Fantasy Football Auction Strategy: Who to Nominate in 2018
One of the most overlooked strategy aspects of an auction draft for both auction novices and seasoned veterans is the nomination process. Unlike a traditional snake draft, auctions allow owners to control and manipulate the player draft order. Nomination order will directly impact your opponents’ roster construction and can give you a real advantage in your league.
Last year, I wrote an article detailing how nomination order impacts player values. That article also gave a high-level view of which player positions to nominate throughout the draft process. You can (and should!) read it to get the full picture of how and why nomination order impacts player auction prices.
This article is going to focus on specific players to nominate in 2018. I’m not suggesting that they are bad players or poor targets. The goal is to highlight players that your league mates will pay a premium for while you acquire players in the same tier at a lower price. As I highlighted last year, players who are nominated ahead of their positional ranking have a 75% chance of being won for a price higher than their positional ranking should command. (Example: Nominating the 10th ranked RB as the 4th RB off the board will likely result in that player commanding a price more similar to RB6. Put into snake-draft terms, you’re essentially forcing owners to “reach” a round or two early for a player.)
By nominating players ahead of their ranking, you are forcing owners to over-pay for lower ranked players while pushing your higher ranked players down in nomination ranking, effectively lowering their projected draft cost. Each of the players highlighted below is ranked higher on major draft platforms than their ranking in the Fantasy Footballers Ultimate Draft Kit. Considering Jason (3rd), Mike (9th) and Andy (32nd) were some of the most accurate draft rankers out of 130+ fantasy analysts tracked by Fantasy Pros in 2017, I have no problem putting my confidence in their UDK ranks.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock all off-season and this is the first article you’re reading this year, you already know the QB position is deep in 2018. In traditional 1-QB formats, most QBs will not command big auction prices and overall spending will be rather low as everyone chases the value. With that said, nominating QBs early in the nomination process when owners have the majority of their budgets available could drive up the price of a few top-ranked QBs.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots – The Patriots QB and future Hall of Famer commands plenty of name value in drafts. This year, he’s likely to be one of the top-ranked QBs on the draft list. Nominate him as the first QB off the board to see who’s budgeting for a top QB.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans – Fantasy owners are split on the prospects for the second year QB, but there is definitely going to be an owner who will pay a premium price for his small sample size. If you want to force another owner to spend early auction funds, Watson is a great nomination early in the draft.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles – Another QB whose efficiency is likely to regress, someone (likely his owner from last year!) is going to pay up for Wentz. Go back to last year’s league page and find out who owned Wentz last season. Make sure you nominate Wentz before that owner has acquired a QB.
Hype-Train QBs – Once the big names are off the board, the players getting the off-season hype are great nomination options to try and cash-in on the off-season hype. Your goal is not focused on funds spent, but simply filling your opponent’s roster. Most owners will only draft one QB and you’re your goal is to fill leaguewide roster spots while you wait to acquire the steady, boring veterans with a proven track record. Young QBs like Patrick Mahomes, Jimmy Garappolo, and Mitch Trubisky, if nominated around the 10thQB off the board, are all likely to command more auction funds than veterans like Matt Stafford, Phillip Rivers, and Matt Ryan.
The obvious observation for 2018 drafts in the increased spending on RBs. (Check out my budgeting plan for 2018 for a more in-depth look at pricing for RBs). Coming off one of the best seasons in over 10 years for the RB position in fantasy football, owners will be spending big money on them. You’ll see the majority of the top 20-30 nominations end up being RBs. Nominating these RBs can push up their price beyond what they should be paid for their projected finish.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants – I’m a Penn State grad and admitted PSU homer and I absolutely love Saquan’s upside in 2018. I honestly hope he finishes as the #1 overall RB in 2018. For fantasy football purposes, Barkley is being drafted at his ceiling, without having taken an NFL snap. The hype is bordering on out-of-control and that is a situation you need to exploit in your auction draft. Someone, likely a PSU grad, may end up making Barkley one of the top 5 highest paid players in your draft.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs – The sophomore had a great season total in 2017 and was a great player for the first seven weeks of the season. However, there was a period of games (Week 8 – 13) where Hunt was barely a flex-worthy play. Let the cumulative end of year stats drive Hunt to be nominated early and sit back to watch the bids fly!
