings during your draft, the player prices even out across formats.
If you’re building your roster this way, make sure you identify the tiers of elite players that you plan to chase on draft day
It also doesn’t hurt to highlight some high-upside value picks to watch as you draft.
The key here is to ensure you don’t run your bankroll down too much by bidding for down-the-roster guys before you’ve secured your stud(s).
You might also see this approach referred to as “studs and duds.”
2. Building out Depth
Use this path if you play in a larger league or with more starting lineup spots than usual. The top player-price suggestions won’t rise as high as they do in the previous setting.
That’s because this strategy favors spreading your spending around a bit more rather than chasing after top-shelf performers.
The more players started across your league, the less likely you are to build out a studly group. Instead, you’ll wind up with top-end guys at some spots … and late-round types starting for you regularly.
This Draft War Room setting also works well for dynasty startup drafts.
You’re trying to build a good team for the coming season and laying the base for years of fantasy success.
How to build a 'balanced roster'
However, pursuing a “balanced roster” doesn’t necessarily mean spreading your spending evenly across positions and throughout the depth chart.
In building balance, you might stay out of the bidding for the top-shelf players to spend a little more for starters across positions.
Instead of paying up for first-round types at both RB and WR, you might focus on a few second-rounders and aim higher than you would otherwise at QB and TE. Your balance could also come from boosting the spending on a WR4-5, your RB3 – or both.
You're focused less on studs in this auction draft approach, so it’s less important to zero in on specific targets ahead of your draft. But setting up player tiers will still be vital. We’ll get more into that in a minute.
Hear Our Best Auction Draft Strategies
Keep Player Tiers in Mind Throughout
Know what you’re targeting, who’s left, and how much they’ll likely cost
Building tiers into your player rankings works, no matter the fantasy football draft format.
Rankings get much more attention, but the space between consecutively ranked players at a position can differ quite a bit. That drop-off can be called a “tier.”
Player tiers honor those spaces and tell you how many similar guys are left at a position.
In a snake draft, this helps you determine whether you should take an RB at this turn. Or if there’s a solid chance a similar player makes it back to you.
Tiers will serve a vital function in an auction draft as well
Let’s say the bidding runs higher than you’re comfortable with on a certain WR. But three other guys from the same tier remain on the board. Then you know you can let someone else have that guy.
On the flip side, if the WR currently up for bidding is trending toward going for less than an already-drafted wideout from the same tier, you know you’re getting good value.
And that extra money could help you at another spot
Another key reason to keep your player tiers in focus: You want to avoid waiting for the last guy in a target group.
At first glance, such patience can seem like a good plan. But it rarely works the way you’d expect.
Rather than waiting out the rest of your league burning bankroll and getting your guy on the cheap, you get stuck in a bidding war for that last attractive player.
What if the plan DID work as you envisioned?
If you’re the only drafter interested in this player, then you just might be the one who’s wrong about him. Plus, by saving enough money to ensure you got him, you’ve likely kept yourself out of the bidding for another attractive player or two along the way.
You can find player-tier breaks on the positional-rankings pages of your Draft War Room.
Work with a Budget
Know what you have spent and what you still can spend
You begin your auction draft in fantasy football with a finite amount of “money” to spend on players. Everything you spend to acquire a player will affect how you build the rest of your roster.
But if you just try to wing it through your auction draft, you’re setting yourself up for issues. Instead…
Come up with a pre-draft budget outline
In a more traditional format, the bulk of your spending should be planned for RB and WR. How you divide that between those two groups will depend at least some on your league’s settings and your preferred approach.
Finding value with less spending at QB and TE is generally easier. That said, you can build a winning lineup with Travis Kelce or Josh Allen as a key piece.
And you’ll have a better sense of how to build around that piece if you plan your budget.
Entering your draft with a plan doesn’t mean you need to rigidly stick to it
The other benefit of pre-planning your budget is that you’ll have an easier time adjusting throughout your draft for anything that doesn’t match the plan.
