Auctions are my favorite way to draft, without any shadow of a doubt. There is constant action, with strategies changing on the fly. You have to pay close attention to the league around you — what other players are doing absolutely affects the way you should play. Most of all, you have to come in with a plan. That’s why I’m here to help.
Auctions are a bit different, though — in snake drafts, Average Draft Position (ADP) gives us a reasonable, if not precisely accurate, range where we can expect players to be drafted. That allows us to come into drafts with more specific plans than we can probably carry into an auction. After all, in an auction, you theoretically have a chance at every player. If you draw the #8 pick in your snake draft, you know you’re not getting Christian McCaffrey. But in an auction, it doesn’t matter what nomination slot you get.
That’s what makes them so much fun to do. You’re going to end up with some wild roster constructions in auctions, with some teams balanced from top-to-bottom, others loaded up at one position but not another, and yet other teams going with massive “stars and scrubs” approaches.
For my 2020 Auction Draft Plan, we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and we will. But overall, I want this to read like my thought process when I’m going through an auction draft, which is the format I use for two of my biggest leagues of the year with my friends. I’ve had good success in those leagues, and I think my plan is a pretty simple, common-sense one. This is the first time I’m putting that plan to paper.
For the purposes of this Auction Draft Plan, let’s assume a 12-team league with a PPR scoring system, with 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 FLEX, 1 PK, and 1 D/ST starting. The budget we’re working with is the standard $200. Obviously, drastically different starting lineups or league size will dictate different strategies (for instance, leagues that require 3 WR to start), but I thought this was the most balanced starting lineup approach to take in breaking down my plan, and it’s the format I use in my longest-running auction league (though we eliminated kickers years ago).
Before getting to Draft Day itself, let’s get into a few universal tips every auction drafter should know as they prep.
Tiers, Tiers, Tiers
I think “Tiers” drafting — grouping similarly ranked players together as opposed to following a strict, rigid set of numerical rankings — is a good strategy to take in even a snake draft. But in auctions, since you have a shot to draft any player you want, tiering them is the most important thing you can do before your draft. That’s why we “tier” our Auction Cheat Sheet, though you could have some disagreements with us and might want to make adjustments.
Say Robert Woods went for $10 more than you thought he would, even though he was a target? See if you can get Calvin Ridley or Adam Thielen for a price more in line with what you thought.
It’s extremely important to keep in mind which tier you must get a player from. You’ve perhaps internally decided the Tier 1 RBs are too expensive, and that’s fine. But maybe you also decided to make your plan work, you need two Tier 2 RBs. It’s important to bid smartly but aggressively on player tiers you need to attack.
Also, do not assume the people in your league are dumb and that you’ll be able to get away with constant values. The average fantasy player has become much smarter, and one thing I’ve noticed in every auction I’ve ever done is that the “last” player available in a perceived tier gets priced up. For instance, even though Josh Jacobs might be well behind Miles Sanders on your personal rankings, if everyone in the league perceives him as being the final player available in a certain tier, don’t be shocked if he goes for more money than the players taken before him.
That’s why I try to get players in my targeted tiers — at least at RB and WR — while there are still players left in that tier. Getting constantly caught bidding at the back end of a tier is a great way to run out of money quickly and to be “drafting from behind,” not to mention constantly drafting the last player in a tier might naturally result in a worse team — paying a premium for an inferior product.
Don’t Pay Up for a QB
This is an accepted fact in snake drafts, but it’s more true in auctions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an “elite tier” QB go for $30 early in a draft, only to see someone “boring” like Matt Ryan get scooped up for $2 later. It’s simple economics — the demand outweighs the supply. Eventually, even the most aggressive QB spenders in your league (every league has the guy who has at some point drafted two elite QBs and loudly proclaimed “I’LL JUST TRADE ONE LATER!”) will have to dedicate financial resources to filling out the rest of their rosters.
The best way to do this is typically — though not always — being one of the last two or three teams to draft your starting QB. If your QB is the last starter you fill in your lineup, even after you’ve already started to accrue bench depth at other positions, that’s fine! You’ll be able to get a couple of guys for a minuscule fraction of your budget that will serve you plenty well. Be OK with a QB you have ranked 10-14 as your auction league starter, because the money you save at that position will be very important elsewhere in your draft.
