Last Week's Question: What Makes Auction
Drafts More Fun Than Serpentine Drafts?
Last week's column
featured Damian's question concerning the fun factor of auction
drafts as compared to serpentine (aka snake) drafts. His question
was obviously inspired by an earlier examination of keeper/dynasty
leagues vs. redrafter leagues in this column, but the responses
to his question were very different from the responses I received
about the superiority of keeper leagues to redrafter leagues.
Although the readers who compared keeper/dynasty leagues to redrafter
leagues gave an overwhelming endorsement to the keeper/dynasty
model, the reviews I received concerning auction drafts were mixed.
Most of the FFers who wrote in concerning auction leagues had
positive things to say, with the most succinct and effective response
coming from Greg:
[The reason auction leagues are better is] simple: You can get
any player you want without having to rely on the luck of picking
a number from a hat for draft position.
I heard from many other auction enthusiasts who echoed Greg's
point about being able to get whatever player you want as long
as you are willing to keep bidding. Is Aaron Rodgers your boy?
In an auction league, you can have him every year if you are willing
to settle for the rest of your team being scraped out of the bargain
basement for minimum bids.
I have been in a FF league for over 25 years, and we switched
to auction about 10 years ago and have never looked back. Plus,
we like the actual auction so much, we re-auction for new teams
halfway through and split the season in 2.
For Dwayne, the ability to target the players you want is less
important than the role that strategy plays in auction drafts:
Auction drafting is more fun because there is more to think about.
You have more decisions to make than in a snake draft. One of
my leagues uses a snake draft, and every year it is the same thing.
In rounds 2-4, I have a list of five guys that I want to go after,
and usually all of them get snapped up by the owners picking immediately
ahead of me. Every now and then, one of them actually falls to
me, and I will admit that is fun. But it's really just luck. In
an auction draft, you get to think about who you want to nominate
in the early rounds to throw off everyone else's bidding. You
actually have a chance to influence the outcome, not to just hope
for a lucky break.
Since readers who are unfamiliar with auction drafts may not understand
the reference to nominations, it is common practice in auction
leagues for owners to take turns "nominating" the players
who will go up for auction. If Adrian Peterson is the first player
nominated, the owner who ends up getting him will often end up
paying more than if Peterson were nominated later in the draft
(by which time all of the owners would have less money available
to spend on players).
But to return to the larger topic of auction drafting, the single
most comprehensive and thoughtful endorsement of the auction approach
came from Ken:
I would argue that auction drafts are to snake drafts what keeper
leagues are to redraft leagues. If keeper is 201, then auction is
301. However, I say that as a proponent of an auction-keeper league,
not just an auction-redrafter, so it might be difficult for me to
tease the two strands out. (In our league, you assign contracts
to players of 1,2,3,or 4 yrs; you have a limited number of 3 and
4 yr contracts; and you pay penalties for releasing players early.
I've been crushed by overpaying before, but I've also nailed it
early on folks like Willie Parker (obtained for league minimum)
and Arian Foster.
I would say that an auction-keeper league has multiple benefits
over a serpentine-redrafter league:
1. Fairness. There are some years where having the last pick will
really help your team, years where there is a relatively linear
drop in quality of player. There are some years, however, where
having a particular player is a huge advantage. For example, this
year in our scoring system, Aaron Rodgers beats everyone else
in the league by 5 points a game, on average. Everyone knew that
coming in, as well. In a serpentine redraft, the #1 pick would
have had a huge advantage over the #2 pick. Why? Just because
the dice came out a certain way?
2. You can get who you want. In auction, everyone has a shot at
Aaron Rodgers--if they are willing to cough up the dough. You
can always get the player you want.
3. Much greater strategy. This changes your overall draft strategy.
Are you going to spend heavy on 1 or 2 players, or will you take
a more balanced approach?
4. Much more accountability. Luck still plays a huge role, but
when you paid 10% of your cap for Reggie Wayne this year, there's
really no one to blame but yourself.
5. More trading options. We allow you to trade cap space, which
really livens things up on draft day. No one is ever out of the
draft until they declare themselves out because they can always
trade right back in.
6. More intense player evaluation. Figuring out a player is worth
a "mid-round pick" (and yes, that tone was one of scorn)
is quite a bit different than figuring out if a player is worth
that extra little bump in the bidding process. It's much easier
to let emotions run things when you're in an ebay situation, which
means keeping your head is more important.
7. More accurate simulation. This is a big one to me. With fantasy,
we're pretending that we are GM's. How realistic a simulation
is it if you don't ever worry about salary cap? That is arguably
the single biggest determinant of team composition in the NFL,
and most simulations just ignore it.