You had to spend a little more than you expected for that lead WR?
The budget can help you see just how much you have left to spend at the position – or where else you might be able to siphon some extra spending room.
Get a key player for less than you expected? Then you can see exactly where you can shift that extra spending money.
Prioritize positions with multiple starters
Limit your spending where you only need one starter
This aspect will differ at least some by season.
We address each position in our annual Auction Strategy Guide and do at least one recap of an actual auction draft to show our philosophies in practice.
You’ll also be able to intimate some positional strategy from how your Draft War Room ranks and values the players.
Prioritizing which positions you’ll spend most of your money on
In general, you’ll want to avoid investing too heavily at QB in a league that only requires you to start one. The same has been true for a while at TE – at least beyond Travis Kelce. You’ll also want minimal investment into your kicker or team defense.
That leaves the bulk of your spending for RB and WR, and we’ll get more specific on strategy at those spots by season.
A couple of points that will stay true year to year for the foreseeable future:
Don’t Pay for a Handcuff
There are multiple ways this can backfire
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t handcuff any RB at all. It just means that you shouldn’t pay up to do so.
Even if you’re correct in landing a player that takes over a near-identical workload after your starter goes down, you’ll almost certainly get less production from the backup.
So it’s still a net loss for your team. Get that guy for $1-2, and absorb that difference. Doing so at $5-7; however, you’re hurting another spot or two on your roster. Assuming a $200 budget.
Try to Flex WRs in PPR Leagues
Get more consistent production and better bang for your buck
More than enough research has shown the value of playing WRs over RBs or TEs in your PPR flex positions. The position simply runs deeper with viable fantasy options.
And generally, higher target counts make it easier for #2 and #3 NFL WRs to deliver meaningful PPR totals in a given week than replacement-level options at the other positions.
What does this mean for your auction?
Prioritize WR over the other positions with your higher-level reserves. You’ll generally want a stronger WR4 than RB3, for example.
This can differ some by your specific build. For example, if you’re going cheaper at your RB2 spot, you’ll want more strength at RB3 – and maybe even RB4 – to present weekly platoon options.
Even in those cases, you’re probably spending down at RB on the whole to shift more of your budget to WR.
Win the Psychological Battle with Player Nominations
How you apply strategies will leave your opponents full of regret
Everyone in your league will take a turn nominating players (Auction basics>) for bid through every round of your auction.
And then every league member will have the opportunity to bid on that player – at least until teams start running out of money.
Treat every turn posting a player like it’s a big strategic move, and you risk overthinking and losing focus on other areas of your draft that deserve more attention.
That said, there are some tricks you can use along the way.
Don’t Wait Too Long Before Nominating Your Guys
Saving your favorite targets until the end brings consequences
There will be a natural inclination to save your favorite players until as late as possible in the draft.
The logic is to wait until your league mates run low on money and then snag your guys at value prices.
This might work at times, but it’s risky.
How long will you have to wait before everyone else in your league runs low on dollars? Secondly, what happens if/when you don’t get that guy?
Why you should nominate the players you love
If you spend most of the draft letting others pluck players from that same WR tier, for example – but then miss out on the player you coveted all along – you’re suddenly left scrambling.
You might then be forced to overspend for multiple players in the next tier or two down. Or you could finish your draft with leftover money. And regret.
Don’t immediately throw your favorite players onto the board when all teams are flush with cash. But keep an eye on those positional tiers along the way, and try not to wait until that tier is dried up.
You can sometimes sneak early players through at lower winning bids than they’ll pull later.
Although the early part of the draft finds more teams with plenty to spend, you’re also more likely to find drafters playing the waiting game at this stage: trying to be patient and not overspend too early.
Follow Bidding War with High-Level Player You Don’t Want
Play into your league mates’ sense of loss by offering the “next best” guy
Auction drafts leave more room for you to use psychology to your advantage.