Say Patrick Mahomes goes for $35 early, and Carson Wentz goes for $5, 10 rounds of nominations into your draft. You would obviously rather have Mahomes straight up. But would you rather have Mahomes alone, or Wentz and Allen Robinson? That choice seems pretty simple to me.
Obviously, this strategy changes drastically in 2-QB or superflex formats, but that is not the focus of this draft plan (check out Graham Barfield’s Superflex Draft Plan).
Do Not Spend More than $1 on a PK or D/ST
Don’t do it. Just don’t.
As boring as it is, I like to throw out nominations for my kicker and/or defense early in my draft. It fills roster spots and gives me cost certainty (most auction softwares calculate your total budget remaining, but also the average and maximum bids you can spend on a player). If I get my targeted kicker for $1, great! If some moron in my league decided to bid that kicker up to $2 or $3, that’s a few bucks they can’t spend later.
Even if you really want Harrison Butker, do not get in a bidding war for a kicker! It is absolutely not worth it. You’ll see the rewards late in the draft, when you have that extra dollar or two to guarantee you get that final sleeper to round out your bench.
Know Your Software
Obviously, knowing how to work the auction software at Yahoo! or ESPN is critical to doing a successful auction. But you should also do a little research on the projected and average values those software platforms come with. In many leagues, especially early, fantasy drafters won’t stray too far from them. That can give you a leg up on identifying values even before your draft.
For example, here are Yahoo!’s projected values.
“Stars-N-Scrubs” Seems Ill-Advised in 2020
I’ll fully admit I’m almost never a proponent of the “Stars-N-Scrubs” roster philosophy in auctions. It’s exactly what it sounds like — three or four very high-priced players, with the rest of your roster filled out with dumpster-dive $1 guys. Think of the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. I’ve always had more success taking a more “balanced” approach.
Stars-N-Scrubs a hyper-fragile strategy in a normal year. If your roster foundation is Christian McCaffrey, Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, George Kittle at $170 of your $200 budget and you have $30 leftover to fill 11 more roster spots, that fragility is self-evident. If McCaffrey misses four games, you’ve likely already gone bust. But in a year when we’re attempting to play football in the midst of a global pandemic, I’m going to shy away from these roster strategies that invite disaster.
On the side of pure pleasure (and after all, we’re trying to have fun here), loading up on stars early in your draft and having to wait until the end of your draft before you can even consider bidding on more players is not the best of experiences. Tom Brolley, Graham Barfield, and I have literally been in a league in which someone who did this fell asleep during the draft.
As an aside, when I say a “balanced” roster approach, I don’t necessarily mean spending evenly at all positions. You could potentially decide to be stronger at WR than RB depending on how your draft goes. But I would not recommend sacrificing depth for star power across the board in most years, and especially not this one.
Make Sure Everyone is at the Draft
This isn’t so much a “pointer” as it is a quality-of-life tip. There is absolutely nothing worse than an auction that has an autodraft team. Why? Because most auction softwares will autodraft a team by having that player bid up until the software’s recommended auction value for a player.
You, and multiple other teams in your league, could be executing your strategy perfectly. You could have an excellent value lined up at the position and tier you targeted. You could be slated to land a player for $10 fewer than you expected. And when the clock is ticking away on the nomination… the autodraft team chimes in.
Make no mistake: the autodraft team is likely going to suck. It will pay a premium for the QB position. It might bid up a kicker or a defense. It doesn’t have the intelligence to know when it’s prudent to go above projected value (i.e. at the end of a tier). But it also is going to take a lot of the fun and strategy out of your room. It will ruin the organic experience that makes auctions the most fun way to draft.
If someone can’t make your auction and rescheduling isn’t an option, have that person find someone to draft for them, or replace the team. It’s that simple.
On Draft Day
At the Beginning of Your Draft (First Three Rounds)
Consider this your plan for the first three rounds of nominations for your draft. This is where the elite players are going to go. Just like a snake draft, it’s probably going to be unbalanced — the first three rounds of nominations are going to carry much more weight than the next three, though in auctions some players can slip through the cracks.
This is where you want to be “selectively aggressive.” I’d like to leave this portion of the draft with at least two high-level players I feel good about, but as I discussed above, I don’t want to go nuts here and leave my bankroll short for the very important middle rounds. However, if I leave all my money for the middle rounds, I’m going to have a very deep but dreadfully mediocre team.
