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5 Fantasy Football Auction Draft Tips

by Dan Harris | @danharris80 | Featured Writer
Jun 14, 2016

With a few basic rules, you can hit pay dirt in your auction draft

With a few basic rules, you can hit pay dirt in your auction draft

Alrighty, so we’re sitting down for our auction. Uhhhhhhhhh, what do we do now? Well, shoot. There are legitimately hundreds of things I could write here about what you could or should be thinking about doing during an auction. But, since I want you to be able to finish this article before football season ends, I’m just going to give you some quick hitters. These are the best strategies/lessons I’ve learned from years of purchasing football players for fake teams with fake money.

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1) Forget last year’s auction

I’m in this really cool, hyper-competitive two-QB league. In my first year, not only were prices for QBs insane, but they were all nominated super early. I’m not joking when I say that of the first 24 nominations, maybe 18 were QBs. I wound up overpaying for both of my entirely mediocre QBs, just because the options were getting a little slim and I didn’t want to get left with Geno Smith as my QB1.

So, the next year, I made sure that I was not going to make the same mistake twice. I got my two QBs pretty early and for really good prices compared to the previous year. Except, it turns out that QBs as a whole weren’t nominated early. And they didn’t go for a lot of money when they finally did get nominated. It was the exact opposite of the previous year, and I wound up being the guy who, once again, really overpaid for my QBs.

The league had the same owners and the same league parameters. So why was the QB market so different from one year to the next? It’s simple, really. Because it’s an auction! They’re just unpredictable animals.

You can certainly learn lessons from a previous year. “Man, I guess Mike will just pay a premium for all Steelers, huh?” “Shoot, I guess I shouldn’t have had a few beers before it started…” Never assume that this year’s auction will play out like last year’s. That’s a recipe for disaster. Or, if you’re like me, it’s a recipe for vastly overpaying for QBs.

2) Nominate players you actually want . . . sometimes

This is one which there’s a lot of debate. I’ve read articles saying you should never nominate players you want and I’ve read articles saying you should always nominate players you want. The truth is, whether you’re nominating players you want or not depends entirely on timing and what you’re hoping to accomplish with that particular nomination.

Here’s an example: Last year, there was a lot of hate going on with Marshawn Lynch going into draft season. After looking over my auction values carefully, I figured that my best strategy was to go heavy on wide receiver and avoid the top 10 RBs, who I thought would all go for more than I had valued. Except, I thought there was a chance I could nab Marshawn Lynch at a discount. So, I figured I would try to get Lynch if he came at the reasonable price I expected and, if not, I would go to Plan B and make sure to try to get a top-3 wide receiver.

So, what should I have done with my first nomination? Well, I could have tried to nominate an elite RB who I knew I wasn’t going to bid on in the hope of getting others to fill their RB slots and get some money off the table, clearing the way for me to purchase Lynch . But, suppose I did that, and Lynch didn’t get nominated for several rounds. In that scenario, I risk losing out on my Plan B because I’m passing on the wide receivers while waiting around for Lynch. And suppose when Lynch comes up, a couple of other guys are high on him. I’ve either missed out on both Lynch and my Plan B, or I’ve wound up wildly overspending for Lynch, which kind of goes against my whole strategy. Suddenly, my auction is in shambles.

In that situation, my best bet was to just get Lynch out there as early as I could. I needed to know if I was going to get him, because it affected the rest of my auction. If I didn’t get Lynch at the discount I wanted, I would know to get in on the bidding for the top wide receivers (which, incidentally, is what happened).

Another benefit to nominating a player you want early is that you can often set the market at a time when some owners might be a little gunshy. Auctions usually take a little while for everyone to feel like they have a good handle on the market and on price points for the various positions. If you get out there before the market is fully formed, you can often get a bit of a discount.

There are plenty of other times, however, when you’re going to want to nominate players you definitely don’t want. For example, you may be low on cash and just desperate to get some money off the table to even the playing field. Or, you may want to make sure other owners fill an area of need so that you can grab that sleeper you really want. Or, you may just be dead set against spending big on running backs, so let’s just keep nominating some studs and wiping $40-$50 off the table with each one.

So, basically, it’s all in the timing, and it’s all about what you want to accomplish at the moment your nomination comes up. The only word of caution is that if you have a history with your league, don’t always go one way or the other. If everyone knows you only nominate players you want, that will put you at a disadvantage. Particularly if your auction nemesis price enforces any player he thinks you might actually be interested in. Don’t be cute, you have an auction nemesis and you know it. There’s no shame.

3) Have a general budget by position

As I mentioned above in the Lynch example, it’s fine to target certain players if you think you can get them for values that you like. Understand, that is very different than saying, “I’m walking out of this auction with Eddie Lacy no matter what.” Never do that. Target players who you like and for whom you think you can nab at or below your value.