One obvious way is to let the player rankings and price recommendations influence your league mates in the draft room on your league site. Even “good” rankings are bound to have plenty of player listings you disagree with.
What to do after a “bidding war”
A less-obvious tactic is to follow a bidding war with another big name in the same position. Odds are a league mate, or two feels a sense of loss over not getting that previous RB.
So throw another guy up there and let others fight it out again. Just make sure your nomination in this scenario isn’t a player you’re hoping to get.
It might seem to make sense to spend your first few turns nominating big-name players you don’t want and draining bid money from others.
But this ties back into the first item here. That path rarely proves as successful as you’d hope.
Nominate High-Level QBs (or TEs) You Don’t Want
Let others burn money at a ‘onesie’ position
QB and TE are often called the “onesie” positions.
That’s because fantasy football leagues commonly only start one player at each. Posting big-name players you don’t want at such positions can help you in a couple of ways:
- You get a league mate to burn some money early at a position he could have addressed for cheaper later.
- You start to see what the market will look like at that position.
In both cases, this is especially effective at QB. That’s because QBs are more “elite” targets in auction drafts than are TEs.
Follow Starting RBs with Their Perceived Handcuffs
Stop guessing at who’s the real backup RB. It might just be the biggest drafting mistake in all of fantasy football.
“Perceived” is key here.
There will always remain some backfield situations in which a predictable heir assumes nearly all the workload an injured starter leaves behind.
But those situations are dwindling. And fantasy owners have not historically done a great job predicting who an actual handcuff player will be.
When to nominate a handcuff RB
You see fantasy owners looking to secure handcuffs for their top RBs every year. So if an early-round RB comes off the board in your auction, consider posting his perceived handcuff soon after that.
This tactic has multiple potential positive outcomes for you:
- You create a low-level bidding war for the insurance plan.
- In later rounds, you nominate an upside handcuff type from that same team – and add him to your roster on the cheap.
The latter option is the worst case here … which is still pretty good.
Placing a small bet that the third- or fourth-string RB becomes the starter
In that scenario, you suddenly get a high-upside asset on your roster should that team’s starting RB go down. And since you didn’t have the starter in the first place, there’s only gain for you.
And because you have next-to-nothing invested in that team’s backfield, you can more easily cut this guy for a waiver pickup whenever you want.
Pay Attention to How Your League Works. Then Adjust Accordingly
Being flexible with your draft approach is vital across formats
These philosophies are based on what we’ve learned, tried, and developed through years of playing dynasty leagues. But every league is different in some way.
We’ll set you up with all the knowledge, strategy, and tools you need to win your draft. Just make sure you don’t get too rigid in your approach and miss out on opportunities.
Always Bid with a Plan
Go get your guys. Don’t lose sight of what you’re building.
Planning ahead of your draft will help you in this area as well. You’ll want to have a good idea of what you’re willing to spend on certain players and/or certain positions ahead of your draft.
That’s where your budgeting comes in. And your Draft War Room will help you with the player bid amounts.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind as you draft:
You Can’t Get Every Player You Like
The biggest challenge of an auction might be letting that player go
This might seem obvious heading in. You clearly know that you can only draft a certain number of guys.
But it’ll come into play more than you might expect as you draft.
The best thing about starting your season with an auction draft is you get a shot at any player you want. The downside is that you’ll have to pass on some players you like.
And sometimes you’ll need to do so even on guys going at value prices.
This tip is more mindset than practice, but it’ll play into everything you do in your auction.
Don’t Be Afraid to Go Above Market Price Early
You’ll find more regret in the dollars you wasted than in the player you won
The dollar amounts assigned to players in your Draft War Room are recommendations, not strict limits. They can help you understand a particular player's good – or bad – price.
But if you adhere too closely, you might ultimately hurt your team.
Many top players will go early in your draft when every team in your league has more to spend. If you covet a particular player, odds are someone else in your league also does.
