Auction Drafts for Beginners

Friday, July 29, 2016
Getty Images Sport / Thearon W. Henderson
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Imagine you go to a restaurant and decide on a great sounding entrée. The waiter comes to take your order, but they apologize and tell you they already ran out of that dish. Not a big problem, the menu is huge and there are lots of options. You just pick out another dish and the waiter informs you they are out of that dish too. How many times would you order and be told that dish is gone before you would just walk out?

I don’t want to reduce football players to items on a restaurant menu, but how frustrating is it when you know, not think, know you’re not going to be able to draft certain players based solely on your draft position? I get the advantages of snake or serpentine drafts. Snake drafts are familiar, by far the simplest draft system for home leagues, easy to practice through mock drafts, and data is available everywhere to tell you who to draft and approximately where. Auction drafts are none of those, but there are distinct advantages that favor the Footclan.

Fantasy Auction Draft Advantages

Every Team Has Equal Access to Every Player – It’s not just that certain players won’t be available depending on draft position, it’s the lack of possible combinations for each team. Unless something strange happens, there will not be a fantasy team from a snake draft that has Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson on it. AB will be drafted within the first four or five picks and Jordy will be drafted before the draft snakes back around. If you’ve got the guts and the will to pay up for AB and Dez in an auction draft, you can absolutely do it. I was in a draft where someone drafted AB and Julio Jones. The rest of the team wasn’t so hot because they blew the majority of their budget on those two players alone, but they were able to do it.

Auctions Involve Lots of Decisions – My uncle may be the worst poker player I know, but if he played one hand against the greatest poker player on Earth, my uncle could go all-in and expect to win 50% of the time. If they played four hands, my uncle would still win nearly half the time. If they played 1,000 hands, my uncle would be looking to borrow money. The difference in skill between the poker pro and my uncle becomes more apparent every time either one of them makes a decision. With enough decisions, the luck factor favors neither player and all the good decisions the pro made and all the bad decisions my uncle made add up to the pro winning.

The thing with snake drafts is owners are normally debating about picking from about twelve players maximum, because even if a good player thinks someone that’s being drafted a round later is the best player available, the player will hope to get them in the next round. This may be the biggest takeaway from this whole piece- Snake drafts basically ensure poor players can’t screw up too bad and good players can’t excel too much. You’re a Footclaner. You want to make lots of good decisions and let bad players make lots of bad decisions. In Auction drafts, owners must decide whether to bid on a player, how much to bid, how to create the best overall roster, and when/how to alter strategies. That’s a lot of decisions that will separate the good from the bad players.

Auctions Are Complex – I always go into an auction with a plan, but my team has absolutely never looked like my initial plan. All it takes is one of the players you were targeting to get too expensive or someone you didn’t plan on nabbing to become too cheap and the initial plan is history. Your new plan will get altered, and you will need to come up with yet another plan, and that one will get messed up too. It’s a frustrating, but exhilarating process. You could have two auctions on the same day with fantasy players that have the same information and the draft flow and results will be totally different. Auctions remind me of this quote from Jimmy Dugan played by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own:

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

Typical Auction Draft Formats

E-mail or Slow Auction Drafts – For the purpose of this article I will be referring to the e-mail Auction format found on Dataforceff.com. Other sites may operate a little different, but the principles are the same. In an e-mail auction, each fantasy team gets to nominate one player of their choosing to be bid on each day. Team-1 nominates one player and the next hour Team-2 nominates another player until each team has nominated exactly one player. Nominating a player is not drafting a player. Once a player is nominated, all teams can bid on that player. Each player is up for auction for 24 hours. No fantasy team can see any of the bids that come in from the other fantasy teams during the first 23 hours. During the final hour, the winning bid and bidder are displayed. The player with the highest bid when the clock runs out gets that player on their team. If two teams bid the same amount for a player, the team that placed the bid first wins the auction.

There are three unique features to e-mail auctions. The first is the pace where exactly 12 players are drafted and/or nominated each day. If the roster size is 18, the draft will take 19 days where the first day is only nominations. The second feature is the time commitment. Obviously, the draft lasts a long time, but you can take a few minutes each day to set your bids and hope for the best. Watching the timer count down to zero is fun when you’re getting a steal on a great player, but it’s not necessary. The third feature is the ability to bid on multiple players at the same time.

Live Auctions – E-mail auctions are cool and not much of a time commitment day-to-day, but nothing beats the excitement or intensity of a live auction. Teams also nominate players in live auctions, but only one player is up for auction at a time. After each player is nominated, the timer is set to 20 seconds for bids. Once the timer gets below 10-seconds each bid will reset the clock to 10-seconds. Even though the pace is much faster and the clock starts at 20 seconds, a single player may be up for auction for several minutes if teams keep one-upping the bids. Once every team has nominated a player, the nominations start with Team-1 all over again.

Live auctions typically last about 4 hours. You need to be able to think on the fly and be aware of what’s going on with the draft through the whole thing. Live auctions are amazing, but you better be ready for a protracted fight that requires your attention. You will think certain people are out to get you (they’re not), your plan and subsequent plans will all get ruined (expect it), and you will nearly cry when a player you like goes for next to nothing but you don’t have the budget to bid on them (you can always trade). The problem with auctions is they’re very difficult to prepare for, but we’ll get you started.

