Fantasy Football: The Impact of Nomination Order in Auction / Salary Cap Drafts

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Editor’s Note: Check out all of our Auction content on the FantasyFootballers.com including How to Build Your Own Auction Budget.

The most overlooked aspect of Auction / Salary Cap Drafts is the nomination process. Fantasy managers spend countless hours pouring over player data, rankings, value charts, and listening to podcasts, yet, the nomination process of the draft is boiled down to a few, toothless statements. These “strategies” have minimal real-world application. If you’ve ever attempted to use them, you likely realized they didn’t give you any advantages in your draft, and there is no implementation process. 

Here are a few of the most commonly found nomination strategies that litter fantasy football:
“Never nominate a player that you want.”
“Nominate the over-hyped players.”
“Nominate top-ranked players earlier to get the big spending out of the way.”
“Nominate players you don’t want to draft.”
“Nominate a mid-round player out of order to mix up your draft strategy and get a deal.”
Nominate the top Defense and Kicker right away to either get the best one for $1 or get your league mates to spend an extra dollar.” (This is my personal favorite – insert heavy sarcasm)

The catch with these nomination strategies is that they are focused on you and your nominations. You are just one of 10 or 12 players in a draft. Most auction drafts use a “straight” nomination process, which means you only get to make a nomination every 10-12 picks, severely limiting the efficacy of these statements. 

Before going any further, you must first recognize that your league is in no way, shape, or form, impacted by other drafts conducted on the chosen draft platform. Your draft is solely unique and the specific salaries of the players in your draft are only important to your draft. Once the bidding starts, you and your league mates are the only things that impact player salaries.

The Most Important Nomination Strategy

Write this down: Nomination order has the most significant impact on a player’s salary. 

If you pay attention to the order in which players are nominated, you can fill your team with more “deals” than any other manager in your league. That makes simply tracking each nomination in relation to the player’s ranking the most important strategy of the nomination phase of the auction. Since you only have one nomination every 10-12 picks, the other 9-11 opponents’ nominations are far more impactful in the overall results of the draft. 

Deal or No Deal?

In the simplest of terms, players nominated before their ranking have a high probability of being “over-priced”. Conversely, players nominated after their ranking carry a high probability of being a “deal”, or being won with a salary below their counterparts. It’s important to point out here that “over-priced” and “deal” is relative to the player’s positional group IN THAT DRAFT. However, the overall trend applies to every draft and can be used to your advantage.

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To prove this point, I gathered information from 15 mock drafts recently conducted with real, live fantasy drafters. No bots, no AI, no auto-drafting. The draft data was collected by Adam Segal (@AlwaysAuctions on Twitter). Adam recognized the same problem with Average Auction Values (AAV) that I highlighted in my “Guide to Leveraging Snake Draft Data for Auctions” article, which is that most AAVs listed on rankings are not AAVs but are instead either rankings with descending salaries or AAVs that are heavily skewed by the massive impact of the draft platforms “auto-draft” functionality in their mock drafts. The only way to gather real AAVs is by conducting live drafts with real humans making decisions while on the clock. Adam started running live mock drafts to gather real-world AAVs which can be found HERE. Adam was gracious enough to share the raw draft data with me for this article and the results of my analysis were highly consistent across each draft. I’ve been tracking these same trends for years from my own live drafts, and it remains as true today as it has been for the past decade. 

Digging Into the Data

First, each player’s AAV was determined by their salary from each draft, then ranked in their position group by their AAV to get their Average Auction Value Rank (AAVR). In each individual draft, the players were given two rankings:

  • Position Nomination Rank (PNR) – The ranking of the player’s nomination within their position group. (IE – the first QB nominated is QB1, the second is QB2, etc.)
  • Position Salary Rank (PSR) – The player’s final salary, ranked within their position group. (IE – the highest paid QB is QB1, second highest is QB2. Ties are broken by ascending nomination order.)

With that information, I first compared the player’s AAVR to their PNR. If their PNR was higher than their AAVR, they were marked as an “early” nomination. Conversely, players with a PNR lower than their AAVR were marked as a “late” nomination.

EXAMPLE: in the first draft, Joe Burrow was nominated as the 11th QB off the board, while he carries an AAVR of QB6. He would be listed as a “late” nomination, as ten other QBs were nominated before him. 

Next, I compared the player’s AAVR to their PSR. If their PSR was two or more spots higher than their AAVR, they were marked as “over-priced”. Conversely, players with a PSR two or more spots lower than their AAVR was marked as a “deal”.

EXAMPLE: Using Joe Burrow from the same draft as above, he was acquired with a salary ranking as the 8th QB overall, meaning 7 QBs carried a higher salary than Burrow. With an AAVR of QB6, he would be listed as a “deal” acquisition by having a salary two spots lower than his AAVR.

It’s important to remember that both “over-priced” and “deal” are relative to the player’s positional group IN THAT DRAFT only. In snake-draft terms, “over-priced” is a reach (acquiring a lower-ranked player ahead of higher-ranked players), while a “deal” is a player falling to a later round (acquiring a higher-ranked player behind lower-ranked players).