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings – Much like Deshaun Watson, Cook flashed in a small sample size before a season-ending injury. Just like my comments on Carson Wentz above, last year’s Cook owner is likely to target him again in 2018. If you notice that owner is holding off on bidding on RBs, a Cook nomination is likely to draw out their RB funds.
Mid-Round RBs – In my opinion, the mid-round RBs found in Rounds 3-6 in snake drafts represent some of the best value in the 2018 RB auction drafts. There are still landmines in this range and nominating them earlier than expected should draw out a few extra auction bucks. Kenyan Drake, Mark Ingram, Lamar Miller and Chris Thompson are likely to have some residual excitement from their 2017 seasons, so use that to catch owners off-guard.
The Cleveland RBs – The Browns signed Carlos Hyde in the off-season coming off a season with a career-high in targets. Then the Browns proceeded to draft the exciting rookie, Nick Chubb. Just when we all had visions of a 2019 free-agency frenzy for Duke Johnson, the Browns baffled us all and re-signed their 2017 team target leader. Both Hyde and Johnson were RB1s in 2017 and are highly unlikely to repeat. Use this to your advantage while owners still have funds and push all three RBs onto the bidding block. There will be owners looking at last years finishes or paying up for the rookie, while the situation in Cleveland is one to avoid.
Rookie RBs – I like to hold off on nominating the rookie RBs in an attempt to acquire them at a discount myself. However, if you’ve filled out your RB slots early, nominate the rookies to take advantage of other owners expecting a repeat of 2017’s exciting class.
2017 was, as a position, one of the lowest scoring years for WRs in the past 10+ seasons. 2018 owners have responded to this by spending more at the RB position. Beyond the top few WRs, you are likely to see depressed prices for WRs 5-25. This is a great place to remind you that price enforcing is a losing strategy. Don’t get caught trying to push WR pricing up this year. There are still a few WRs that could command higher prices based on their draft platform ranking.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – 2017 was a weird season for Jones. His receptions and yardage were on par for his talent and 2017 draft cost, but his 3 TDs were unbelievably low in comparison. Much like Tom Brady, Jones’ name value should still command a big price. I’m not suggesting that Jones is a bad player to target if you want him on your team. I’m simply pointing out that an early nomination is likely to see a bidding war ensue, where Jones ends up as the most expensive WR in the league.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Another name bigger than his production, Mike Evans still commands a top price. Losing Jameis Winston for the first three games along with increased talent on the team is likely to prevent the previously necessary force-feeding of Evans. You are likely to get similar production at a lower draft cost with a similarly ranked WR.
Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs – Heading into 2017, the story was that Hill scored most of his fantasy points on outlier, un-repeatable plays (long rushing TDs and kick returns). Heading into 2018, the story is that Hill scored most of his fantasy points on outlier, un-repeatable plays (long receiving TDs and kick returns). Tyreek Hill is one of the most electric playmakers in the league, but having him on your roster is a roller-coaster ride. For 2018 auctions, Hill is likely to command a big price if nominated earlier than his ranking, likely by the owner who made a championship run on the back of Hill’s big plays.
Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns – As highlighted in the RB section, the Cleveland Browns find themselves with a bevy of talent. This has created a surge in value for their skill position players, but the reality is that no one knows exactly how it will all play out. This is the type of situation you need to use to your advantage in the auction room. Someone is going to pay big bucks for the hope that Gordon can return to his #1 overall WR form. Someone else is going to pay-up for Jarvis Landry’s career stats, expecting his target volume to magically follow him to Cleveland. Since we have no idea know how this team will perform, use your nominations to drag out those funds of the overly-optimistic owners while you land proven talent in better-known situations.
