Fantasy Football: Auction Draft Prep Guide
Editor’s Note: “Auction leagues” are being transitioned in many major platforms (ESPN, Yahoo, etc.) to being called “salary cap” drafts. We recognize this shift and hope that we can be a bridge in this conversation. However, it is worth mentioning that “salary cap leagues” in the past are structured in an entirely different way than traditional “auction league” formats.
In mid-July, I participated in an “experts” auction draft. This article documents the process and steps I used and put to use in a real live draft against 11 of the savviest auction players I’ve ever encountered. The format is straightforward with a few modern enhancements; 12-teams, PPR, Superflex, and Best-Ball format. Our starting line-up is 1QB, 2RB, 3 WR, 1 Flex, and 1 Superflex. With nine bench spots, each team will be drafting 18 players; slightly deeper than most re-draft “managed” leagues. This extra depth plays into the Best-Ball format, where there will be no trading and no waiver moves after the draft.
When this league was first proposed, I started to do my general ranking preparations. At this point of the season, I’m going to rely heavily on the hundreds of hours that the Fantasy Footballers have already poured into the research. If you’re not yet a subscriber to the Ultimate Draft Kit, this is the part of the article where I encourage you to go sign up. Andy, Mike, and Jason consistently rank at the top of the Fantasy Pros accuracy ratings and pour a ton of time and resources into their projections. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, so much of my rankings for this draft were based on their ranks. As always, use them as a baseline and apply your own personal feelings.
Once I built up some base-level rankings that I felt confident in using, I began devising my Projected Auction Values (PAV). Don’t worry, I’ll get back to using those rankings later in this article. First, we need to address one of the biggest challenges in an auction draft format: figuring out when to spend and when to hold out for better values. I’ve been playing in auction/salary cap formats for over 15 years and one of the biggest mistakes new players make is not recognizing the finite amount of funds that can be spent during the auction.
The Auction Set-Up
In a 12-team league with a $200 salary cap, the league cannot spend more than $2,400 in the draft. Additionally, we know how many players each team will be drafting, based on the league settings. In this league, each team will be drafting 18 players for a total of 216 players. That works out to an average of just over $11 per player drafted. (*throughout this article, I will refer back to this per player average as “PPA”). In a traditional “managed” format with 16 roster spots that include kickers and defenses, the league may see increased spending for the top players, especially at RB and WR. How could that be if the same 12 teams are spending $2,400 auction funds? In that format, we can assume that minimal funds will be spent on kickers and defenses, yet those positions will also take up roster space. For a high-level assumption, it could be projected that $30 will be spent on defenses and $15 will be spent on kickers. If each team only drafts one of each, that would leave $2,355 to be spent on the remaining 168 players, or $14 per player. Do you see how that worked?
Using that thought process and some high-level assumptions on overall roster construction, we can begin to formulate the total number of players to be drafted at each position. Don’t worry if this is not precise, being off by 3-5 players is not a problem. The goal is to get close because those end of roster players are almost always $1 players, regardless of position. It doesn’t matter if 5 more RBs are drafted at $5 when you projected that to be spent at WR.
Right off the top, we only have four positions to work within this league format; QB, RB, WR, and TE. I’m going to start with the traditional “onesie” positions of QB and TE. But wait, you said this was Superflex! Even in Superflex, there is a limited number of QBs that will be drafted at a price over $5. In this Best Ball format, I am going to project that a few managers will draft a few of the veterans who are likely to get some starts, along with the rookie QBs who are not projected to start. Even so, projecting anything over 35 QBs is too aggressive, so that will be my mark; 35 QBs.
Over at the other onesie position of TE, basic roster construction would assume that each team will draft at least two, with some teams drafting 3 Tight Ends. Reviewing the Ballers projections on the UDK App gives us 30 TEs projected to score over 100 PPR fantasy points. That also gives us a nice round number of 6 teams drafting two, and 6 teams drafting 3 TEs. We’ve now addressed 65 of the 216 players to be drafted, leaving 151 RBs and WRs. Again referencing the UDK App, we see 52 RBs projected to score over 100 PPR points, while they projected 87 WRs to achieve that mark. Using that as a baseline addresses 139 of the 151 remaining players. This is also where it becomes obvious that being exact at the end of the rankings is not as important as being close because it’s hard to project that anyone will be paying more than $1-$2 for any of the players beyond this range. So for the remaining 12 players, I’m going to split them between RBs and WRs. Again, reviewing basic roster construction would project that teams will draft a few more WRs due to the 3 required starters along with the flex position allowing a 4th possible starter. PPR scoring in the Bestball format also suggests that a WR will fill that flex position more often than an RB.