While there are multiple ways to construct a winning roster, I’m making it a point that at least one of the players I draft in this stage is a running back from my top two tiers. We’ve broken it down in countless articles (including John Hansen’s Draft Plan), podcasts, and radio shows, but this season, we’re all in on the old-school early-round RB strategy.
The first thing I’m going to do is watch the rest of the room. I want to see if players are being ridiculously aggressive (bidding Christian McCaffrey up to $75, for example), or are being sheepish. Even in an auction when any player can be nominated at any point, there will be at least a handful of elite-level players nominated early. If the bidding for the McCaffreys, Barkleys, and Elliotts of the world is approaching 30-35% of the total team budgets, I’m probably going to sit back and watch the money drain out of the rest of the league and start targeting Tier-Two backs. If I find the bidding reasonable, I’ll be in on the action. It’s up to you to decide where you’re comfortable, and it’s impossible for me to predict how your specific room will react. That’s what makes auctions fun!
This is the area of the draft in which you’ll almost certainly be interested in most of the players who go up for nomination, since they’re good players. When I’m nominating and bidding at this stage of the draft, I’m going to start with a competitive bid. There is no reason to nominate Michael Thomas at $1 when there’s no chance he’s going for that little! Nominate a player at this stage of a draft for at least 40% of his projected cost (for instance, if Thomas’ projected value is $50, start with a bid of at least $20). This will help your draft move along quicker, and it’ll be a more pleasant experience for all involved. It’ll also get only the serious bidders to bite, which speeds things up as well.
When I’m bidding on an early-round player I really want, I try to be “stealthy.” That doesn’t mean I wait until the final second to bid that extra dollar, but I try to let the majority of the bidding get done before I wade into the waters. An elite player is always going to get a flurry of activity very quickly. Once that activity starts to slow down a little bit, that’s when I might pop in my bid. I don’t want to make it blatantly obvious that I really want a player, because that could encourage someone else in my league to bid that player up. In some ways, it’s almost like betting in poker. You have to be assertive, but not obvious. You want players to wonder what you’re doing, not feel like they can exploit your strategy.
After I get a player in the early rounds, I typically like to sit back and wait for a couple of nominations to see where the room is going and to wait for more money to clear out. There are enough players to go around in this stage that I’m not going to feel terribly left out if another team grabs someone I had my eye on. But I’m still paying attention because I will get involved if a player is getting underbid.
Still, you do not need to be involved in the bidding for every player! There is no worse feeling in an auction than trying to encourage a “bidding war” on a player you didn’t want and getting saddled with that player, destroying your budget in the process. If you don’t want a player, I wouldn’t go past bidding 70% or so of that player’s projected value, even if it’s a “bargain.” (For instance, I want nothing to do with Todd Gurley this year. Even if I landed him for $20 of a $35 projected value by the software, that’s $20 I could have put towards a player I actually wanted.)
Two more things about these early rounds…
While this is a range where you’re likely interested in most of the players, I also might use this opportunity to throw up Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and someone like Russell Wilson for nomination. As outlined above, I’m probably not going to wade into the elite QB — actual or perceived — waters, and if I can encourage a bidding war to get some money out of the room, all the better. Again, I generally want to be one of the last teams in the league to get a starting QB, because that’s where the value is, almost invariably.
I also like to nominate my preferred defense and kicker early, for multiple reasons. First of all, it gives me some cost certainty. The auction software you’re using likely calculates your maximum remaining bid and your average remaining bid. Since I’m not paying more than $1 for my kicker or defense, this gives me a more accurate representation of how much money I have left per player. Secondly, if anyone in my league wants to actually bid up a kicker or a defense, I will allow them to. You’ll be surprised later in your draft how much that extra dollar or two will come in handy (more on that later).
In this range of the draft (not counting if I selected a PK or D/ST), I probably want to secure my roster with 2 RB, plus 1 WR or 1 TE (Travis Kelce or George Kittle), though that obviously isn’t a rigid strategy. Ultimately, I want to leave the first three rounds of nominations with between 45-65% ($90-130 in a $200 cap) of my budget remaining. That might sound like a lot to spend on just a handful of players, but it’ll become obvious soon that players are going to become drastically more affordable… and that’s where you win your draft.
