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The Son of the Best Fantasy Football Auction Draft Advice Ever

Auction drafts are the most highly-evolved of draft formats. To successfully navigate the auction draft takes M.I.T. brilliance, stones the size of bocce balls, and lungs of leather. That’s probably why most leagues draft snake. The auction draft also makes you a bit of a rebel, an outlier. As such, why would you follow the same old warmed-over auction advice that has been floating around the fantasy football echo chamber for the past several years? You wouldn’t. Here’s some advice you probably won’t find elsewhere as well as some good old fundamental tips that you will.

As Lao Tzu Said, “Go With the Flow”; As Mike Tyson Said, “Everyone Has a Plan ‘Til They Get Punched in the Mouth”

Plan your auction using the sterling advice below but be prepared to adjust your budgets and strategy once the bidding starts. If QBs are going cheaper than you projected, slide some cash from that budget into RBs or WRs. Note where you are in the tiers (more on that later). Be flexible, be alert…and keep track of how much money you’ve spent.

Published Auction Values Are Useless

I have never seen accurate auction values in the magazines or on websites, and for good reason: Auction values are arrived upon in the relative calm of the veal-fattening pen that most sportswriters generously call an office, with all the pertinent information at the fingertips and a calculator unsullied by spilt beer. That’s nothing like the scrum of a live draft. It also doesn’t take into account the peculiarities of your draft.

Make your own values. Take the actual prices from last year’s draft and figure out what percentage of the entire available money went to each position. If your league devoted 27% of the pot to wide receivers last year, take 27% of this year’s pot and allocate all that money to the drafting of wide receivers. If the total pot is $1000 auction dollars (10 teams x $100 per), and there will be 50 wide receivers drafted, take a popular consensus ranking of the top 50 wide receivers and allocate the $270 amongst them appropriately. Take into account the idiosyncrasies of your leagues, especially homerism or college affiliations. Let the calculator keys cool for a sec. Now add 10-15% to the ADPs, Mosses, Bradys, and Wittenses, the top-tier guys, and take that money from your third-tier players to balance the numbers. This is the beer and over-hyped studs tax. In another column, pencil in a dollar amount for each player that represents the max price you would be willing to pay for that player.

Good, now you’re looking at a value sheet far better than any you’ll find in a publication, but again take it with a grain of salt—you’re sober at the moment.

My 14-team league breaks down something like this.

  • Quarterbacks: 10 percent
  • Running backs: 55 percent
  • Wide receivers: 28 percent
  • Tight ends: 4 percent
  • Defense/special teams: 2 percent
  • Kickers: 1 percent

Throw Out Big Names in the First Rounds…Not

Classic advice found in every auction article…but useless. The argument goes like this: Throw out the big names—the ones you’re not interested in—to drain your opponents’ budgets so that you can control the auction by the mid-rounds. Can’t agree. I think this time can be better spent. Let everyone else throw out the big names. This is where you make hay with your sleepers. Shonn Green? James Davis? Take your shot here. If you’re in a keeper league, throwing out the name of another owner’s must-have handcuff early can bollix up his budget.

Start from the Middle?

Though an entirely different beast than a conventional draft, the auction works much the same way in that most owners will seek to fill out the upper end of their rosters first. This is especially important to remember for those of you transitioning from a snake draft to an auction draft for the very first time. Drafting from the top down means you’ll miss value opportunities in the early rounds, that’s so important to peg the values on your players and believe in ‘em. If someone throws out Greg Olsen and he can be had at a value $3, then by all means take him, though you don’t have a QB#1 yet.

A Dollar Saved Is a Dollar Wasted

Conventional fantasy football auction advice has you aiming to have the biggest bankroll in the middle and late rounds so you can pick up the real bargains. It’s not a bad idea, but many noobs overshoot this mark and save far too much money for far too long. There’s nothing like getting into a bidding war with another poor tool over Mason Crosby in the waning moments of what should now be apparent is a sucktastic draft because you’ve both got too much in the kitty and you’re looking to gain a statistical edge at the most meaningless position. The only thing worse is ending the draft with auction dollars left over.