Those estimations produce the following total numbers:
- 35 QBs (2-3 per roster)
- 61 RBs (5-6 per roster)
- 90 WRs (6-8 per roster)
- 30 TEs (2-3 per roster)
For this draft, the initial breakdown showed an average of $11 per player drafted ($2,400 / 216 players), which will serve as the beginning of the initial position level spending projections.
- 35 QBs x $11 = $385
- 61 RBs x $11 = $671
- 90 WRs x $11 = $990
- 30 TEs x $11 = $330
Referencing back to the Ballers UDK, the guys have ranked 38 QBs at a total of $251. Knowing their rankings and Average Auction Values (AAV) are based on traditional 1QB formats, the values shown in the UDK are likely too low for the top QBs when viewed under the lens of a Superflex league. Additionally, the spending for the “mid-tier” QBs will be inflated by the format, which tells me that an $11 per player average might still be a little low for QBs. If we assume that many of the QBs ranked 10-25 will go in a range of $10-$30, I’m going to adjust the per player average (PPA) spend up to $15 per player, bringing the total spend up to $525 at QB. ($15×35 QBs drafted).
Over at the TE position, the UDK shows $251 of AAV for the top 30 TEs, well under the above noted $330 total when using $11 per player. Drafting with a savvy group of auction experts in a non-TE premium scoring format tells me that there may not be a lot of spending done beyond the top-5 TEs. Assuming the spending for the TEs ranked 10-20 might be just a few dollars each, I’m going to lower the PPA to $7, or $210 total for TEs.
The new totals are:
$525 / 35 QBs = $15 per player average
$210 / 30 TEs = $7 per player average
Moving on to the RBs and WRs, there is a remaining balance of $1,665 left to spend on 151 players.
($2,400 – $525 QBs – $210 TEs = $1,665)
(216 Players – 35 QBs – 30 TEs = 151 RBs and WRs)
Using the Ballers UDK figures, I’ve projected the 151 players to be split 61 RBs/90 WRs. Dividing the remaining $1,665 by the 151 players produces a per player average of $11 per player or $671 spent at RB and $990 spent at WR. The combination of PPR scoring and Bestball line-up suggests that WRs will fill the Flex position most weeks, resulting in a 2:4 RB to WR ratio in most starting line-ups. The Final projections work out to be:
- 35 QBs = $525
- 61 RBs = $671
- 90 WRs = $990
- 30 TEs = $210
With these position level numbers established as a guideline, I will work through the UDK rankings to establish my own projected values for each player. I’m not going to show the entire rankings/values, but the end goal is to create a cheat sheet that adheres to these figures. As a simple example, here is how my pricing projections are created:
Each QB starts at a value of $15. If Patrick Mahomes is projected to be $50, $35 (the difference between his projected value and the per player average) must be removed from players at the bottom of the rankings. Perhaps Ben Roethlisberger is projected at $5. This produces $10 available to move to the higher-ranked players ($15 PPA – $5 projection). You can start anywhere you’d like, but typically the most important to see where the top players are valued. As you apply values to the top QBs, you must keep track of the funds above your PPA for each player. As you pull funds to the top, you must remove them from the bottom ranks. Conversely, you start at the bottom and work your way up accumulating extra funds until you hit a QB whose value will remain at $15. From there up, you allocate those extra funds to the QBs all the way up to QB1. If you find that you simply do not have enough funds to reach reasonable values for each player, perhaps your initial projection was too low and needs to be re-calculated. Remember, no matter if you increase or decrease your overall spending at one position, it will have an inverse impact on the other positions. Increased QB spending reduces available funds for other positions.
Using a TE sample, it’s likely that the last 10 or so TEs drafted will be only $1 each. With an initial $7 PPA, the last 10 TEs being projected at $1 AAV will result in $60 available to push up to the top TEs. This process of moving funds from the bottom of the rankings to the top of the rankings, allows you to create a value chart that is consistent with your overall positional spending and producing real, actionable values for your specific draft.