In the Middle of Your Draft
This is going to be the biggest part of the draft, somewhere between 10-12 rounds of nominations. And this is where the majority of your team is going to be constructed (presuming, of course, you didn’t go “Stars-N-Scrubs” and need to wait impossibly long to fill out your roster). I think this is where I’ll be doing the majority of my WR drafting — I love the values in this group, and I think I can get three to four really strong WRs for the combined price I paid for my top two RBs.
During this part of your draft, you have to pay attention to multiple things. First of all, pay attention to “The Hammer” — this is the term I use for the drafter with the most money left. This player can throw around weight to get a target, which can be problematic if that player is the last in a tier.
But in addition to keeping watch on The Hammer, you need to know the construction of the other rosters in the league. That’s because, even if you execute your plan flawlessly, you’re going to run into some competition for players. If you need a wide receiver and you notice that three teams with more money than you also need a wide receiver, you had better get on that sooner rather than later because, again, you do not want to get caught in a bidding war at the end of a tier.
This is also the part of my draft where I’m going to strategically nominate players I don’t want. It’s a wonderful exercise to enter an auction draft with 10-15 players you’d rather pass on (I touched on this in the last section). But you might also add players to that list during the draft. Perhaps you got someone like Mark Andrews a few rounds of nominations in. If Zach Ertz is still on the board, I may nominate him at a low price to encourage a bidding war and get some money out of the room. If a big-named player I’m out on — someone like Leonard Fournette — has slipped through the cracks and still hasn’t been nominated, I’m giddy to throw him to the wolves and watch from a safe distance.
My goal in this section is to “wax and wane” — that is to say, float between having “The Hammer” for myself, while not being afraid to use it and then fall to the bottom in available budget for a little bit. While you don’t necessarily want to get caught in a place where you’re spending $30 for a player you had valued at $15 because he’s the last start-worthy RB left, you also should not be afraid to spend $5 or so extra to get that player you need. As I said earlier, I want to try to be “stealthy” and not make it obvious that I really want a player. A flurry of bidding activity early could encourage less plugged-in players to get involved and push that price up. (“Oh crap, the whole league wants this guy, I should go get him!”)
The worst thing you can do in an auction is leave a serious portion of your budget left. I think anything more than $5 leftover from a $200 cap is criminal and the only person you’re robbing is yourself. Believe me, this is the range where spending a couple of bucks over your projected value is fine — there is a big difference between bidding aggressively and bidding stupidly. If you wait for values to fall into your lap, your team is going to suck. Sure, you might get a value or two that really helps you open up your wallet for other players, but as can be applied to so much in today’s world, “hope is not a strategy.”
This is also the part of the draft — ideally toward the back end of this stage — when I’m drafting my QB. I typically don’t like to spend more than $5. You can even add a QB2 to the equation for $1-3 and spend a fraction of what Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson went for.
The meat of your draft ends when you have three or four roster spots remaining. Somewhere between 5-10% ($10-20 in a $200 cap) of your budget left for the stretch run should be the goal.
At the End of Your Draft
Once you get to this part of the draft, you should identify the player you must have at the end of the roster. And pay to go get him… provided you have the capital to do so.
Here’s why it’s so important to have those few extra bucks lying around from not paying up for a QB, but especially from not paying up for a PK or D/ST. There are going to plenty of players nominated here who are “projected” to go for $1-2 on your auction cheat sheet or by the auction software, but the reality is the most appealing players in this tier go for significantly more than that because everyone with money left is going to spend up to get the late-round guys they want.
Nominations and bids can get tricky here. If you think the rest of your league has the same sleeper or two in mind as you do, you might think to avoid nominating him so you have a better chance of landing him. However, if you try to get cute and nominate a scrub, it’s entirely possible the rest of the league calls your bluff and you get stuck with a $1 jabroni you didn’t want! You can’t un-nominate a player just because you didn’t get any bites on your lure.
Why is this important? Because not only is your budget finite, but so are your roster spots. If you fill a 15-man roster but still have $15 left on your budget, you don’t get that $15 back. You don’t get to create an extra roster spot to use that $15 on. And you’ll make yourself sick looking at the WR3s you could have scored for that $15 in hindsight, or the late-round “sleepers” on whom you could have spread that money around. I don’t know about your league, but I’ve never been in one in which the person who had the most money left over got rewarded.
Along the same lines, this is yet another stage where it’s cognizant to be aware of “The Hammer.” If you have it, use it. It’s not really the time to be patient with it like you might have been in the middle rounds. Don’t get into cutesy bidding wars — if there’s a player you want, go get him. If you don’t have it, try to keep an eye on what position “The Hammer” might be eyeing up.