Late-Round WR Flyers
With the perceived depth at the WR position, owners may be sitting back waiting for a few key names to come up at deeply discounted prices. While this is a great strategy, you can force your league mates hand if you’ve already filled out your top WR slots and are ok with a nomination backfiring and landing the player for $1. Below are a few of the players I would feel comfortable nominating and being ok if the plan backfires.
Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams – Robert Woods had a career year in 2017, showing a great connection with Jared Goff in his 12 games played. Woods is a discount target for many owners in 2018, expecting to acquire him for just a few dollars. Ruin those plans by nominating him earlier than expected, when most of the league still has money to spend on their WR3/Flex position.
Devante Parker, Miami Dolphins – 2016 was supposed to be the breakout year for Devante Parker. Then it was 2017. Now it’s 2018 and Devante Parker still has not performed up to the sky-high expectations he’s been given. In 2018, his draft cost is finally trickling down to a palatable auction value, while his opportunity has likely increased dramatically with the departure of Jarvis Landry. Someone is going to buy the hype one more time. An earlier than expected nomination should prevent that owner from getting the discount they are expecting. For more on Parker, check out Players Entering Career Defining Season.
Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman, New England Patriots – The Patriots are always a source for big fantasy points, so it’s no surprise that fantasy owners will target their players. Chris Hogan had an impressive stretch of games in 2017 before going down with an injury. Now, he is being pushed up ranks due to the Julian Edelman suspension. Hogan is a great target player, but if you’ve already set yourself up at the WR position, getting Hogan out for nomination is likely to draw out some money as multiple owners chase the Patriot upside.
Conversely, I absolutely recommend you avoid drafting suspended players at all costs. A player like Julian Edelman is great when on the field, but his cost is still too high for a player that will miss the first four games of the season. Every owner’s goal is to make the playoffs and you have 12 games to qualify. Including the bye week, Edelman will miss 5 of your 12 games that determine your playoff participation. Not only are you not getting potential output, you’re also essentially playing with one less roster spot as you hold him through the suspension. Nominate him and let someone else chase the name value and be saddled with that wasted roster space.
The TE landscape for 2018 can really be divided into just three tiers: Studs, Solid and ‘The Field’. Owners will end up paying big money for the top 3 TEs in 2018 Drafts. After the big three of Gronkowski, Ertz, and Kelce, there is a group of solid performers like Greg Olsen, Kyle Rudolph, and Delanie Walker. My goal for my auction draft is going to be nominating a couple of the hyped TEs from the solid and ‘the field’ tiers that I am not targeting. Unlike other positions where we’re trying to draw out auction funds, the goal here is simply filling other owners rosters so you can land one of the solid guys you do covet as cheap as possible.
Players like Evan Engram, Trey Burton, and Jimmy Graham have the hype and/or name value in new and questionable situations. You should be able to nominate them to be acquired by your competitors without fear of getting stuck with one of them on your team. All of these TEs are, in my opinion, interchangeable based on your personal preferences, so swap the names above as you see fit. This TE strategy is more about the process and less about the specific names.
Kickers and D/ST
One of the worst pieces of auction “advice” I see year in and year out is to nominate the top kickers early. A savvy league may let you get the #1 ranked kicker for $1, it’s akin to getting a participation trophy. No kicker provides enough of an advantage to waste the early nomination. Nominations are far more useful for pulling available funds out of your opponents’ coffers and filling their rosters with over-priced players. Treat the Kicker just like you do in a snake draft: last round.
For D/ST nominations, you’ll see someone in the league nominate the top 2-3 defenses early and a few owners will bid on them. Your auction funds are far more valuable for skill position players and your nominations are best used elsewhere. Simply avoid the temptation to nominate a kicker or defense until you are required to do so.*
*Pro Tip: If your league setting does not require you to draft a Kicker or Defense, don’t. Just make sure you have an open waiver run prior to Week 1. Use those last two roster spots and auction funds to stash a flyer RB or WR in case of a late-preseason breakout or injury. If nothing happens, you can drop the player/s for your Week 1 defense and kicker streamers.