One reason I prefer auctions to drafts -- in addition to the fact that they're just a lot more fun -- is that I feel I can come very close to building my team before the auction even starts. While it's possible to narrow down to a pool of players for each pick in a draft, you can never be sure which players will be available until it's your turn. In auctions, you can get literally any player you want. Auctions give you the freedom to decide you want two of your top-seven ranked backs, and then execute that strategy. That's why I spend the weeks leading up to an auction not only studying the players I want to target, but also crafting a budget and appropriating a certain dollar amount for each position, which will allow me to field the team I built beforehand while also giving me the flexibility to adjust to the market.
The benefits of budgeting for an auction are clear. Let's say you know that no matter what, you're getting two top-15 backs, at least one of whom would go in the first round of a traditional draft. If that's an immutable part of your strategy, then you know you need to set aside $75 to $85 for your starting running backs. If you know you're going to spend somewhere in that range on backs, you can avoid the nerves that will undoubtedly affect some of your leaguemates when the best backs start coming off the board. Even if you don't get Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster, you can rest comfortably knowing that there are still a handful of backs that fit your strategy and your budget.
Of course, you cannot plan everything perfectly, and you have to be ready to adjust your budget based on how the market takes shape. The more sound your budget heading into the auction, the easier you'll be able to make changes on the fly when opportunities are presented. However, creating an auction budget isn't as simple as doling out X number of dollars to this position and Y number of dollars to that one. If you want your budget to be actionable, while also granting you enough leeway to change the script, you'll need to incorporate the following strategies.
1. Allocate an overall dollar amount for stars. Start off your budgeting process by deciding how much money you want to spend on each starting position. But as we discussed in the draft strategies column on taking wide receivers in the first two rounds, remember that receiving yards and touchdowns count just the same as rushing yards and touchdowns, and the top receivers are putting up yardage and touchdown totals equal to their counterparts in the backfield. Maybe you'll decide that you want to spend $80 on your starting running backs and $50 on your starting receivers, and that's great. We know, though, that fantasy football is won with star players. You should also set aside a certain amount of money specifically for studs at back and receiver who give you the flexibility to transfer money between the positions. For example, perhaps a receiver like Dez Bryant or A.J. Green gets nominated early in the auction. Both are stud players who would go inside the top 15 or 16 picks in a draft. But with running backs at a premium, your fellow owners might be skittish about spending $30 to $35 on a receiver early. Your budget needs to give you the flexibility to take advantage of this potential bargain. By setting aside a specific amount of money for studs, you'll have the confidence to divert from your position-by-position budget without compromising your pre-auction plans.
2. The format is different, but the sentiment's the same: Spend wisely on a quarterback. I'd argue that getting a quarterback bargain is even more important in the auction format. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees will end up going for somewhere in the $40 to $45 neighborhood. That's Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson territory and could encroach on Jamaal Charles and C.J. Spiller, too. Peyton Manning and Cam Newton are in the mid-$30s. Meanwhile, if you go after the Colin Kapenericks, Russell Wilsons, Matthew Staffords and Tony Romos, you can spend as little as $10 to $15 on a guy who could easily perform at the level of a top-five quarterback. If you spend extravagantly on a quarterback, you simply won't have the funds to spend top dollar on running backs and receivers. The second- and third-tier quarterbacks are even bigger bargains in auctions, where you can get them at one-fourth the price of Rodgers and Brees, than they are in drafts, where you'd still have to use a sixth- or seventh-round pick on them.
3. Don't worry too much about budgeting for your bench. In general, you should really only plan a budget for your starting positions. After that, you should know how many backups you want at each position, but you don't need to be rigorous about budgeting $30 for your bench running backs, $25 for your bench receivers, and so on. You should always think of your bench as a place to A) get some depth at back and receiver and B) swing for the fences with high-upside players. Given those two goals, you don't want to hamstring yourself with a budget that demands you spend a certain amount on each position. This is where you should be hunting for bargains and reward. As long as you make sure you've allocated enough money to fill your bench with something more than just $1 players, you'll be fine.