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Auction Draft Strategies and Tips

It’s a hell of a thing to get caught in a legitimate auction moment that sends your whole draft on tilt, but much like the premise of “nobody wants to hear about your fantasy league,” similarly no one wants to hear about the time you messed up a strategy that was really important to you. I mean, unless it’s such a catastrophic failure that even a sports layman would know you messed up. 

In my home league with friends from college, it’s become a sort of game to see if we can get someone to slap that first dollar down on a guy who quite simply isn’t…. good. Of course, this is a bit of a gamble because by the virtue of nominating them, you’re risking a dollar in a draft that you may need at the very end.

So, before I break down the legitimate strategies I’ve learned from a decade (woof) of fantasy football auctions, I’ll give you some less than legitimate names to try to goad your friends with. Fair warning, this will only work if you can smell the desperation on a player who is on tilt already; the goal is to get him to knock the full pinball machine over:

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Fresh Bait

WR Alshon Jeffrey, who someone will absolutely believe is playing somewhere before they see the “FA” next to his name (no no, he’s about to sign, Schefter just tweeted…)

RB Jordan Howard, you know, the guy who we all thought would have an improved role in Miami last year. Bonus points if you can get a co-conspirator to say “ooh, big sleeper” non-sarcastically.

WR Riley Ridley, who is of course Calvin’s brother.

RB Cam Akers, where this trick is much funnier if the huge “IR” isn’t showing by then and someone has totally forgotten the injury happened (only funny in re-draft, this will likely be annoying to deal with in any keeper leagues).

K Dustin Hopkins (wait, I just saw D Hopkins and I… DANGIT).

WR Larry Fitzgerald, who someone inevitably forgot retired and confirmed this week he’ll be staying in the booth.

QB Deshaun Watson, who some of you are drafting on your own NOT as a joke and I will be praying for.

TE Tim Tebow, because even if he's not on a team right now, at least you'll have God on your side.

Feel free to tweet me and let me know if any of those work for you. A quick note about everything going forward in this piece, there are some base strategies here we’ll largely avoid that I’ll mention up top: mock draft a whole bunch of times before you start, understand the rules of your league before you get going (this includes scoring and position flexibility, which will prevent you from loading up on RB’s in a league where your FLEX may be reserved for pass catchers), and have a sheet or something printed out that doesn’t require you to switch screens from your draft. These are all really good and important, and if you haven’t started doing those yet, they may be the key difference for you here. Now, we’ll dig a little deeper. 

Some of these strategies are for the planner, and some are for the guy who found this article 10 minutes before the draft, but I have seen everything below used and deployed successfully in my decade of auction drafting.


Invest In Your Flexibility

I’ll crib from my good friend Nick Mariano here and his wonderful premium tools to remind you that signing up for RotoBaller Premium prior to the draft gives you incredible tools such as our rankings wizards that gives you a way to make a rankings and auction spend chart customized to the league that you’re in. The great thing about this tool is you can organize a tier system of your own, and allow yourself flexibility mid-draft that your other opponents simply won’t have. Unless, of course, you’re in a league with other RotoBallers, then you’ve simply got to have it.

If you’d rather go at it with your own system that allows you to set a draft budget and provide projections, then make sure you’re creating something that is very easily malleable, and run it through every silly scenario there is before the draft. What WILL happen if the guy with the team named Sweet Baby James Conner takes everyone with the name James? What will happen if everyone but you takes a QB in the first round? You don’t have to have a roadmap for chaos, but a compass to point you straight no matter what you’re sailing into.

Flexibility is the name of the game here, because as demonstrated in my scenario above, tilt is a very easy thing to get to. Trust me, as someone who follows a lot of fellow writers, I see it day in and day out; whether your opponent is hoarding a position to force trades, taking every single guy with the last name of Smith, or insisting on taking every player on the home team, tilt is easier to trigger than prevent. This is especially true for things above that 1) make no sense and 2) will not be recommended further because they are all very bad strategies that hurt others and help no one, like the premise of a “Just Say No” ad from the 90s. But paying a little bit of money, especially in cash leagues with a handsome payout, is a simple and worthwhile investment.


Review Your Previous Draft and Note Your League Specific Trends

This only applies in the same league you’re carrying over from, but the most common complaint I hear from guys is that they were surprised at the amount someone went for. There is likely precedent here that you and the rest of the league have totally forgotten about.