That leads me to another late-round auction point: never get caught in a position where you can’t make your maximum bid on a player you really want. So not only do you want to be aware of “The Hammer” and how much he can spend, you also want to be aware of what everyone’s maximum bid is and how many roster spots they have left.
Here’s an example. Say you now have two roster spots left and $4 to spend. You really want Washington WR Steven Sims. Your leaguemate, who has $3 left to spend on one roster spot, nominates Harris for $1. You immediately top the bid with a bump to $2… but your opponent, who has $3 left, is able to top that bid. Even though you had $4 left, you put yourself in a position where you couldn’t top a $3 bid because you needed to fill two roster spots and must have $1 leftover to do so.
What should you have done? If you’re down to your last two or three roster spots and really want a certain player, immediately put in your maximum bid. If someone can top it, then so be it. But making a simple mistake like outlined above is a really big bummer.
I was hesitant to do this since auctions are extremely fluid and values really do move up and down during a draft (something our Auction Tool accounts for). If spending is out of control early in your draft and players are going for significantly more than you expected, then the middle rounds will be full of players going for less than their projected values.
But presuming sane drafting — rarely a safe assumption — let’s take a look at what ideal teams, using ranges from our Auction Values Cheat Sheet, would look like.
This is a 12-team, $200 budget PPR league with 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 FLEX, 1 PK, and 1 D/ST starting and 6 bench spots.
The Balanced Approach
QB: Matthew Stafford ($4), Jared Goff ($1)
RB: Miles Sanders ($42), Austin Ekeler ($33), Cam Akers ($16), Chase Edmonds ($4), Ryquell Armstead ($2)
WR: Adam Thielen ($28), DJ Chark ($23), Marquise Brown ($19), Diontae Johnson ($15), DeSean Jackson ($4)
TE: TJ Hockenson ($5), Jace Sternberger ($2)
PK: Younghoe Koo ($1)
D/ST: Tampa Bay ($1)
On this team, I didn’t spend up at either QB or TE. I really got some depth at WR, where the values are. My RBs are top-heavy, but have some upside if any of Akers, Edmonds, or Armstead get a big role.
For me, this is the most likely build I will entertain this year. You could even pull back a little spending at WR4 (Johnson here) and give yourself more outs at RB, or maybe pay up a bit for someone like Hayden Hurst at TE. There’s so much WR depth I feel good about.
QB: Jared Goff ($1), Jimmy Garoppolo ($1)
RB: Christian McCaffrey ($58), Joe Mixon ($45), Melvin Gordon ($29), Kareem Hunt ($13)
WR: Tyler Boyd ($15), Will Fuller ($14), Marvin Jones ($10), Jalen Reagor ($7), Steven Sims ($2)
TE: Eric Ebron ($1), Irv Smith ($1), Ian Thomas ($1)
PK: Greg Zuerlein ($1)
D/ST: Indianapolis ($1)
In order to fit three high-priced RBs into my budget, I had to load up on WR3s and dollar values at QB and TE. This is a more fragile approach than I’d recommend, but if some combo of Fuller, Reagor, and/or Hunt hit, I could be in business.
QB: Matt Ryan ($8), Ryan Tannehill ($1)
RB: Kareem Hunt ($13), Antonio Gibson ($9), Tevin Coleman ($6), Zack Moss ($5), Alexander Mattison ($5), Chase Edmonds ($4)
WR: Davante Adams ($43), Tyreek Hill ($37), AJ Brown ($23), Brandin Cooks ($5), Steven Sims ($2)
TE: Travis Kelce ($37)
PK: Jake Elliott ($1)
D/ST: New Orleans ($1)
My entire RB corps for this group cost $42… or $16 fewer than I spent on Christian McCaffrey alone on the last team. Instead of paying up for Patrick Mahomes, I got significant exposure to the Chiefs’ offense with Mahomes’ top two receivers. The money saved from my RB corps went to loading up a nasty receiving group, including Kelce at TE.
Obviously, this team needs one of these RBs to hit big time. If just one hits, I can put everything else together by mixing-and-matching my RB2 the rest of the year. But if that happens…. well, you see the appeal of Zero RB.
I personally would not take this approach this year, but plenty of successful fantasy players have won doing just this.