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  • Overarching strategy, and individual tactics, to build a winning fantasy football team in an auction.
By John Paulsen
August 13, 2018

Snake drafts are simple, easy to understand and organized.

Auctions are not.

They are haphazard and chaotic, and that’s part of what makes them so much fun.

Want the No.1 running back? He’s yours...if you’re willing to pay. You’re not beholden to a certain draft slot or to the whim of the person picking in front of you. It’s your team and the decisions you make will completely shape your roster, for good or for bad.

Auction Strategy

Auctions come in all shapes and sizes, but for the past several years I’ve played in a league where each team has a $400 salary cap and a roster of 20 players. No matter the shape and size of your auction, some general tactics apply.

I typically budget 90% of my total cap for my starters. This way, I have already accounted for some extra funds to acquire some cheap backups in the later part of the auction. This might seem like a lot to spend on your starters, but these are the guys that are playing week in and week out, so it’s smart to put the vast majority of your resources to that end. Also remember that there will be some starter- and bench-caliber players available on the waiver wire throughout the season.

In most auctions, owners are amped up and ready to spend. Usually, big-name players are nominated first, so there is a sense of urgency in the first few nomination rounds. Live auctions are even more intense. The bids come fast and furious and prices are usually inflated. How do you know if they’re inflated? 4for4's Auction Values Cheat Sheet can tell you. The prices give you a maximum suggested bid for all relevant players based on your custom league scoring format, number of teams, and number of starters by position. Your goal is to try to get players you like for that price or less.

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When approaching an auction there are three prevailing strategies to consider when bidding on players.

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Stars and Scrubs

This approach is to hit the auction hard at the start, acquiring two to four top players, first or second rounders in a traditional draft format, that cost anywhere from 50 to 80% of your total budget. While you need to trust your prices, don’t be afraid to pay a bit more than MSRP to get a guy you want.

Once you have your first few players, look to round out your roster with cheaper players, hoping that your studs will stay healthy and carry you to the playoffs. Depending on how far you pushed your payroll, this may be easier said than done. Owners who saved their money for the middle of the auction are going to be able to outbid you at will, so you have to hope that those owners aren’t interested in the cheaper players that you want. If you’re patient, you can usually find good deals in the later stages of the draft.

This is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. If you focus on getting your studs for 70 to 85% of their true value, you'll be in good shape.

Sit and Wait

Another approach is to sit on the sidelines while the other owners trip over themselves overbidding on every player on the board. At some point, they’ll all run out of money having overspent on their studs and won’t have any money left to fill out the rest of their roster with anything but scrubs.

This is the point in the auction, usually when 60 to 70% of the total league payroll has been allocated, that the proverbial worm turns. This is when you step in with your wad of cash and pounce on value when it reveals itself. It’s not uncommon for good players—third to fifth rounders—to go for 50%, or even less, of their projected value. The strategy here is to build a balanced squad made up of solid mid-round talent. This type of team will be better able to absorb an injury or two.

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There are two drawbacks to this strategy. First, fantasy champions usually have at least one or two studs on the roster. Second, it can be difficult to sit idly by at the start of the auction as a series of very talented players come and go.

Both strategies, if followed to the letter, have significant drawbacks. This is why I advocate something of a hybrid approach, which I dubbed...

The Hybrid Approach

Clever, I know. This strategy requires the owner to play a little defense in addition to offense. The first thing I do is nominate a player that I don’t really want. The ADP Draft Day Sleepers can help to identify overvalued players. Just hit the Bargain Score column until the negative numbers come to the top. Look for a big-name player going in the first or second round. Throw his name out there and hopefully you can cause a feeding frenzy, eating up some of the resources belonging to the other owners in the league. This will also burn a starting roster spot and decrease demand for comparable players that are nominated later. I’ll usually cap my bid at 50 to 60% of the player’s value, so that no one gets a screaming deal.

Then, as the big-name players are nominated, I’ll bid them up to different levels depending on how strongly I feel about them. If I’m lukewarm on a guy, I’ll go to 60 to 70% of maximum suggested bid if I’ll bump that to 70 to 80% if I like the player, 80 to 85% if I really like him, and 90-100% if I love him.

Sometimes, I’ll end up with the high bid on two or three big name players early on. Don’t be afraid to spend a good chunk of your payroll on discounted studs. If you can get three first round or early-second round players for 60 to 75% of your total payroll, you'll be in good shape. Two studs at 45 to 50% of your payroll is also a good start. Then just lay low for a while. Only enter the fray if there is a value player available that fits your budget.

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If you don’t end up with any studs in the first third of the draft, don’t fret. There are bound to be several first- and second-round talents still available, along with plenty of players who are going in the middle rounds of snake drafts. Keep track of who has and who hasn’t been nominated and only bid with a sense of urgency if the last stud back or receiver becomes available. Chances are you’ll be able to get him at a price that wasn’t available earlier in the auction.

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Tactics to Dominate Your Auction Draft

I’ve compiled some of my favorite auction tips and tricks below. Hat tip to former 4for4 writer Tim Ferrell who contributed several of these tips back in the day.