I’ll refer you to the secrets of my own longtime keeper league, that abides by the following trends:

  • For the last few years, 5-6 RBs will go for somewhere between 20-25% of a player’s total salary cap (meaning he’ll be grabbed for $100-$150 on our $500 cap), but they are guys who are ranked within the top-15. Anything after that sees a rather large deflation.
  • Second-year players go for far less year-over-year, usually being thrown back by the team who initially drafted them because their price point, which increases year-over-year, demanded best-in-the-league production to justify their price.
  • Only one non-kept TE was drafted for over 5% of the individual cap ($25).

Those three facts tell me a lot about my own personal draft that I will simply not find in any sort of “how to” guide or cheat sheet. Instead of just hoping that my league holds true to the auction budget I got from RotoBaller or my draft tool, I’m suddenly losing out on every single top RB because I didn’t devote 25% of my roster to grabbing Antonio Gibson, even if in a vacuum that’s advice no one will give objectively you. And why would no one give you this advice? Because it’s a league-specific proposal, one that makes no sense for 99% of leagues, meaning that there’s a gap you have to fill on your own.

If you don’t know how to adjust your strategy in line with your point type, then lean on history and understand the quirks of your league and how people bid. 


Trade In A Cap for a Standard Deviation Budget

If you’re someone who gets stressed out the moment that a player has blown past your budget for them, then you’re going to also be a person who enters tilt the moment you do it two or three times. So, what can you do?

Identify a deviation for your draft, and build in two deviations above and below your target price. If you’ve got George Kittle valued as $35 in your league with a $260 budget, then define your deviation (let’s say it’s a little over 1%, so $3) and map it out. If you find yourself shackled to your budget or unable to edit it on the fly, mapping how many deviations you are over your budget will help you edit the rest of your strategy. Your sheet should look like: Kittle, 29/32/35/38/41. $29 makes you the smartest guy in the room, and $41 means you’ve spent 2% more than what you were prepared to. 

Then hand tally it. Mark every deviation over, remove for every deviation under. You give yourself flexibility to bid, and it helps you keep a tally of how much you’re spending without just focusing on the “oh god, I’m spending a lot.” If you find yourself repeatedly missing, you can also keep an eye on the average deviation over rankings budget guys are going for, and mentally log away where position premiums are kicking it, and alternatively (as budget often affects) where guys are being bought for less than their value. 


Call a Break

It’s the equivalent of “have a glass of water with every drink” or “always have jumper cables in your car” of advice, but it’s yet another pivotal piece for people who may be thrown off their game and risk falling further away from their strategy the longer the draft goes. You’re gonna get boos, make peace with that early. If you’re a planner, asking for five minutes to “pee” may get you some light ribbing, but it’ll also allow you to assess what’s happening halfway through. 

There are one of two ways you can do this; you can either use this time to re-focus yourself if you’re on tilt and get your bearings back, or evaluate the field. It’s tempting to use this time, especially if you’re ahead, to just make yourself a drink and give yourself high-fives, but in deeper drafts or any leagues with a keeper element, who you can snag for cheap at the end can play an important role here.

If you feel confident in where you are, use this time to figure out who is most likely to outbid you for your stash of sleepers, or if you’re tapped on funds, map out where you are allocating your “max bid” and a collection of $2/$1 bids. If you feel behind, focus on your own roster instead; do you have more money or less money than expected, and how do you need to adjust? What moves can you make to get you back with a favorable draft?

This break seems equivalent to some of the basic moves listed before, but for those of us who draft multiple auction drafts, powering through it doesn’t always work. You’re getting outbid left and right, you’re slightly out to sea, and maybe you’re the guy who just put $1 on Deshaun Watson! 


Take The First Guy Off The Board. And the Second. Not the Third.

This one is in my notes every single year, because in my auction league I described earlier (the one where RB has a high price tag), we always see the first bid come up, get batted around for a while, and then land at a price point that is, historically a few dollars less than what he would’ve gone with if he was nominated five or six picks later. Generally, the profile of this guy is a top-10 FLEX eligible player, almost always an RB. 

Does this sound like your league? It’s because no matter how many mocks you do, your home league (or any league of non-fantasy writers you may play in) isn’t nearly as prepared to draft as the common group of strangers. They’ve got their budgets, they are trying to stick to them, and they don’t want to blow their money on the first guy.

