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4 Tips to Dominate your Auction Draft (Fantasy Football)

by Dan Harris | @danharris80 | Featured Writer
May 26, 2017

Dividing players into tiers is just one way many fantasy owners can prepare for their auction drafts

I’ve written the auction primer articles for both fantasy football and fantasy baseball for a few years now. And I always try to come up with some witty opening for the articles – something to distract you guys from the inevitable grammatical mistakes and dad jokes that will fall flat.

But in the end, the openings for these primers always wind up being the same thing – me talking about how awesome the day leading up to your fantasy auction is. Seriously, there is no better feeling than waking up in the morning knowing you’ve got a fantasy auction later that day (unless my wife is reading this, in which case, there is no better feeling than waking up every day next to you, dear).

I’ll admit, however, that I didn’t always feel that way. Auctions used to paralyze me, so much so that I legitimately quit any fantasy football league that had an auction instead of a draft for a few years. I just never had even the slightest semblance of how to approach them, and my seasons were often over before they even began.

But no longer. Thanks to years of intense therapy and my wife informing me that “fantasy football auction-related stress” was not a viable excuse for not doing yard work, I jumped back on the wagon.

I tested out various theories, and eventually found something that worked. Now, auction day is seriously like a holiday.

So, if you’ve felt unprepared for your fantasy football auction in recent years, fear not. We’re here to help. And the best part is, it’s not all that complicated to prepare well for a football auction. Just follow a few steps, and you’ll be good to go.

Put simply, the keys to succeeding at a fantasy football auction are:

  1. Create Reliable Auction Values
  2. Divide Players into Tiers by Position
  3. Build a Spending Plan
  4. Rock the House (not an actual step, but still, not a bad goal)

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Create Reliable Auction Values

We’re going to spend the most time on this one because your auction values are a pretty critical part of nailing your auction, as you might expect. As you’ll see when you reach the end of this section, you can (and I recommend you do) use the FantasyPros Auction Calculator to create your values, because they’re going to do what I’m talking about here in about three seconds.

So, to the extent you’re pressed for time, you can skip down to the last paragraph, and move on to the other sections. But to the extent you’re thinking of doing it yourself, or you just want to understand how and why the auction calculator comes up with its reliable values, read on, friends.

Fantasy auction values are based on a theory of value-based drafting, or VBD. VBD basically just means that a player’s projected point total is only valuable in relation to the fantasy points projected for the best option on the waiver wire. Although anything with an acronym sounds scary, it’s an extremely simple concept, one which I guarantee you’ve been using in your fantasy football drafts.

Briefly, let’s look at an example to understand the concept. The top six ranked players last year according to FantasyPros were 1) Aaron Rodgers, 2) Matt Ryan, 3) Drew Brees, 4) David Johnson, 5) Andrew Luck, and 6) Kirk Cousins. But as good as Rodgers and Ryan were, you’re certainly not drafting them in the first round this year, and you obviously won’t be considering Kirk Cousins for quite awhile, despite the clever catchphrases.

The reason for that is because you’re using a value-based model. Rodgers’ 380 points are nice. But Andy Dalton was the 13th-ranked quarterback last year, or our best waiver wire quarterback, and he scored 260.6 points.

In contrast, David Johnson scored 327.8 points. But the 25th-ranked running back (aka, your best waiver wire running back in this example) scored 131.6 points.

In other words, David Johnson was 196.2 points better than the best waiver wire running back, while Aaron Rodgers was just 119.4 points better than the best waiver wire quarterback. By drafting Johnson before Rodgers, you’re employing a VBD strategy. Way to go!

Okay, so we’ve got the VBD theory, and now we need to use it to create our auction values. This is where it gets just a wee bit more complicated.

First, you need to project stats for every player. You then need to figure out the total number of fantasy points that every player who will be drafted will score based on those stats (let’s just say that number is 8,000). Still with me?

Well, then you need to take the total amount of money that will be spent at the auction, and divide that number by the total number of fantasy points that will be purchased at the auction (that 8,000 we just discussed). So assuming you’re in a 12-team league with $200 budgets, that means that the league as a whole will spend $2,400, and you divide that number by the total number of fantasy points that will be drafted (8,000). That equals 0.30 – we’ll call this the multiplier.

STILL with me? Cool, we’re almost done. You then multiply the multiplier by every player’s VBD – the number of fantasy points by which he exceeds the fantasy points of the best available waiver wire option at his position. So, looking back at David Johnson and Aaron Rodgers, if those numbers above were your projections, Johnson would have a value of $59 (196.2 x 0.30) while Rodgers would have a value of $36 (119.4 x 0.30).

Seriously, I’ve never been more exhausted than I am at this moment after explaining all that. Now, I don’t expect you to do any of that. But you’re reading this article, and you deserved to know how the sausage gets made.

Ok, so you’re not doing this yourself unless you work as a fantasy football analyst or you lost a bet to the meanest person ever. What are you doing, then? Look, every fantasy website has an auction calculator at this point.