It’s OK to break your budget … by a couple bucks
Sometimes the bidding will go too high for that player to make sense for your roster build. Other times, going just a couple of dollars above your preset ceiling is optimal.
If you do this early in your draft, you have more time to figure out where to siphon these extra few bid dollars from elsewhere in your draft budget.
Money will get tighter as you move through your draft, so shifting your budget will be more difficult.
Just keep in mind: You’re more likely to get to the end of your draft and regret not going a couple of dollars higher on that stud than you are to wish you had $2 more remaining to fill out your bench spots.
Be Patient but Not Hesitant
Blowing your bank too early can kill your team build
We just discussed going after your guy early. But you generally don’t want to be consistently aggressive in your bidding – especially early.
That’s how you run down your bank quickly and spend most of the draft watching others win players.
Every draft is different, of course. You might encounter a draft where three of your top targets hit the board in the first round of player nominations.
Other times, the draft will go through two nomination rounds or more before a guy excites you.
Sticking to your plan
It’s essential to stick to your plan in either case – as well as any other scenario in between. Don’t react too much to what others in your league are doing.
Don’t start feeling left out just because others have gotten further into your build. But also don’t sit back too much.
And you know what?
Sometimes the draft doesn’t go according to your plan
Let’s say you plan to be out on the top-shelf RBs. But then a member of that shelf is about to come off the board at a much lower price than you think he’s worth.
It’s OK to sit back and let someone else take that value if you still don’t think he fits into your build. But it’s also OK to adjust on the fly. This goes back to our overall draft philosophies of chasing value and being flexible.
Having your pre-draft budget and the player values in your Draft War Room will make adjusting easier.
Don’t ‘Price Enforce’ to a Level You’re Not Comfortable Paying
Focus too much on another drafter, and you risk hurting yourself
“Price enforcing” in an auction is when you bid up a player about to go for a lower price than you believe he merits. It’s an OK practice in moderation.
The high-bidder on that player is often willing to keep going and just needs an adversary to push him.
But don’t ever enter a bid that you’re not willing to pay for that player in this scenario.
Even though it’s annoying, it’ll be better for your team to let a league mate get good value than to overpay for a player you didn’t want.
Be a Details Nerd Throughout Your Draft
Mind your budget and your roster. Make sure it’s going as planned.
We’ve talked plenty so far about adjusting your budget as you go. But you didn’t set the plan beforehand so that you can blow it all up as you go.
Most of your player spending should fit into your pre-draft plan. That’s why you assigned how much you wanted to invest by position in the first place.
Don’t lose sight of that budget as you draft.
And make sure you also keep in mind what you’ve drafted. You’ll need to know how much money you have and what you still need.
Securing some reserves before you’ve filled your starting spots is okay. But if you overpay for a lower-level player or two, you might lower the ceiling on a starter spot or two.
Keep Track of Winning Bids
Pay Attention to How Your Whole League’s Draft is Playing Out
As you draft, this can be a challenge, with plenty of things to focus on.
Knowing who has been drafted and his winning bid price can help you gauge both values and remaining available talent.
This can work together with your player tiers to help guide your bidding.
Your Draft War Room will track every player's bid via live-draft sync.
Keep Track of Who’s Still Available
You might be surprised at how easy this is to overlook
Duh, right? This is a pretty simple and obvious tip.
But it can be easier to lose sight of this aspect in an auction draft that doesn’t follow the structure of round-by-round drafting.
ADP and draft prep can give you a pretty good idea of who will go where and what’s likely available at specific points. In an auction, anyone can nominate any player at any time.
You might get near the end of your draft and forget that Terry McLaurin is still out there.
Or your draft room has hidden one of your favorite sleepers among the $1 or $0 players on the list.
Your Draft War Room will keep track of every player via live-draft sync, or if you prefer, you can manually mark them off as the proceeds.
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