The 15 drafts produced remarkably consistent results across the board. Of the 1,142 players nominated ahead of their ranking, or early, 64% were over-priced, while only 13% were considered a deal. The remaining 23% were acquired “at price”, meaning their salary was within one spot +/- of their AAVR. On the flip side, 1,338 players were nominated below their ranking, resulting in 52% being considered a deal, having a salary ranking lower than their AAV ranking. 

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DEAL AT PRICE OVER-PRICED
Nominated Ahead of Rank 13% 23% 64%
Nominated At Rank 19% 62% 19%
Nominated Below Rank 52% 32% 16%

To build a winning roster, you want to acquire as many “deal” players as possible. A deal doesn’t mean acquiring a player below AAV, it’s relative to their position group. If you can acquire the 2nd ranked player for the 6th ranked salary, you’ve got yourself a deal! Putting this into terms our snake-draft friends will understand, this is akin to Christian McCaffrey falling to the end of the first round. That’s a deal!   

The Number of Spots Away from Ranking Is Even More Important

The further a player is nominated from their ranking, the probability of them being a deal or over-priced increases. The chart above focuses on a simple above or below rank nomination. If we dig into the distance from their ranking, the results become even more drastic.

In the chart below, you’ll see a growing chance of a deal or over-priced situation as a player’s nomination rank gets further and further away from their general positional ranking. Players that are nominated 10 or more spots ahead of their ranking carry an astounding 84% chance of being over-priced. Even 6-10 spots early creates an 80% chance of an over-pay. Meanwhile, players nominated 6-10 spots behind their ranking carry a 69% chance of being underpaid, and a whopping 84% of players nominated 10 or more spots behind their ranking will qualify as a deal.

Count DEAL ON PRICE OVER-PRICED
Nominated +10 or more 207 24 12% 9 4% 174 84%
Nominated +6 to +10 248 24 10% 25 10% 199 80%
Nominated +2 to +5 489 59 12% 117 24% 313 64%
Nominated +1 198 42 21% 113 57% 43 22%
Nominated At Rank 262 48 18% 163 62% 51 19%
Nominated -1 283 71 25% 156 55% 56 20%
Nominated -2 to -5 743 389 52% 229 31% 125 17%
Nominated -6 to -10 213 148 69% 39 18% 26 12%
Nominated -10+ 99 83 84% 10 10% 6 6%

Understand the Uniqueness of Your Draft

Each and every auction draft is different. It’s often stated that a group of fantasy managers could conduct 10 auction drafts in a row and no one’s roster would be the same, and there would be dramatic salary differences in each draft. It’s important here to recognize the word “average” in Average Auction Value. A player being over-priced or a deal is relative to his salary ranking compared to his positional group in that specific draft. If you played in two different leagues and drafted the same player in both, his salary in either is irrelevant to the other. What matters is how he compares to his positional group. You may have spent more auction funds in one league, but got a deal, while a lower salary in the other league was an over-payment. Compared again to a snake draft, the team that reaches each round never looks as strong or performs as well as the team that keeps finding higher-ranked players falling to them. 

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As I highlighted in both my “Impact of League Settings” and “Creating Your Own Player Values articles, there is a finite amount of funds to be spent in any auction draft. For example, one draft may see a spike in overall RB spending that drives down overall WR spending. In that draft, you may acquire Stefon Diggs (WR5 by AAV) for a salary below his AAV, but if he still carries the 5th highest WR salary in that draft, he’s not a “deal” just because his salary was below his AAV. It also wouldn’t be an over-pay for Najee Harris (RB7 by AAV) if his salary is above AAV, yet his salary fell in at RB11 in that draft. Even above AAV, we would in fact be a deal, because his salary in that draft compared to his position group was below lower-ranked RBs.

Tracking The Nominations

At first glance, you might think that once one player is nominated out of order, it will skew everything, but that is not the case. Because each and every auction draft is its own beast, fantasy managers will always be nominating players at, ahead, or below their ranking throughout the draft. If WR10 is nominated as the first WR in the draft, he would be early, yet if WR8 is nominated 8th, regardless of which seven other WRs were nominated ahead of him, he’s still an “at rank” nomination. 

This is where having your own draft sheet is key. It’s not as simple as names disappearing from the draft platforms queue or crossing names off a cheat sheet. If you want to dominate your draft, you need to put in the work. You need to notate the nomination order for each position. A simple 1, 2, 3, etc. next to players as they are nominated can quickly give you the guide to each nomination’s PNR and if the active nomination is likely to be over-priced, at price, or a deal. 

Conclusion 

It’s common for every auction drafter to get caught up in the moment and find themself in a bidding war. By tracking the nominations and recognizing if that player was nominated early, you have the insight to know that player will likely command an over-priced salary, and can then avoid getting wrapped up in that bidding war. If you are using a budget like I highlighted in my “Building and Using a Budget” article, you need to step back and look to jump in on a similarly ranked player who will be nominated later than they should have been. It’s inevitable that a player you are targeting is going to get nominated by another manager ahead of their ranking. It’s at that moment that you need to be prepared to let that player go once you reach your budget. Don’t over-pay; sit back and find the deal, because you now know how to identify when it is coming. 

Comments

Mr. Miyagi says:

Kudos to you guys for calling it what it truly is. Auction Draft!

Also you need a Auction Mock Ep this year.

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