But I have used and succeeded with the FantasyPros Auction Calculator for a pretty simple reason. The first step in this whole endeavor was to create projections, right? So you need to feel confident in the projections underlying your values.

The FantasyPros Auction Calculator uses the aggregate of several established projections systems. It’s the same reason we all look at the expert consensus rankings each week before setting our lineups. Why trust one great mind when we can combine them all?

One final annoying note, and mainly because I want to make sure I’m as accurate as possible. VBD is a little broader than how I’ve described it, and I’ve really taught you how to create auction values based on VORP (value over replacement player), a subset of VBD. There are several more acronyms that begin with the letter “V” under the broad concept of VBD, and we can talk about them if you ever want to do the most boring draft article in the history of mankind (because they mainly pertain to drafts, not auctions).

But please don’t make me do that. I can only take so many acronyms!

Ok, if you’ve made it this far, I’m so proud of you, and I promise we’ll get a cookie on the way home from grandma’s…whoops, sorry, force of habit and yeah, my daughter eats a lot of cookies, whatever. Seriously, that was by far the hardest part of nailing your auction, and we’re going to move at a ludicrous speed from now on.

Divide Players into Tiers by Position

Welcome to the easiest part of your job, friends. Once you’ve got your auction values, now you need to break them down by position, and then create tiers within each position. And the best part about that is it’s all personal preference.

Tiers are simply a way of grouping similar-caliber players, and each tier should contain players who you believe will contribute around as much as the other players in the same tier. Tiers help to guide you during your auction. You may be feeling like a ton of running backs are left, but if you realize that you still have five left from your second tier, you’ll know not to panic and possibly overpay.

Ask five different experts, and they’d all give you different tiers at each position, so there is no science behind it. It’s all about how YOU feel in terms of which players you think fall into the same general level of production. The most important part is just that you actually divide your players into tiers, whatever those tiers may be.

Build a Spending Plan

Budget distribution is the key to staying in control when the bidding gets fast and furious. Not only does it give you a sense of calm before the auction, but it keeps you from over-spending your total budget during the auction and lets you stay flexible when things go crazy.

How much you want to spend on each position is truly a matter of personal preference. There is certainly no hard and fast rule, and it will vary depending on your league size and scoring settings.

If you’ve been in a league for several years, you have a general sense of how much the top players at each position go for, or what percent of budgets get spent on a particular position. But the most important thing is to have a plan in place.

Below is an example of part of a spending plan I used for one of my auctions last year (there were more positions and bench spots and all, but let’s stick to the basics):

QB Amount
RB Amount
WR/TE Amount

You can certainly use one chart, but I find it most effective to separate them out, so you can more easily get a sense of how much you want to spend on a position. And, to be clear, when all was said and done, my actual breakdown bore no more than a passing resemblance to these charts above.

But that’s not what mattered. The important thing was that I always knew how much money I had left, and could figure out on the fly where to take it from while still leaving myself with enough breathing room to survive.

Note that I offer no opinion on whether to go stars and scrubs or how to break down your spending. That is all about how you like to construct your team.

I’m just trying to give you the bricks, guys. You can make any kind of house you want.

Rock the House

Ok ok, this isn’t a real step. But let’s finish up this bad boy with a few in-auction tips that I think will help lead to a successful auction.

1) Sometimes you need to nominate the player that you want
I know, I know, the general rule of thumb is to nominate players you don’t want to get everyone else to spend their money. But there are plenty of times when you’re targeting a player and, frankly, you need to know if you’re going to get him. If your big target is Julio Jones, that’s great.

But it’s not going to do you much good if Jones isn’t nominated for awhile, and you keep passing up other good wide receivers at reasonable prices because you expect to get Jones, only to watch him go for $10 more than you budgeted. So, there are times when you need to nominate the guys you actually want.

2) Keep track of your leaguemates’ rosters
This is tough to do in the middle of a fast-paced auction, but it’s extremely helpful. If you know that only one other team hasn’t filled his third wide receiver spot, but he has more money than you, you might want to wait on nominating your sleeper wide receiver until he spends a bit more.

Personally, I use the Draft Wizard Draft Assistant to keep track of everyone’s roster, but you can do it by hand if you’re a better person that I am. Which you probably are, but still. Stop making life harder on yourself.

3) Avoid the bidding war
It’s tough to come so close to winning a player at the auction, only to have your fantasy nemesis get in that last second bid as the auctioneer was about to say “sold.” If you’re not careful, you’re going to go back and forth for the next two minutes, eventually landing a player for much more than you ever intended to spend.

There’s no need. Keep cool. Don’t rock the boat. Stay in your lane. Insert another phrase that conveys “hey, don’t do that.”

And there you have it, my friends. As you can see, none of this is rocket science (well, unless you do the whole create your auction values by yourself – then it pretty much is rocket science).

Nailing your auction is seriously the product of just putting in a little prep time and trusting the process. And if you follow these steps, while I can never guarantee you’ll have a perfect auction every time out, I can guarantee you that those fantasy-auction-induced panic attacks you’ve been having will be gone forever.

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Dan Harris is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive or follow him on Twitter at @danharris80.

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