Auction Draft Strategy: 2019 Fantasy Football Budget Builder

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As we turned the calendar over to August, Fantasy Football drafts are like your car’s passenger-side mirror: objects are much closer than they appear. While it may be a few weeks before your draft, you need to begin planning for your draft yesterday.

Auction leagues bring another level of detail to your planning process. Owners who forgo a budget and head into their draft with just a cheatsheet and stock AAV (Average Auction Value) listing, or even worse, relying on the draft platforms stock player list, are starting their draft at a major disadvantage. Every auction is different, but at the same time, there is a limit to how far the differences will go. When you boil it down, there is a maximum possible amount of funds to be spent, and a grand total of players drafted. If spending goes wild early, there will be great deals to be found later. Conversely, a conservative start to the auction will lead to increased spending in the middle rounds.

Auction drafters must be prepared for these types of variations and be ready to adjust their strategy on the fly. Having a budget allows you to plan ahead, yet still move your funds around in-draft to adjust for unforeseen changes. Your league mates with an AAV cheat sheet will not be able to identify when and where to move their funds, leading to over-spending at the wrong time or leaving money on the table by holding out for deals that never materialize.

Breaking Down League Spending

In a 12-team league with a $200 budget and 16 player rosters, there is $2,400 chasing 192 players, or $12.50 per player. Overlooked in auction preparation is the TOTAL amount spent by the league on each of the position. As money gets spent at one position, it reduced the funds available for the other positions. With this in mind, we can work backward from the total amount of auction funds available and total roster count to figure out spending at the core positions of RB and WR. With that information in hand, we can then identify possible future deals at one position based on how owners are spending on early players.

In most “normal” leagues, you can quickly identify the total number of players drafted and overall spending on the “onesie” positions of QB, TE, PK, and D/ST. These positions are nicknamed “onesie” based on the need to only start one of each in your lineup. Right off the top, we can safely assume that no more than $15 total will be spent on 12 PKs in the league. A few owners will (wrongly) pay $2-3 for the top 1-2 ranked kickers, where the rest of the league spends just $1 and everyone rosters only one kicker. D/STs can draw out some extra dollars for the top few teams, and some owners will (wrongly) draft two, but $25 is a normal grand total for 15 D/STs drafted.

At QB, the depth of starter-worthy players drives down the overall values for anyone outside the top 5. Only Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson may command over $20, with the rest of the top 10 coming in between $6 and $15. A little over half the league will (wrongly) draft a “back-up” QB, for a total of 20 drafted QBs. Based on the AAV found in the Fantasy Footballers Ultimate Draft Kit, approximately $160 will be spent on QBs in total.

At the final onesie position, spending on TEs will drop off quickly after the “big 3” TEs. Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle will command over 50% of the total league spending at TE. Much like QB, approximately half the league will roster a second TE, seeing 20 players drafted. Based on the UDK AAV, $145 will be spent on 20 TEs.

At this point, we’ve accounted for the rostering and spending on the four onesie positions:

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QB: 20 players at $160
TE: 20 Players at $145
PK: 12 Players at $15
D/ST: 15 Players at $25

Starting with $2,400 and 192 roster spots, these onesie positions account for 35% of the roster spots (67/192) at just 14% of total available funds ($345/$2,400). We now need to roster 125 RBs and WRs (55-65 per position) with $2,055 worth of auction funds, or a $16 per player average. While every auction is different, the overall spending on those onesie positions is rather consistent. Additionally, we already know that a big group of RBs and WRs ranked in the 35-45 range will be around $5 per player and those in the 45-60 range will only command a $1-$2 price point. This removes another 50-55 players from the auction pool at approximately $200.

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With this information, if you budgeted for a top RB, but early spending goes too high, you can begin to reallocate your budgeted funds to acquire a top WR or spread it out to make sure you land some of your preferred mid-round RBs. Consider that total spending at each of the RB and WR positions will still be semi-consistent, you can identify the overspending as driving the price down in the middle ranks of the position, as total spending at the position cannot increase significantly because owners have a set amount of funds and roster spots.

Budget Styles

There are two common ways to create a budget for auction drafts. Many people will allocate a percentage of their total spending for each position, and then split that amongst their starters and bench. While this is a perfectly fine method, it may require some quick on the spot math in your head. When the auctioneer is counting down, going once, going twice, you need to know right away where your budget stands.

My preferred method of budgeting is based on roster construction. Budgeting a specific dollar figure to each position on a roster allows you to use AAV to get a range of players that are likely to be available at that price point. These players are typically from the same tier or two of a tiered rankings list. For example, if I budget $15 for my WR2, I will list out a few players who are listed with an AAV of $20 down to $10 that I wouldn’t mind rostering for that spot. Remember, AAV is an average, meaning that player can often be found below, or above that AAV cost. A $20 AAV means that player will go for $23 as often as they go for $17. There may be outlier scenarios where they can be acquired for the budgeted $15. Conversely, that $10 AAV player will often cost between $8-$12, and if WR spending is overall increased, $15 may be a fair price.