8. More FUN. Our draft takes about 10-12 hours because the bids
get stupid crazy sometimes (we also use a very high cap - think
millions, not hundreds, with increments of 5K, which encourages
protracted bidding wars). By the last round, people are nickel
and diming each other over very marginal players. Because we also
are a keeper league, folks like Kendall Hunter & Ben Tate
created huge bidding wars, as owners who had been waiting went
after these two. Plus, the memories are outstanding! Who can ever
forget the time an owner bid 3M on Joey Harrington, only to have
11 other pairs of eyes looking at him in disbelief? I can promise
you that we don't - and we remind him of it every year.
So the question is really this - are you looking for a glorified
betting pool? If so, a redraft league is for you. Are you looking
for a simulation - to really imagine being a GM? Then you should
try playing with a salary cap and with contracts. (We have restricted
free agents, IR, and taxi [squads], but those are just add-ons
to the core experience.)
If you are thinking about moving from a serpentine draft to an
auction draft, then there are a lot more people than Greg, Dwayne,
and Ken who will encourage you to do so.
In fairness, however, I heard from a fair number of naysayers
as well. Michael and Andy both raise particularly compelling objections
to the auction style that are worth considering for any commissioner
who is reluctant to take the plunge. Michael participates in multiple
leagues that tried auctions and then decided to return to a serpentine
You are going to get a lot of positive responses [about auction
drafts, but] my leagues have actually gone the other way after
dipping our toes in the auction waters. The reasons our leagues
have decided to go back to the traditional snake drafts are listed
1. Online auctions are not as exciting. The leagues I am in have
members from many different states and doing an online auction
(instead of live) feels like trying to win a bid on eBay. There
is none of the fun that you get from having the auction with everyone
2. Proxy auctions are a recipe for disaster. We also have people
with many different work and family commitments. If the best overall
time for everyone to have a draft happens to fall during when
1 person has their child's football game to go to, then they will
have to submit a proxy to complete their draft or a 'cheatsheet'
to serve as proxy. Auction drafts are fun because your strategy
through the draft will change depending on what top players you
get. It is virtually impossible to do with a proxy.
3. Auction leagues tend to overvalue their draft picks even more
(dampening the trade market). This one is not nearly as important
as the others, but owners tend to feel a greater commitment to
their players in an auction draft to the point where they will
make sure they email you how much they paid at the draft for a
particular player even if they are not performing to that level.
In snake drafts, outside of 1st round picks, that generally is
not the case after the first couple of weeks.
If I could find a local league where everyone met for lunch and
did the draft, then I would push for an auction draft, but it
is not feasible for my current leagues.
Although Michael's chief objection to the auction style has to
do with the fact that it doesn't work as well online as it does
in person, Andy's objection is that auction drafts don't make
as much sense in fantasy football as in fantasy baseball:
When it comes to auctions for fantasy football, I say a resounding
NO. Here's why:
As with my question concerning keeper/dynasty leagues vs. redrafters,
last week's question about auction drafts generated far more responses
than I could reasonably expect to include in the column. As always,
I want to thank everyone who wrote in, and I have done my best
to represent every position with as little redundancy as possible.
The auction format originated in fantasy baseball, and for baseball
it IS the greatest thing ever. I've got no problems with auctions
per se, but it simply doesn't work in football.
In a baseball auction you get $260 to spend on 23 players, and
the whole premise is that if you don't spend wisely, you'll be
punished in the end. The reason is that in baseball you must use
the stats of ALL 23 players, ALL the time. If you spend half your
budget on the 3 top hitters, as the auction winds down you'll
have something like $11 to spend on 6 pitchers, and you will get
In football, if you spend all your money on AP and Foster, you
don't really get punished at all by doing that. Who cares who
your backup $1 RBs are if you're playing Foster and Peterson every
week? Unlike baseball (again, GREAT auction), you are not normally
required to get much from your backups, so you can afford to overspend
early on studs.
The whole 'tension' between wanting to own Pujols and realizing
that if you overspend for him you'll suffer later is what makes
the fantasy baseball auction so interesting. There is no such
tension in a football auction. Therefore, teams are not forced
to make any tough decisions during a football auction, you just
pick who you want to spend a pile of money on, and it just becomes
a modified snake draft.
