I have a confession to make. It’s a confession you virtually never hear coming from fantasy analysts, but here is mine:

I…make…mistakes. I don’t avoid all of the busts, I don’t have every sleeper on all of my teams, and I don’t win all of my leagues.

If there’s one aspect of fantasy football that I feel supremely confident in, it’s auction drafts. Maybe there’s one little thing that I would change looking back on an auction draft, but it’s normally a minor tweak. Rarely do I draft a team that doesn’t look like a top-3 team, but I royally messed up a real auction draft for real money earlier this year. Some of it was bad luck, but most of it was my fault. I think it’s worth looking at because I made mistakes that I normally see new auction drafters make.

Here’s a Case Study on why you don’t want to spend too much too early in Auction Drafts:

League Settings

12-team Draftmaster (Best Ball)
Slow E-mail Auction
Budget: $200
Lineup: QB-2RB-3WR-TE-Flex-DEF-PK
Scoring: PPR
Roster Size: 24

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the Best Ball format means that you draft a team and that’s it for the year. The site will automatically optimize your lineup after each week to give you the highest possible score. Whichever team scores the most cumulative points through 16 weeks of the NFL season is the winner. This kind of league eliminates the need for waivers, trades, lineups, or head-to-head matchups that you find in normal leagues. If you lose a player to injury for the year… too bad.

E-mail auctions can be conducted with all sorts of rules for nominations and extending timers after a new winning bid, but this league is a little more straight forward. For the majority of the draft, each team nominates one player every day and each player is up for bidding for exactly 24 hours. The time slots to nominate a player are staggered by an hour, so there are always 12 players up for bidding and one player is drafted each hour between 12:00 pm and 12:00 am. In the event two teams tie with the high bid, the team that entered their bid first wins.

If this is clear as mud, don’t worry about it. It takes a little bit of getting used to. The important thing to know for this article is that 12 players are always up for bidding and teams can bid on those players at any time.

My Situation

The great thing about these slow e-mail auctions is that you don’t need to check on them every hour if you’re busy. You can enter bids on whichever players you like the day before or in the morning and let the draft take care of itself. It so happened that one of these drafts was just starting when my family and I were starting a vacation that kicked off with a drive from New York to South Carolina and then on to Florida for a cruise.

First Day of Drafting (April 17th)

The draft technically started the day before with nominations, but April 17th was the first day players would actually be drafted. The 17th was also the day before we left for vacation. I placed losing bids on Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Zach Ertz, Jameis Winston, and Mason Crosby but I did have two winning bids.

I won Christian McCaffrey for $55 and Tyreek Hill for $29. McCaffrey was a nice price. Elliott, Barkley, and McCaffrey had been going for between $55 and $68 in prior drafts so $55 was definitely on the low end. The threat of a Tyreek Hill suspension had dropped his average auction value after the investigation was announced, but there hadn’t been much news on it for over a month and Hill had just joined the team for offseason workouts.

Second Day of Drafting (April 18th)

The day started with a 13-hour drive to South Carolina where I did the vast majority of the driving. I completely ignored the draft until I got into South Carolina that night. I put in a $36 bid for Travis Kelce who would be drafted later that night. I also put in a $43 bid for Davante Adams whose auction would end the next day. I put those bids in because they were lower than the prices I had been seeing and you want to put in your bid as early as possible in case there is a tie for the high bid. I fell asleep shortly after making those bids knowing I would need to be up early to make the drive to Florida. Things were starting to unravel as my eyes were closing.

Third Day of Drafting (April 19th)

I woke up early, made some breakfast, got the kids packed and ready for the drive (OK my wife did that), and we left on time for the 7-hour drive.

Had I taken 5 minutes to look on my phone I may have seen that the night before, as I recovered from the drive to South Carolina, news broke that Tyreek Hill’s son had been removed from the care of Hill and his fiance. I also would have realized that my ‘low’ bid of $36 for Kelce was the winner.

If I was paying attention, I would have pulled my bid for Adams. There was no way I was going to be able to afford Adams now that $120 of my $200 budget was spent. I also would have known that Hill was almost certainly facing a suspension, which would have meant targeting 3-4 productive WRs in the $10-15 range with my remaining $80 budget. My mind had luggage-kids-driving luggage-kids-driving on repeat though. Not checking my phone meant that I didn’t know about the Hill news, the winning bid on Kelce, and I still had the bid on Adams.

I actually won Adams for $40. I normally would have been ecstatic about getting him that low, but it meant that $160 of my $200 budget was shot with only 30 players off the board. My team looked like this:

Position Player Bid
RB Christian McCaffrey $55
WR Davante Adams $40
WR Tyreek Hill $29
TE Travis Kelce $36

It’s easy to hate this start knowing that Hill has a suspension coming, but it’s not the Hill suspension that makes this team bad. Let’s see how this team would look if we took Hill out and add in a similarly priced WR that isn’t facing a lengthy suspension:

Position Player Bid
RB Christian McCaffrey $55
WR Davante Adams $40
WR Keenan Allen $29
TE Travis Kelce $36

This team looks a lot better and I might have been able to save this one, but it’s still a loser the vast majority of the time. I needed to shift the $40 I spent on Adams to fill out my roster.

You’ll see a person in almost every auction draft that starts hot and drafts a couple of high-priced players right out the gate, like Saquon Barkley & DeAndre Hopkins or Ezekiel Elliott & Christian McCaffrey. If you draft a couple of 1st Rounders in an auction, you probably need to tighten up and start looking at players in the 3rd, 4th and 5th Rounds. That’s how you can get away with drafting a couple of 1st Rounders in auctions, but inexperienced auctioneers don’t tend to slow up.

People who are new to auctions tend to continue the spending spree. They make the exact mistake that I made in this draft and add one or two more players that normally go in the 1st and 2nd Round. Their budget will be blown by three or four elite players by the time 30 or 40 players are drafted and this is a problem because the rest of their roster is going to be really bad. What does a bad roster look like?

Final Roster

Because this was a Best Ball league with a 24-man roster, $180 of my $200 budget was essentially gone ($160 on the top four players and the $20 for the other 20 roster spots). That left almost no budget for my remaining 20 players. I tried to save it with some cheap QBs, boom or bust WRs, and a bunch of lottery ticket RBs, but this is why you don’t want to spend that much at the top of the draft:

This team would have been awful even if I had drafted Keenan Allen instead of Tyreek Hill. This is why you should not mix vacations with fantasy drafts. This is also why you should mentally thank teams that spend too much too soon for their sacrifice to the fantasy Gods and the donation to the league.

Editor’s Note: Dive into lots more fantasy Auction content from Eric Ludwig.