This process allows owners the ability to do a few things, both pre-draft and in-draft. Pre-draft, you can use the AAV data to tweak my budget to find my preferred roster construction. This coincides closely with the “Roster Construction Based Rankings” process I wrote about earlier this offseason. If you want a strong WR2, you may need to move funds around from other positions to put your team in the right range to acquire the targeted player. In-draft, you can quickly identify the spots in your budget where you can move a few dollars around to “go get” a player you covet when spending is higher than predicted, while still keeping your budget intact for a player at the lower ranks of a position tier to fill the other spot.

2019 Budget Builder

Below is a breakdown on how I will be budgeting my roster build for 2019. This budget is based on a 12-team league with a 16 player roster, starting 1-QB, 2-RB, 3-WR, 1-TE, 1-FLEX, 1-PK, 1-D/ST, with 6 bench spots. I share this strictly as an example of how I prepare for my auction draft. I encourage you not to copy my plan, but to take the information presented above and use the process below to build a budget custom-tailored to your preferences and league tendencies. Don’t forget to check out my fellow writer, Eric Ludwig’s “Early Auction Trends” for 2019 as you build out your budget.

*Note – All auction values mentioned are for a $200 salary cap. Rankings and values are pulled from the Ultimate Draft Kit.

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Quarterback ($5 or less, 1 Player)

With the depth of QB, I want to find a high volume passer who falls in under $5. Players like Ben Roethlisberger, Dak Prescott, Phillip Rivers, and Mitch Trubisky all have top-5 weekly upside and are available for under $5. In the draft, the QB spot is often the first one I take a few bucks away from if I need that one last bid to win my guy at RB/WR. I’m not scared of reducing my QB budget down to $1 and streaming the position.

Running Backs ($100-$110, 5-6 Players)

Looking back at the 2018 season, the RB positions was one of the haves vs. the have-nots. The top 5 was head-and-shoulders above their contemporaries. While RB spending will be hot and heavy early for those same top few players, there are plenty of great options available in the lower tiers. Building out a squad of RBs with $90-$100 can land you three players like Joe Mixon, Kerryon Johnson, Nick Chubb, and Marlon Mack.

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Wide Receivers ($70-$80, 5-6 Players)

While having one of the top WRs in 2019 is nice, there is a plethora of WRs with top-12 upside waiting to break out in the $10-$30 range. I’m historically a WR-heavy owner, but 2019 is shaping up to alter the landscape of the WR ranks. At the top of the budget are players like Stefon Diggs and Robert Woods, while players like Marvin Jones and Allen Robinson have plenty of upside week-to-week for as little as $10. In the middle are some of the most exciting young WRs ready to ascend into the upper echelon. Second and third-year players like Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Boyd, Dante Pettis, Chris Godwin, D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley, and Mike Williams litter the WR15-30 rankings with WR1 upside. Playing your budget correctly should land you 4-5 players in this range to play in your WR1-3 and Flex positions with confidence.

Tight Ends ($5, 1-2 Players)

After QB, the next position that I will reduce to a min-bid is the TE spot. Outside of the Big 3, the next couple young up-and-comers find themselves in tenuous spots. There is as much downside as there is upside with the group of TEs in the $5-$15 range. Being one of the “onesie” positions, I’d rather use as much of my funds as possible to stock my team with RBs and WRs to fill out 6 starting spots with as much upside as possible, instead of the one TE. Depending on how the draft plays out, I may draft two $1 TEs to see if one hits or stream the position if I absolutely have too.

Defense and Kickers ($1 each, never more)

If your league still plays with a kicker, do not, under any circumstances, spend more than $1. The same goes for the D/ST; there is a ton of turnover at the top every season, and it’s very easy to stream defenses and play the match-ups each week to piece together a solid year of production.

Bringing it All Together

Below is what my draft day budget would look like. I personally use a spreadsheet program on my phone where I can adjust my values in real-time during the auction. As I win a player, I highlight that budget line and adjust to my final winning bid. I will have a simple formula at the top to add up my total budget (sample formula to use in spot B1: =sum(B2:B17), assuming the roster positions are in column A, budget numbers in column B, and player options in column C). As the auction goes along, I will re-allocate unspent funds from winning bids to other positions, or pull funds from lower importance positions (QB, TE, bench), to have those few extra bucks to go get a targeted player. I’m not afraid to pull funds out of my allotted bench positions to acquire a targeted starter. Oftentimes, you’ll end up getting “a deal” on some of those final starters that can push leftover funds back down to the bench. There is no sense in saving a large pile of funds for your bench, as the other owners in the league will have spent their funds, so they cannot push the bids too high. Using the spreadsheet and adjusting during the auction allows me to make sure I’m spending all my funds and getting the players that I’m targeting. You never want to leave money on the table, so spend it!

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