Fantasy Football Auction Drafting: A Guide to Domination

If you haven’t experienced a fantasy football auction draft, then, well, you’re not living. If you have, then I’m sure you will sing its praises with me.

Don’t get me wrong, traditional snake-style drafts are fun too. I enjoy my fair share of them every season. But there’s something to love about the energy and unpredictable nature of auctions. You’re not bound by drafting position, and there’s an unlimited combination of studs, scrubs, and mid-draft bargains.

Whether you’re an auction draft newbie or you’ve got a dozen auctions under your belt, I’ve laid out four general rules for you to follow when drafting. Also, I’ve included three specific strategies that I recommend for the 2014 season (they can also be applied to traditional drafts). Good luck and happy bidding!

Rules

Rule No. 1 – HAVE A BUDGET – Don’t go in blind.

Have a gameplan on which positions are a spending priority. You can’t go balls-out on every position, so allocate your funds accordingly. The beauty of auction drafts is that you can go top-heavy “studs and scrubs” style, build around all mid-round quality players, or go anywhere in between.

Come up with a list of targeted players. Have more targets than you can actually acquire, so you’re not afraid to pass on the overpriced ones. Research how much they are going for in other drafts, factor in your league’s tendencies (heavy on Giants fans, everyone loves running backs, etc.) and scoring system, and add another 5% just for good measure. It’s better to budget too much, then you’ll have extra money for sleepers/bargains later on.

Rule No. 2 – DON’T FREAK OUT – When your plan falters, and it will, be calm.

Let’s say you pass on a few great players because they went for way more than you expected. Now you’re left with too much money. That’s okay. Breathe deeply. Relax. Identify the best players remaining and immediately go get them! Don’t act desperate, but calmly drive up the price until those broke bastards in your league throw in the towel. Later you’ll fondly reflect upon the bargains you got.

Alternatively, let’s say you spent too much early on. That’s okay too. Hopefully you got the studs you were targeting. Now stay calm, and when it’s your turn, don’t nominate any of your targets. Instead, nominate the remaining players who will soak up the most of your opponents’ budgets. Maybe even throw a curveball and nominate a trendy sleeper that you’re not interested in. Hopefully their cash will go dry and you can get a couple of your targets in the waning rounds.

Rule No. 3 – PLAY HARD TO GET – Don’t nominate players you covet.

When it’s your turn to nominate, DO NOT throw out a player you are targeting. Let someone else nominate him. This tactic is especially important in the early going. Feel free to break this rule later in the draft, because the last thing you want is to nominate a random player then get stuck with him.

One reason for slow-playing is to conceal your intentions. If your league mates smell blood in the water (if a player is a “must have” for you) they could drive the price up just to spite you.

However, the primary reason for keeping your targeted players off the board is less obvious. The longer all your favorite players last, the better off you are. Because, not only do your friends start blowing their budgets on other expensive players, but they also fill up their roster slots and become less interested in your player.

For example: If you’re targeting Matthew Stafford, nominate the other top QBs and wait as long as you can. A few managers will spend significant cash on Rodgers, Brees and Manning, leaving fewer people for you to compete against. If Stafford isn’t nominated for 40 picks, your bidding competition will be even more scarce. A manager that already spent $100 on Adrian Peterson and Julio Jones is going to be hesitant to throw another $30+ at Stafford, even if he does need a quarterback.

Rule No. 4 – DON’T BE THE “ENFORCER” – Only enforce prices on players that you genuinely like.

Newbies might be asking “What is price enforcing?” Well, I’ll answer that with a personal anecdote from 2013: We’re in the back-half of our auction and someone nominates Greg Jennings, a player that I was lukewarm on (but didn’t expect to fall off a statistical cliff). Up until that point, all the WR2/WR3-caliber players were going for $15-18, and bidding on Jennings had paused at $9. Even though I didn’t want him, I stepped in at $10 just to keep the ball rolling. Well, the action stopped and I was stuck. Dammit! Shortly after that, a few great WR2s sold for under ten but my hands were already tied.

The moral of the story: price enforcing is a fine thing to do, but don’t do it on a whim. Only price enforce if (1) you have the money to spare and (2) it’s a player that you would like to have on your team.

Strategies

Strategy No. 1 – Lock down an elite wide receiver.

Johnson, Thomas, Bryant, Marshall, and Green have had a death grip on the top wide receiver slots for two years in a row. Sure, Gordon was a cannonball last year, shooting into the top spot. But like Icarus, he got too close to sun. Unlike the top running backs, you just can’t beat these players’ combination of extreme upside and little-to-no downside (freak injuries notwithstanding). Target two or three of your favorites from the bunch, and get whichever one goes for the most reasonable price. Rule No. 3 should definitely be combined with this strategy!

Strategy No. 2 – Load up on above-average running backs.

You could also call this the “RB2-by-committee” approach. Don’t get me wrong, you still need one top shelf running back. What I’m saying here is that with all the committee backfields and players changing teams, there will certainly be some mid-draft steals (this will be easier to accomplish in 10 team leagues).

If you can set aside 15-20% of your total budget for RB depth, you’ve got a very good chance of finding gold after most teams have their starters. In that RB20-RB35 range, some will be overpriced, but some will be huge bargains if you’re patient enough. Any one of them could end up producing top 15 numbers. Gerhart, Jones-Drew, Tate, Rice, Sankey … just to name a few. Jot down five of your favorites, and a few are bound to fall into your lap.

Strategy No. 3 – Set aside enough for a good tight end.

In 10 or 12 team leagues, I DO NOT want to be the last guy grabbing a tight end! The statistical floor and upside of tight ends gets really shaky around TE8. If you don’t set aside enough money, you could be left with scraps (and by scraps, I mean a TEBC – Tight End By Committee). In some years past, I’ve thought TEBC was appropriate, but this is not one of those years. If you want to blow 20% of your wad on Jimmy Graham I won’t discourage you (Graham is all by himself on tier No. 1), but at least get someone from that second tier like Julius, Vernon, or Jordan (Cameron that is.).

And remember: above all else, have fun and keep your league mates guessing!