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Pay Up! - Auction Draft Strategies

I did my first auction draft back in 2010. It was an unmitigated disaster. I had gone into the draft very familiar with player values and I refused to overspend. I ended up with a fantastic team...if you could start every player on a 16-man roster! The All-Value team failed spectacularly because everyone was good, but no one was great. I had the deepest team in the league, but the points on the bench don't matter.

I didn't do another auction until 2013. I was more prepared that time and I've gotten better at it each year, culminating in a league championship in the first year that my longest-running league (2016 was year 10) switched to auction (three years snake redraft followed by six years of a keeper format). My success was due in no small part to paying up for David Johnson. That wasn't the plan. I actually ended up bidding a little more than I wanted to. But I can't say I'm upset with the result.

In auction drafts, you have to approach roster construction with a different mindset than traditional fantasy drafts. ADP can be thrown out the window, as can tiered rankings. If you really want a player that you believe can win you a league, you simply have to be ready to pay up. With that in mind, I offer my approach to auction drafting in 2017.

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Auction League Draft Strategies

Spend Lavishly on a Bulletproof Player

When you see David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott (assuming his legal discipline issues are resolved), or Antonio Brown, you're gonna look down at your draft screen and you're going to think about what Teddy KGB said at the end of Rounders: "Pay him. Pay that man his money." And you will. This is an auction so there's no excuse for failure. You have full control. You will own one of those four players.

Please understand what I mean by "bulletproof" player. Obviously injuries can strike at any time and if that happens, it is what it is. Assuming full health, the odds of those four players busting is as close to 0% as it gets. In a snake draft, you can't guarantee yourself that level of safety. LeSean McCoy, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, and DeMarco Murray are all elite players, but would you be completely shocked if they failed you? I wouldn't. I don't think any of them will, but I think you can see the difference between those guys or other players that typically go at the back end of the first round of snake drafts and the four players I consider bulletproof.

I know what you're thinking - it's going to cost a lot of money to acquire one of them. This may hinder your ability to exploit value later in the draft. You're correct. It might. But is that potential value, which, in and of itself, remains uncertain to yield a benefit, sufficiently offset by the certainty that comes with the bulletproof players? I think it is.

Let's say you overspend by $5-$10 on a bulletproof player. To illustrate why this is worth it, I'll provide some examples from the 12 team, 0.5 ppr league I referenced above. On my championship team, I pretty much wasted $33 on Sammy Watkins, $29 on Jordan Matthews, and $13 on DeSean Jackson. Another team burned $47 on Lamar Miller, $35 on Eric Decker, and $10 on Michael Floyd. Another team threw away $20 on Jeremy Langford and $10 on John Brown. Jeremy Maclin went for $25. Jamaal Charles went for $30. There are plenty more examples of teams spending money and receiving a significant negative return on investment - sometimes, literally nothing. We all typically like the players we go after in auctions because, after all, there's no player that's off-limits based on draft position. But we must accept that as the caliber of player strays further from that elite, or dare I say, bulletproof level, the odds of us being wrong steadily increases. I can say with a strong degree of certainty that each one of us will likely waste 25% or more of our budget. Do you know what's almost guaranteed to not be a waste of money? David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, and Antonio Brown. That type of security is worth paying for.


Prioritize Starters

Another beauty of the auction format is you don't have to draft high caliber bench players in the middle rounds. The majority of your budget should be spent on the guys who will play most of the games for you. That's not to say you should relegate your bench to all $1 players. Be sure to acquire one high quality bench player at both RB and WR. If your league has a Flex, you might be able to get away with just one very good bench player to be your "sixth man," to utilize the basketball term. But those players that typically go in rounds 9-13 in snake drafts - you don't need them. Whatever money you'd spend on them, devote it to your starters. Snake drafters end up dropping most of the players taken at the latter stages of drafts anyway. Put your money into players that will stay with you and stock your bench with a steady balance of cheap fliers and boring, but safe fillers (i.e. John Ross and Kenny Britt). You can fix your bench via the waiver wire.


Proper Budgeting

Load up on Running Backs and Wide Receivers

The vast majority of your funds should be spent on RBs and WRs. In a snake draft, there actually is value in taking Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in the third round. In an auction draft, when you can take the money you'd spend on a quarterback and put it directly toward acquiring a far superior starting RB or WR, the value trade off is worth it because you can literally spend $1 on a QB if you want. Instead of Rodgers for roughly $35, you can have Golden Tate and Tevin Coleman or Jamison Crowder and Marshawn Lynch. QBs like Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, and Carson Palmer can all be had for $1-$2.

Don't Spend more than $10 on a Tight End

Your tight end should also be relatively cheap...unless your tight end is a de facto wide receiver. If you're going after Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, or Travis Kelce, you should treat your TE like a WR, because, after all, that's essentially what these players are. Kelce broke out last season, but Gronk and Reed have proven to be WR1 level formers when healthy. If you buy Gronk, Reed, or Kelce, then treat your WR3 or Flex player like he's your TE - allocate about $10 for that player. If you take any other TE, you shouldn't have to spend more than $10.

Ignoring Defense and Kicker

This isn't exactly innovative but it bears repeating. You should spend exactly $1 on a kicker and $1 on a defense. On an average 15 player roster, if you can be disciplined enough to spend $1 on each of your kicker, defense, quarterback, and last two bench players, that leaves you with $195 to spend on the remaining 10 players, nine of which will be running backs and wide receivers.

Coming Full Circle

Using the budget allocation outlined above, you should have about $185 available for your nine best players. Assuming you start six of them, spending $55-$65 on a bulletproof player doesn't seem that expensive. You will still have about $125 left over for five more starters. Even throwing a generous $25 of that towards your bench leaves you with $100, or, an average of $20 per your five remaining starting spots. There are some really nice players available in the $20-$30 range, thus allowing you to build quite the formidable team.


Don't be a Slave to your Pre-Draft Budget

This may come across as a bit contradictory after I just outlined a relatively detailed budget and draft plan above, but if you notice, I didn't really specify any strict instructions regarding individual players. I've spoken to people and read posts in the past about people looking to spend $50 on their WR1 and $20 on their WR2 and $35 on their RB1. You can't do that because you can't predict your draft. You can allocate a certain amount of money towards your starters and I can even get behind budgeting by position, i.e. $80 on RBs, $60 on WRs, but your actual amounts should never be more specific than that, and, most importantly, they must be malleable. You may have this grand plan to prioritize spending on RBs and then all of a sudden you fire on two WRs that, while more expensive than you budgeted, were still incredible values. Always be ready and willing to adapt. That's why I prefer a three pronged budget: a) Starting RBs and WRs, b) Bench, and c) $1 players (typically kicker, defense, the last two guys on the bench, and possibly QB as well). This type of budgeting allows you to have a plan you can stick to, but also gives you the freedom to prioritize positions based on how the draft plays out.

After my initial auction blunder and a three-year hiatus, I have now done at least one auction league each of the last five years, including 2017. I've really come to enjoy the auction format and greatly prefer it over snake. I encourage everyone to get involved in at least one auction league and hopefully this budget plan and strategy can help you avoid the mistakes I made when I was a novice. And if you're a more experienced auction drafter, then you are likely well versed in the challenges of auction drafting. This strategy can work for you, too. Good luck out there!


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