Here’s the Kicker

Most experts advise you to spend no more than a dollar on a kicker. Perhaps, or you could spend an extra dollar and receive another 20 to 25 points over the course of the season. Owners typically bid on kickers at the end of the draft when all they can afford is one dollar bids, which effectively turns it into a serpentine draft. Bid two dollars and get the kicker you want. That extra dollar can mean the difference between Stephen Gostkowski and Joe Nedney.

It Brings a Tier to Your Eyes

In your rankings, tier your players according to similar expected production. This helps prevent you from getting too attached to, and over-spending on, any one player. (Non-attachment, the center tent-pole of Buddhism, is a damn fine way to approach a fantasy football auction draft).

The last player bid upon in the second tier of the glamour positions (QB and RB) typically goes for far more than fellow second-tier players as owners panic and realize they need a bell-cow at the position—and those are running out. To wit: For years Rudi Johnson, perennially second tier, went for substantially more than Clinton Portis, also a second-tierer, in my 14-team league, precisely because he was just unsexy enough to end up at the bottom of the second tier. If possible, try to get the second or third guy in the tier, just not the last player.

Back-up Before Moving Forward

If you’re targeting a valuable backup, get him before the stud he handcuffs comes up for bidding. Darren Sproles’ price goes up if you’re bidding against LT’s owner.

The Late Entrance

Once again, unscrewing the brainpan of the your opponents: Few things are more devastating than clawing your way to the final stages of bidding on a prized player and it’s just you and another owner mano o mano when, all of sudden, a previously silent third party enters the bidding. It’s a kick to the wedding tackle. Be that third owner for the psychological waste it lays to your opponents’ psyches. As an added plus: Usually the weary combatants are upping each other by a dollar at this point. Come in with a bid five or ten bucks higher. Crack a beer and watch them bleed out emotionally; conversely, if you find that you’ve over-shot the mark and have paid more than was really needed, think about tequila.

Studs and Scrubs Vs. Value/Depth

These are two schools of drafting philosophy. S2 holds that it’s best to devote the majority of your salary cap (75-85%) to a few superstars at the money positions. This might find you with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Forte, Frank Gore, and Reggie Wayne and the rest of your roster filled out with $1-$2 players. The V/D approach, as you might guess, drafts the roster with lesser players but with more even talent to the margins. These players would include a number of low-flyers with high upside. The benefits and downside to both approaches are obvious. Going S2 will probably find you having to be more aggressive on the waiver wire. This strategy puts your best move right beside your very worst. In my experience, S2 is superior but it depends on your aptitude for risk. (Sack up and roll the dice.)

This Year’s Model

Given the depth at the RB position this season, the hot ticket in a snake draft is snagging a high-end WR early or maybe going WR-WR if you draft in a late position. The same applies to auction drafts. I’d allot extra spondulix to your WR budget and try to get either a Fitzgerald, Johnson, Johnson, or Moss and a low second-tier like Dwayne Bowe. Or two high-end second tier guys like Greg Jennings and Steve Smith in hopes one of them busts into the elite level.

There’s a full quiver of QBs who can take you to the championship this year. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning will cost too much—aiming for Aaron Rodgers or Philip Rivers and back-stopping them with David Garrard could be the ticket. If you want to save a few more bucks and are confident in your ability to play the match-ups, platooning the Matts (Schaub and Ryan) is a winner. It also distributes injury risk.

Draft as You Like, Like Your Draft

Contrary to the common refrain, “In an auction draft you can get any player you like,” you never end up with the starting lineup you want. There’s no Santa Claus, no Nigerian Internet benefactor, and, no, the stripper isn’t giving you the eye. It isn’t going to happen, get comfortable with the idea now. Embrace this reality and you’ll enjoy the draft exponentially more. Good luck!