If a top RB comes up first, he’ll go for the projected budget next to his name. He’ll likely go for more. But unless it’s Najee Harris in a Steelers Fan Parking Only draft, he’ll likely only go for a little more. It’s because in nearly every first and second round, the projected dollar value given to this player will be exceeded, and it’s only a question of how much. With the first one or two guys, don’t be afraid to get to your upper deviation, and maybe even higher, before the panic sets in and Dalvin Cook goes for $15 over asking. I’ve seen it happen every single year, especially in leagues where it's the normal $260 auction budget.

Obviously, this isn’t an unconditional statement, as I would say that a range of anyone outside of the top-20 may disprove this rule rather quickly. However, with nearly every auction league I’ve been in, this indeed has been the norm rather than the exception, and can keep you in a more favorable budget range than going in on a guy three or four nominations later.


Try Being The “Look At Anything Except the Auction Board” Person

“Hey man, that’s a hell of a grab, what will it take for you to give him up?”
“Ugh, wanted him, how can I get him off of you?”
“What’s Damien Harris worth to you these days for trade?”

You have seven or eight messages just like this queued up to copy or paste into the chat. And after probably slightly overpaying for an RB1 or two in an auction format, you’re now asking a lot of questions in the chat. Like, too many questions. Let’s be real, no one really knows what Damien Harris is worth to them at that moment, but they’ll now be looking at your roster, looking at theirs, and distracted. If you’re a particularly trusting person, you could start a bidding war going right around the time you are entering the portion of the draft where grabbing a handful of these guys, and not having to actively bid against anyone, is the way to do it.

This method can’t be deployed too quickly or too obviously. If you start doing this in Round 1, it’ll be painfully obvious to all that you are talking more than you can trade. The same measure can be applied to not asking each person about a random guy, as that just appears to be speed dating more than trading. But after the first 30 or so players are off the board, you can start to flag your needs and start conversation. "Hey, I’d love to get a better TE." "Ugh, I hate Dak this year because he can’t stay healthy." "Hey, anyone see So-and-So’s RB’s so far? Don’t let him grab another one guys!"

The goal is a little obvious, but simple: when the draft has gone on a certain point, a natural fatigue sets in, especially in home leagues with a mixed level of experience. The requests to turn the clock speed up come in, and the pee breaks start to get intermingled. Your goal is to get people a little off task, a little chatty, a little gamey in the rounds they are less confident about. And let’s face it, even the most experienced gamesman has to refer to their sheets to make sure they are on target for budget and team construction, so why not add in the element of the live trade?

Time this right, and you can find yourself avoiding bid-offs, and grabbing more of the $1 guys when you get to the point of the auction where minimal budget and lucky breaks are important. You can have a person make you pay an extra buck for Justin Jackson or Marvin Jones Jr., or they can be looking somewhere else and remind themselves they didn’t need that guy anyway.


Make a Trade in The Room

You can decide to not just talk about it and instead be about it, and start to make deals before you leave, at least in principle. While not all drafting softwares allow you to message an individual user, a quick email or text (again, don’t have too much going at once) will allow you to start to haggle.

Don’t come off too desperate here, as going “What do you want for Najee Harris” allows your opponent to immediately get the upper hand on you. Instead, ask if they want to move any RBs, or if they are committed to the multiple QBs they have. Let them make the offer to you, so they aren’t getting your players for $.70 on the dollar. Advertise to your league mates, especially if they groan when you get a highly touted player, that trades are open even when the draft room isn’t yet closed.

If an opponent has someone you feel strongly about, you can also steal a move from the actual pro drafts, one we see more in NBA circles than NFL, and ask if they want to trade for anyone still on the board. Suddenly, you’ve escaped multiple bidding wars, and are just trying to make your new trade partner happy without mutually assured destruction. This is one of the tougher moves to pull off in here, but arguably the one that has the greatest reward for your drafting short-term, and for the rest of the season (though obviously don’t let this distract you from the rest of the draft).


Use the Classic "Hometown Nomination"

Simple enough concept here, especially if you’re playing in a league with a regional bias. I play in a league with guys largely from Pennsylvania and the Northeast, meaning they aren’t just interested in Steelers and Eagles; they want guys from any college in the area they like too. Considering I’m not actively targeting players from those teams, I can line my queue up with those guys who may have that sort of hometown-inflated pricing.


Totally Off Base? Go $1 At a Time

A couple of years ago, I told my dad that he needed to do his own research, in a sort of tongue-in-cheek way. We had been half-serious, half-joking back and forth regarding where he was suddenly getting all of his great picks from, and so I left him with a challenge: do it yourself this year. He talked a very big game, told me about all of the articles he had been reading, and was absolutely ready to take me to the shed this year.

