Fantasy Football: The 2019 Fundamental Auction Strategies

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In snake drafts, you’re going to have a pretty good idea what players are going to be available to you based on your draft position alone. You’ll know with near certainty which pool of players you will be choosing from for the first few critical rounds making it possible to enter a draft with a specific strategy in mind. Auction drafts are far more dynamic. You don’t know where the value will be or where prices will escalate out of hand so you need to be able to adapt quickly.

Without being able predict exactly how drafts will unfold, you’re going to set yourself up for failure if you lock onto any one strategy. This doesn’t mean you don’t want to have a strategy; the opposite is true. You will have better results if you can adjust to the flow of the auction draft, which requires you to flex to different strategies depending on where the value takes you. You can always find some sort of mix among these strategies, but there are four fundamental strategies you can adapt to. The RB and WR strategies are fairly consistent from year to year, but the TE and Showtime strategies are unique to 2019 auction drafts.

*The auction values referenced are for a 12-team league, $200 budgets, QB-2RB-3WR-TE-Flex-Def-PK starting lineup. Auction values may go up or down depending on your league settings, but the concepts will carryover.
RB-Heavy Strategy

What it is: A RB heavy strategy is one where you spend roughly half of your budget on 2-3 RBs that are drafted in the first few rounds of snake drafts. It’s similar to a strategy called Hyper-Fragile RB popularized by Mike Beers where you take RBs in the first three rounds of snake drafts and then focus almost exclusively on the other positions.

Where it works: This strategy falls into one of two categories. You either draft two of the top 10 RBs or three RBs of the top 18 RBs.

Drafting two of the top 10 RBs works especially well if you can get one of the top-tier RBs at a discount and combine them with an RB that’s normally drafted towards the back half of the first round in snake drafts. This sometimes happens if the league is a bit gun-shy to spend a significant portion of their budget on one of the first couple players nominated or one of the top RBs gets nominated later than most of the stud RBs and WRs.

I’ve done three $200 PPR 12-team auction drafts this year and the combination of Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson has cost between $94-99 in all of them, but other combinations are possible too. The combination of Melvin Gordon and Le’Veon Bell went for less than $100 in one draft. Another draft had Christian McCaffrey and Joe Mixon come in under $100.

If you like some of the RBs in the second and third rounds, you can probably get three of them for less than $100. In all three of the drafts I’ve done, some three-way combination of Dalvin Cook, Marlon Mack, Sony Michel, Joe Mixon, and Nick Chubb were available for $100 or less(in one league Michel, Mack, and Chubb went for a combined $67). If you like to have RB heavy teams but you get priced out of the first-round RBs, just wait for these types of RBs to come at a value and hope two or three of them hit this year. If you can get a steal on one of the first-round RBs, you may be able to combine them with two other top-18 type RBs and still be under $100.

Where this doesn’t work: Some auctioneers will lock onto very specific players in a ‘Saquon Barkley‘ or bust type mentality. There’s too many dynamics at work in an auction league to lock onto specific players. This is where bidding wars take place and prices spiral out of control. There’s no problem with spending an extra few dollars to get your guy since you can save a few dollars later in the draft, but you don’t want to hamstring the rest of your team because you spent too much on one or two players you just ‘had to have.’ If you really want stud RBs, be patient and wait for the value to come to you. If RBs are too expensive, don’t chase-just flex to another strategy.

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WR-Heavy Strategy

What it is: A WR heavy strategy is one where you spend roughly half of your budget on 3-4 WRs normally drafted in the first three to four rounds of snake drafts. It’s similar to a strategy called Zero-RB developed by Shawn Siegel where you draft five to six WRs/TEs before drafting a RB.

Where it works: This strategy will work anytime you see a lot of RBs dominating the top portions of drafts which is exactly the case this year. Of the top 16 players drafted, 11 of them are RBs. That’s a whole lot of money being dumped into the RB position early which means there will be deals galore at the WR position. This strategy also works because you can draft multiple players that normally go in the same round of snake drafts making combinations like Julio Jones and Mike Evans(hint hint) possible where not many, if any teams will have those two players in snake drafts. It also works because the WRs are being drafted in large clusters that closely resemble tiers.

Two things happen when players of the same position make large clusters. The first is that at least one player in that cluster becomes an absolute steal. The second result is a discernible drop in prices from one cluster to the next. Even though the ADPs between JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Evans aren’t that far apart, you’re going to get Evans for roughly 25% less in most auctions.