If you’re not sure how much money to move around for each player, you can always reference some existing Average Auction Values (AAV) to find each player’s percentage of the total positional spend. For example, if Christian McCaffery has an AAV of $55, and the combined RB values come up to $1,000, then CMC represents .055% of total spend at RB. To account for league size changes or positional value changes, such as in the case of the SuperFlex format, if the total spend at RB is only $800, then CMC at the same .055% of total spend would come in at an AAV of $44. Here is where personal preferences come into play. If you believe that $44 is too low, you then have to either A: remove funds from lower-ranked players, or B: increase your overall positional spending projection. Just remember that it is always a sliding scale due to the finite limit of total spending available. If you add to RB, you must remove funds from another position.
Budget Creation – Roster Construction Method
Once the positional fund pools are allocated and the individual player projected values are established, it’s time to create a budget for your draft. I’m not going to go super-in-depth in this section, as I’ve previously written in-depth about the processes I’m going to use in the following section. If you’d liked to read more of the in-depth process (which I HIGHLY recommend!), you can find those articles here*:
- Introduction to Roster Construction Based Rankings
- Roster Construction Based Rankings: The Full Picture
- Budget Builder 1
- Budget Builder 2
- Budget Builder 3
- The Importance of the Nomination
- Nomination Strategy (2019)
*Note: These articles were written over the past few seasons. The concepts are evergreen, but the player names/rankings reflect the season the article was published. In other words, focus on the over-arching concepts and ignore the player names.
When creating a budget for an auction draft, it’s important to recognize just how your spending at each position impacts your final roster construction. If you spend significant auction funds on two or three top-ranked players, you will not be able to afford the price point for second-tier players, as other managers will have the funds to roster those players. With a roster construction-based approach, you first set out to identify the lowest-ranked player you’re willing to roster at each of the required starting positions, then build from there.
Using an example based on the league format for this league, you might feel that your QB1 should be no lower than Tom Brady overall. Additionally, you want your second QB filling the Superflex position to be no lower than Matthew Stafford. At this point, you will reference back to your projected values to begin filling in your first draft of your budget. Looking over the rankings and your projected player values, you will notice that Tom Brady is QB6 at $32 and Matthew Stafford is QB15 at $24, which will become your placeholder values for those two starting positions. Moving down the starting line-up, this league format also required 2RBs, 3WRs, 1TE, and 1 Flex. I always go down my starting roster and put in place the players that I’m interested in at each position, then fill in the corresponding value, without worrying about the total budget. Oftentimes you’ll finish your starting lineup budget well over the $200 salary cap.
Once you’ve set your first run at the roster construction budget, you will now work towards building a balanced budget. The very first thing you’ll need to do is set aside at least $1 per bench position. In the format of this league with 9 bench spots, that means $9 at a bare minimum. In many cases, you need to look for “value pockets” within the rankings, such as a large grouping of QBs in the QB10-18 range who all have a similar profile and projections, yet may have a value difference of $10. Instead of budgeting $24 for Stafford at QB15, you can budget $17 for Joe Burrow at QB18 and ultimately roster a very similar overall player. The same process plays out at each starting position until you find that happy medium of the best possible player for the available salary-cap spend.
Following that process for each position, the goal is to whittle down each position to achieve a roster construction that you feel best represents what you’d like to set as a starting line-up each week. The goal is not to set definitive players to target, but a baseline of the lowest-ranked player you’re willing to roster at that position. During the draft, the goal is then to seek out the best value possible for each position, where “value” is defined as the highest-ranked player at a price closest to your budget. Using the example above, you might have budgeted $32 for Tom Brady as QB6, but during the bidding process, you have the opportunity to roster QB4 Josh Allen at $32. Conversely, you may roster Tom Brady, but at a lower cost than budgeted, which will allow you to reallocate those savings to another position.
The beauty of this process is that you can pre-build multiple budgets based on your projected values. Each budget can serve as a guide for the actual draft, in the event you (inevitably) find that pricing is different than expected, or certain positions are presenting unexpected values. If within the first couple rounds of nominations it’s clear that the league is spending more auction funds at the QB position due to the Superflex format, you can quickly analyze your budgets, knowing that spending at another position, such as WR or RB will inevitably be lower, because at the end of the day there are limited funds to be spent. When you can spot clear trends in spending and positional valuation within the league, you can also utilize other strategies, such as oft-overlooked nomination strategies, to control the draft. Therein lies the best part about auction drafts for Fantasy Football; the ability to build your team outside the round-by-round constructs of the traditional snake draft and the ability to force other managers to continue to spend or roster positions you have already filled.