Preparing for an Auction Draft

General Strategy – You need to ask some big questions. Do you want to have top WRs or RBs? Do you want a balanced roster with good players across the board or do you want to spend the majority of your budget on a few studs and fill in your roster with cheaper players? Do you want to grab a top QB or grab a cheaper one and try to stream QBs? Where do you want the strengths on your roster and where are you willing to compromise?

Players to Target – The easiest way to form a list of players to target is to look at the ADPs over at fantasyfootballcalculator.com and pick your favorite player from each round. You probably won’t be able to afford the very best player from each round, but it’s a start.

This is where something like the Ultimate Draft Kit (UDK) is incredibly valuable. Besides the Top 200 Auction Values, the does contains ADP Information, Ranks, Projections, and Tiers. The Tiers are particularly useful because each player in each tier could potentially finish at the top of that tier.

If your initial strategy was to target Antonio Brown, but he became too expensive (subjective, but he’s going for roughly 32% of total budgets), you could just look at his tier and switch to Julio Jones. Spoiler alert: Brown and Jones are Tier-1 receivers. If Jones also became too expensive, you could switch it up and target Odell Beckham Jr. If OBJ also became too expensive, you might have to look at the next tier and shift your strategy a bit. You may miss out on one of those top guys, but you might be able to afford A.J. Green and Keenan Allen. It’s a trade-off, but it’s not too shabby. You might find one of your targets went a lot cheaper than you expected. You could use that extra budget to upgrade one of the players you were targeting to a player in a higher tier. Good things happen in auctions too! This is why plans morph constantly during auctions.

Although targeting one player from each round is OK, a better approach may be to target a few studs, breakout candidates, value picks, and sleepers (All in the UDK). Be realistic about it. You might be able to get two 1st Round studs, but you might not be able to get a 2nd or 3rd Round guy. If you skip a 1st Round player, you might be able to get a few players from the 2nd Round. If you get a lot of guys with high ADPs, you’ll probably end up not being able to afford mid-round guys and get stuck with a bunch of late-rounders. That’s the “Studs and Duds” strategy in a nutshell.

Tips, Tricks, and Nuggets

The First Stud Up Discount – Lots of people don’t want to commit a large chunk of their budget to the very first player up for the auction. It’s uncomfortable to make that first big splash and people don’t want to look stupid. This is why I love to target the top WR every year. It doesn’t always work out, but sometimes the 5th and 6th top WRs go for a few dollars less than the #1 guy. Give me the #1 guy for a couple extra bucks every time! I’ll make it up with $1 kickers and defenses.

Nominating a Defense/Kicker – This is an annoying tactic, but early on people like to nominate a defense or kicker and bid $2 or $3 (out of a $200 budget). No one normally wants to bid $4 on a defense or a kicker so the person that nominated the kicker or defense basically gets their choice player at a reasonable price. It’s a fine tactic, but even $3 on a kicker or defense is arguably too much. You will be surprised what WRs and RBs go for that much! Save it for a sleeper or put in an extra buck or two to win “your guy” if you get in a bidding war.

Nominating Budget Busters – There’s really not too much strategy to nominating players, but if you really like the overall QB4, you could nominate the QB2 to reduce someone else’s budget and lessen the number of teams bidding on a top QB. Same goes for the other positions. I like to mix my nominations. Some of them I actually do really want and some of them I just nominate to eat into the budgets of other teams.

Nominating Favorite Sleepers That You Don’t Want Early – It is intuitive, but the more money teams have to spend, the higher the prices will be. A mid-round guy like Torrey Smith nominated early may generate a higher price than if he was nominated later. Just because you have a full budget doesn’t mean you need to overpay. Stick with your targets and let the other players make the bad decisions. Never nominate your favorite sleeper early!

Budget Left at the End – Your budget is an asset- use it! During almost every draft, someone has money left over after their team is filled. Don’t be the person who bids $18 on a kicker to close out their team. That’s $16 or $17 dollars that could have been used to upgrade another player. That’s about the difference between LeSean McCoy and Theo Riddick or Cam Newton and Kirk Cousins to put it into perspective.

Create a “Two-Buck-Chuck” List – As auction drafts wind down, nobody has much of a budget left over. Some people may only have $5 or $7 to fill five roster spots. They can’t bid much if anything at all, so the only way they can win a player is by nominating them and hoping nobody bids them up to $2. I call these late players “Two-Buck-Chucks” because they almost never go for more than…two bucks. Look at the players with ADPs in the 140+ range and pick out your favorite 20 or so guys. You’re going to need that many because other teams will draft them before you and some team may offer a bid making the player a…two-buck-chuck.

Try an Auction Draft

It will take some experience and trial and error, but auctions are a ton of fun. Even if you make some mistakes, you’re going to get a bunch of players you really like, but couldn’t assemble on a roster through snake drafts. Auction drafts take fantasy football, strategy, frustration, and excitement to a whole new level. Give one a go this year and you will get hooked!

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