This is pretty much my default strategy and here’s what I like to do. I’ll spend about $120 of my $200 on WRs. That means I have roughly $100 to spend on three to four stud WRs. I try to break it down with a $40-$30-$20-$10 budget. This could easily look like Julio Jones($40)-Mike Evans($30)-The cheapest Los Angeles Rams WR($17)-Jarvis Landry($12). I’ll still have $20 left, which will be enough to get someone like A.J Green if he falls or a combination like Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin.

Where it doesn’t work: Spending $100-120 on your WRs mean you need to save elsewhere. If you do this strategy, you cannot spend very much on your QB(think Late Round QB strategy) and you cannot spend a lot on TE so you’re going to need to forget about the Big-3 TEs. You also also won’t be able to pay up for a RB anywhere near the top-10, but there’s a massive advantage you can exploit in auction drafts that you can’t in snake drafts.

In Zero-RB strategy, you won’t draft a RB until the 7th round which looks really ugly, but in auctions you can still afford a couple very solid RBs to go with your WRs. Think of the Mixon, Cook, Michel, Chubb, and Mack grouping we talked about. One of those guys will be affordable to you($25ish) and you can still follow it up with someone like Devonta Freeman or Aaron Jones($15ish). If one of those RBs hits and/or you find a waiver-wire gem or hit on a sleeper, you’re going to smash your league.

Big-3 TE Strategy

What it is: Drafting Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, or George Kittle.

Where it works: Drafting a premium TE is going to cost you the ability to draft one of the top WRs much less a top RB. You should start your draft with a WR or RB Heavy strategy, but you’ll need to adapt that strategy if you decide to get one of the Big-3 TEs. If you decide to draft a premium TE, you’re going to have to give up that $30-35 WR or RB.

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Adapting from the WR Heavy strategy, you might end up with something like Julio Jones($40)-The cheapest LAR WR($17)-Jarvis Landry($12), but add Zach Ertz($30). You’re essentially replacing Mike Evans for Ertz.

Adapting from the RB Heavy Strategy you might go Ezekiel Elliott($55), Zach Ertz($30), and Marlon Mack($15) or David Johnson($38), Zach Ertz($30), and Nick Chubb($28).

You’re going to have to be exceptionally careful to draft only the biggest values to fill out the rest of your roster and spend as little as possible on QB. I think it’s possible to draft a solid team with a premium TE, but I have yet to see a team I really like that drafted one of the top TEs.

Where it doesn’t work: One of the biggest mistakes drafters make is sinking too much money into one of the ‘single roster spots’ like QB, TE, and Defenses in some cases. As much as we think we know about those positions heading into the year, the players that cost the most in these groupings often become disappointments.  You need to obsess about how to get the best combinations of WRs and RBs since they occupy the bulk of your lineup. If you sink a lot of money into a TE, you’re either going to give up on a stud RB or WR or significantly downgrade your starting RBs and/or WRs as a whole. Tread lightly.

Showtime Strategy

What it is: Paying up to draft Patrick Mahomes.

Where it works: No QB has ever accumulated more than 380 fantasy points and not regressed the following year. Mahomes was still so dominant that even if we assume he regresses, he’s clearly the top QB on the board and it’s not particularly close. Because he is so far ahead, he’s likely to be the most expensive QB that we’ve seen in auctions since Peyton manning threw for over 50 TDs. Just because he’s likely to be expensive, doesn’t necessarily mean he will be expensive. He’s actually been fairly moderately priced in the three auctions I’ve done coming in at $27, $27, and $19. $27 is a bit too much to spend on a QB(but still not so high that it will significantly impair your team), but he’s a steal if you can get him in the $20-25 range.

Where it doesn’t work: As much as the above prices were reasonable, there’s more to the story. The $19 price for Mahomes was an absolute steal, but those $27 could have been higher…a lot higher. The auctions that are referenced are slow E-mail auctions. They’re a little different because the winning bid will be $1 more than the second highest bid at most. Let’s say I bid $70 on Saquon Barkley, but the next highest bid was $62. I’ll only pay $63 for Barkley(or $62 if I put my bid in before the second highest bidder put theirs in), not the full $70 bid. I mention this because I can actually see the bidding history and in both of the leagues where Mahomes went for $27, the high bid was actually $60. All it would have taken was one other person that really wanted Mahomes and we could have seen prices closer to $40-50.

This is exactly what I expect to see as the season draws closer and more novice drafters start gunning for the QB that did things last year on the field and in fantasy that have never been done before. If you can get him for $20-25, then go for it since you can find places to save auction dollars. Jump ship if that bidding war starts because whichever team pays up will have to make huge sacrifices at the RB and WR positions to make up for the sunk cost.

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*The auction values referenced are for a 12-team league, $200 budgets, QB-2RB-3WR-TE-Flex-Def-PK starting lineup. Auction values may go up or down depending on your league settings, but the concepts will carryover.


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