Admittedly, I was excited to see what he was about to do, or whose advice he was taking (this was in an era of my life where I was reading everything out there, and admittedly there were less outlets. I’m old) only for him to rely on an ESPN sleeper list…. not for sleepers, but for his whole draft. I am decently sure he took rookie receivers exclusively starting in the sixth round, though he will absolutely dispute this. He also won’t admit to drafting multiple retired players after their retirement.

The point of this story being, tilt happens when you’re hellbent on a plan or a series of plans that don’t come through, and you can’t adjust. Much of my article is about recovering or forcing someone else off of their own path in an intelligent way, but if you simply cannot find yourself recovering, then go back to the auto-draft basics.

You don’t have to religiously follow it if you’re committed to not drafting certain people, or if your platform hasn’t updated their ranking for injury, but if you are so far off your game that you haven’t felt like you’ve gotten anyone, go back to bidding $1 at a time. If someone is left on the board, or you have more money and fewer people, just go down the line; hit a guy, don’t put any pre-draft $ in, and literally go a single dollar at a time. You may have missed out on a top-10 receiver, but you could use this and get 11, 13, and 14. Great strategy? No. Lifeline if you’re feeling totally deflated and not sure what to do? Absolutely.

You’re gonna evaluate and tinker and play with your drafts, you are gonna love some drafts and hate others, but at the end of this, you’ve just got to adjust with what you have and go from there. There is an importance of leaving the room happy or at least prepared for the moves you need to make to be competitive.

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Hey, RotoBallers! With Super Bowl LVIII in the books, the 2024 NFL offseason has officially begun. It's never too early to start preparing for fantasy football, and here at RotoBaller, it's always fantasy football season here at HQ. We are already looking ahead to the 2024 season, and that starts with the NFL Draft and... Read More

Ja'Marr Chase - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS and Betting Picks

Top Fantasy Football Rebound Candidates For 2024 Including Patrick Mahomes, Josh Jacobs, and Drake London

We may be in the heat of basketball season, but we're discussing a different kind of rebound today. Some of the most talented athletes in the world have suboptimal seasons but there's often a bounceback year in the near future. The talent isn't waning, the circumstances surrounding them have been altered. Below we dive into... Read More

Jayden Reed - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Early 2024 Wide Receiver Sleepers And Draft Targets For Fantasy Football

There should be a lot of changes atop the wide receiver group in fantasy football next year. Players like Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, and Cooper Kupp will all fall in drafts, while Puka Nacua will fly up drafts boards in 2024. Nacua will go from undrafted in 2023 to a likely top-20 pick this upcoming... Read More

Dan Campbell - NFL Head Coach, NFC, Detroit Lions

FFPC Dynasty Fantasy Football Orphan Teams: An Authentic Challenge

At its very core, the game of fantasy football is intended to deliver a unique experience in which you are an NFL owner, general manager, and head coach, all in one role. Seasonal fantasy football replicates the responsibilities in fun, user-friendly packaging, but fantasy football dynasty leagues appeal even more to a savvy fantasy player... Read More

2024 Dynasty Rookie Mock Draft: Fantasy Football Studs, Sleepers, and Values

Football never sleeps at RotoBaller! With the Scouting Combine underway and the NFL Draft season heating up, the countdown is on for 2024 fantasy football. We're taking a first look at how things might shape up in Dynasty fantasy drafts with our first Rookie Mock Draft of 2024. RotoBaller analysts Brandon Murchison and LaQuan Jones... Read More

Dak Prescott - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

Biggest Quarterback Surprises - Fantasy Football Year In Review

The 2023 fantasy football season is in the rearview mirror. While the upcoming fantasy season is still months away, it’s never too early to start preparing. One of the more critical things fantasy players can do to prepare is look back at the previous season and look at trends and surprises. Let’s look at the... Read More

Tyjae Spears - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Early 2024 Running Back Sleepers And Draft Targets For Fantasy Football

Running backs have always dominated the first round of fantasy drafts, but that has changed in recent years. Taking a wide receiver in the first round has become a more likely strategy by fantasy managers. In 2024 drafts, more wideouts should be going in the first round than running backs. However, that doesn't mean running... Read More

Latest Updates on Injured NFL Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Anthony Richardson, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, and Daniel Jones

The 2024 offseason is still in the early stages, but it's time to check on six franchise quarterbacks who suffered major injuries during the 2023 campaign. A franchise missing its quarterback to begin a season can mightily derail its chances to win, creating a massive hole to climb out of. We have the latest injury... Read More