I've made a living (not literally) watching an owner smugly buy
three studs early in a baseball auction and KNOWING that I won't
have to worry about him as competition that season. He's already
buried his team by not being able to field a complete roster and
he doesn't even realize it. In a football auction, if someone
bought Rodgers, AP, and McCoy, I know he'd be a threat from the
I'm looking forward to hearing responses from others, because
as I said, the baseball auction is my favorite one of all - I
just can't see it working for football. Hopefully some others
who have done football auctions for awhile have come up with some
solutions to create more tension and make a football auction a
One suggestion that I received from a reader years ago and that
bears repeating here is this: You don't have to commit to a change
in league structure if you are interested in experimenting. If
you think you want to try an auction draft, then you can have
one and then vote afterwards on whether to stick with the results
or to redraft serpentine style. (Be sure to specify in advance
whether the auction can be nullified by a simple majority, a two-thirds
majority, or whatever you proportion you choose.)
This Week's Question: Is There a Good
LMS-Style Contest for the NFL Playoffs?
Lance does not seem to care much about my feelings, but he poses
a good question nevertheless:
I don't really read your column for the fantasy stuff, but I do
check it every week for Schiff's picks. I like LMS pools even
though my track record isn't great. This season, I got booted
from my first LMS pool in Week 3, but I got another one started
in Week 4, and I lasted in that one until Week 10. I tried to
get a third pool going, but I couldn't get many takers because
there wasn't much of a season left. One guy said, "Maybe
you can do one of these pools for the playoffs." But you
can't, can you? I mean obviously the playoffs are about the same
teams winning and advancing, so the whole idea of only being able
to pick a team once doesn't make any sense. Then again, if you
can pick the same team over and over, it will probably just be
everybody picking Green Bay week after week. So do you know of
some way for people to put together a fun office betting pool
for the playoffs that is kinda sorta like a Last Man Standing
I have had questions similar to this one in the past, but they
have generally been about how to extend the fantasy football season
into the NFL playoffs. I don't recall any discussion of LMS pools
in the NFL playoffs (for exactly the reasons that Lance specifies).
If any readers have fun betting pool ideas for the playoffs that
they would like to share,
I will be happy to feature them in next week's column.
(Courtesy of Matthew
#3: Jets over Bills (8-3, PIT, SD, GB,
BUF, HOU, CIN, NO, CAR, NE, DAL, DET):
For those who are squeamish about using a survival pick on a divisional
game, AVOID THIS GAME. But for those that have already used Atlanta,
Green Bay and Cincinnati earlier in the season, the Jets at home
seem to be a safe bet. Buffalo has been hit with a rash of injuries
at wide receiver and running back, and now that the league has
figured out that all you have to do is get an early lead on the
Bills and then let them pass, it would seem logical for the Jets
to take this one handily. The Jets have one of the best defensive
units in the league, ranked 7th overall in yards allowed. But
they do give up more than the average NFL team in points. If this
becomes a shootout, the Bills win. But Rex should have his troops
focused at home as they try and make a playoff push.
#2: Bengals over Browns (8-3, SD, AZ, DET,
GB, NYG, PIT, JAX, NO, DAL, MIA, NE):
The Bengals are in the middle of a four-game stretch of divisional
games that will most likely determine whether they are playoff
ready. Unfortunately, the Bengals have lost the last two games
to their divisional foes, the Ravens and Steelers. If they can
forget about those games while not focusing on their rematch with
Pittsburgh next week, then this is a lock. Not. In any other year
this game smells like a trap game. These defenses are ranked 5th
(Cleveland) and 6th (Cincinnati) overall, but the Bengals are
12th in scoring to the Browns 28th-ranked offense and outscore
them by an average of 9 more points per game this season. While
a defensive battle should be expected with some trick plays thrown
in, the law of averages says that you can take this game with
more certainty than a normal Bengals/Browns game (and that’s
not saying much in the last 10 years).
#1: Falcons over Vikings (8-3, SD, PIT, TN,
PHL, CIN, GB, DAL, NYG, OAK, BAL, 49ers):
Gone are Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson, Sidney Rice and Bernard
Berrian from the 2009 team. Add Adrian Peterson to an injury list
that always seems to grow around this time of year in the NFL,
and the Vikings are a shell of what they used to be. The Vikings
will go into Atlanta to face a Falcons defense that is second
in total rushing yards and 15th overall in yards allowed with
the hope of matching the balanced attack of Turner, Ryan, White
and Harry Douglas (who looks like he may continue to fill in for
the injured Julius Jones). There are not many times this far into
the season that you have the opportunity to pick a team that should
be an automatic lock. Now I only hope I don’t eat my words
on this because the Falcons sleepwalk through the game.
For responses to this month's
fantasy question please email