But really, more than budgeting for specific players, you want to be budgeting for positions. Let’s say you had Peyton Manning last year and he torpedoed your season. You’re really gunning for a top-2 or top-3 QB this year, and you think you should be able to get one for around $35. Great, so now you’re budgeting $35 for your top QB.

But, suppose those top QBs aren’t nominated for awhile. And, while you’re sitting there with your full auction budget, you jump into the bidding and lock up a couple of solid RBs for around $80 total. But suddenly, considering you’re still going to be spending that $35 on your top QB, you’ve got nothing left for wide receivers. That’s a really dangerous realization to have midway through an auction.

So, you need to have a general breakdown per position of how you want to spend your money. That breakdown I just mentioned above is fine, but you just need to know in advance that you might only be spending $30 total on your wide receiving corps. If not, things are going to get out of hand quickly.

Here’s an abbreviated version of the chart I bring to every auction:

POSITION PRICE PLAYER
QB 35
QB 10
RB 40
RB 25
WR 35

When I purchase a player, I write in his name in the “player” column and, if necessary, adjust the price. If I adjust the price, that means that I need to adjust another position’s price, in order to make sure that the total of my planned expenditures always equals my budget (I usually use excel and the SUM function, which allows me to always see the total of my planned buys). This is an easy way to see how much I’m planning to spend on each position as the auction goes along and to make sure my plan fits within my budget.

4) Stay cool

“I don’t really want Travis Kelce, but I’m not going to let him go for $10 when I have him valued at $14. I’ll bid $13. Going once . . . I’m gonna get him . . . Going twice . . . oh man, wow, I’m getting Kelce . . . AAAARGH! I thought I had him at $13 and stupid Matt swooped in and bid $14 at the last second. Man . . . Whatever, I’ll go $15. Going once . . . going twice . . . Matt again! He keeps waiting until the last second and jumping in. Ugh, this guy. I’m not letting him have Kelce now. $17!”

It’s called a bidding war, and it’s going to happen. Before you know it, you’ve blown past your value for a player that you probably didn’t even want in the first place. There’s a reason I spent so much time on the preparation part of this article – you have values for a reason. Sure, you can price enforce if a player is going for way under his value. But, you need to keep it within the confines of your actual value – don’t go past a price you would have felt comfortable purchasing that player before the auction started.

With that said, you can’t exactly be a slave to your values either. The cardinal rule of an auction is not to leave money on the table. If things went south somewhere, and you’re sitting without a running back and there’s only one second-tier back left, you pretty much need to walk away with that player. So, the fact that the bidding might go to $18 when you’ve got a value of $17 is ok. That’s a situation where pushing it a bit is fine.

The bottom line is not to get too caught up in anything. You missed out on a player because someone stole him at the last second? Take your five seconds to poke the voodoo doll you keep of that owner (wait, just me?) and move on. Freaking out that you think you’ve missed out on your main targets? Relax. You’ve got your auction sheet, you know who the best player left at each position is. Stay cool. Always.

5) Keep track of rosters

This is my final and least favorite tip because it’s really, really hard. You’ve got enough going on at an auction without worrying about how much money or how many unfilled roster spots your opponents have left. But, if possible, you should keep track of your opponents’ rosters and remaining budgets. The Draft Wizard Assistant can help with this. If you prefer pen and paper, I usually just make an excel spreadsheet with a column for each team, with another column right next to it for the price spent. I then just put an X or write the player’s name when someone is purchased, and put in the price (usually with a formula that will automatically deduct that amount from the team’s budget so I know how much is remaining). Here’s a shorter version of what it looks like:

FRANK RUSS
QB X $31
RB X $50
RB X $26
WR X $35 X $41
WR
TE X $7
K X $1

This really comes in handy toward the end of the auction when you’re looking for your sleepers or trying to sneak someone through. If you know only one other team still has a WR spot to fill and has $5 left, you want to wait to nominate that sleeper wideout you’ve been targeting until you know you’ve got at least $1 more. Again, I usually just use an “X” rather than writing in the name. I just want to know who has a remaining spot, I don’t want to know how much better Frank’s team is.

Ok, there you have it. Yes, there’s more we could discuss, but that’s my basic auction strategy manifesto. Let’s be clear. I still have a bad auction sometimes. Every fantasy football analyst does. But here’s the thing. I no longer have auctions where I don’t know how to deploy the parachute. What I mean by that is that although I have auctions that don’t go exactly according to plan, I’m never panicking, and I always see an avenue to save it while it’s going on. So, while I may not always love the results of every one of my fantasy football auctions, I always leave the auction knowing I’ve got a team good enough to win. Follow a lot of what I’ve said above, and I’m pretty sure you will too.

Dan Harris is a correspondent with FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive or follow him @danharris80.

Auction, Draft Prep, Featured, NFL