Study Your League's Auction History

Looking at average auction values (AAV) at different sites can be helpful. It's especially helpful to look at the AAV of the site that hosts your league, since the other owners may be influenced by the recommended bid prices provided by the site. But the most useful AAV is that of your specific league. Even if you only have one or two years of data, you can get a pretty good picture of how your league values each position and you can estimate what sort of bid it will take to win a particular player. Let's say that you want to acquire Randall Cobb, and you know that he's typically the 35th receiver off the board in 12-team PPR formats. Look at the two- or three-year average of your league's auction. What did the 35th most expensive receiver go for? That's the starting point for what you can expect to pay for Garcon at your auction. That's not your maximum bid, just a good estimate. If you're trying to put an auction plan together it can be very helpful to know the estimated prices for your targets at various positions.

Don't Be the Auctioneer

This applies only to live auctions, not ones conducted via on online platform. It's going to take you away from thinking about your team and studying what the other managers are doing, and it's a thankless job. If you want to be the best manager, stay focused on the job at hand and let someone else run the auction.

Focus on RBs, WRs and TEs

Don't worry about backup tight ends and kickers. Save that cash and land another player with better upside. Remember, injuries often pave the way for NFL stars to emerge. Having a well-targeted sleeper running back at 2% of bankroll is much better than having a journeyman backup tight end at 1%.

Always Nominate With the Minimum Bid

Owners could open bidding at 5% of their bankroll and then nobody else bids on the player. For all we know, that manager could have landed the player for 1 to 2%.

Calculate the Maximum Bid of Your Competition

Toward the middle of the draft, knowing the maximum the other managers can bid can be very helpful. With the help of a simple equation in a spreadsheet, apply this formula to each team:

1 + remaining bankroll - number of positions left to fill

Assuming the minimum bid is $1, if a player has $22 remaining and has 10 roster spots to fill, the most he can bid on any single player is $13. With this data live on your computer you can quickly see the maximum anyone can bid. In addition, you can see exactly how aggressive each manager can become.

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Feed the Mistake

If two owners get into a bidding war over a player and one owner eventually overspends, then nominate an even better player at the same position. This works beautifully when you want managers to continue overspending. The manager that lost on the last bid will be even more excited to land a better player at the same position. Other owners, while they would never admit it and may not even realize it, have been influenced by the bidding war they just witnessed.

Start by Nominating Players You Don't Want

Early in the draft nominate players you don't want and that are overvalued. Use the 4for4 ADP Draft Day Sleepers tool to find them. These are players that are ranked very high using ADP, but not so by 4for4. Nominate these players early and watch all the other managers bid for them, burning up bankroll. If you can get the other teams eating up extra cap dollars early, you'll be in control down the line.

Don't Wait for the Last Stud in a Tier

If you want an elite receiver and feel there are six on the board, don't wait until the first five are gone. At that point other managers may also realize that only one stud receiver is left, and a bidding frenzy could result.

Start the Run, Don't Finish It

In some auction drafts, there will be a run at a particular position. In the early stages, it's often the running back or wide receiver positions. In the middle of the auction it’s usually the tight ends or quarterbacks. Late in the auction, it can be the defenses. In general, you're better off starting the run than being the one finishing it. At the end of the run, the talent at the "hot" position is usually two or three tiers lower.

Don't Panic If You're Outbid Early

It can be unnerving, nine or 10 picks into the auction, if you don’t have a stud yet. Don't panic, the math will eventually come to your rescue and put the odds in your favor.

Monitor the Aggressiveness of Your Auction

You should know what kind of auction you’re in by the time the first few players fall off the board. Keep a running total of what players are going for and divide that by their total maximum suggested bids. If the number is greater than 1.1 (110%), then you're in an aggressive league (or at least there are a few aggressive owners). If it's less than 0.9 (90%), you're probably in a passive league, so look to invest in discounted studs early on.

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Don't Get Emotional

I've seen managers lose a few bids early and steam starts coming out of their ears. Then, they really lose it on the next few players. Don't go on tilt. In fact, if you have a hothead in your group, you can often bait them into this type of overspending. Be careful when bidding players up because you might just get stuck with him.

Fill It, Then Nominate It

If you're one of the first guys to fill your starting lineup requirement at a given position and if you're strong at the position, then be sure to nominate plenty other players at that position. The logic is simple. Let the other owners spend money at that spot in a potential bidding war. After they burn off bankroll you'll be better positioned to work on your other starting lineup requirements.

Invest in Training Camp Battles

In regular serpentine drafts, managers usually avoid players in a training camp battle. Why burn a draft spot on an uncertain player and then wait five or 10 picks until you get your next one? In auctions, it’s more palatable to acquire the two guys competing for the job. The reason? Auctions tend to be top-heavy. In other words, the top few guys demand huge bids. After the elite players, the auction values tend to drop off very quickly. The two guys in the training camp battle tend to be devalued in auctions so they can be had on the cheap. Yet, when one of the players finally emerges, his value grows exponentially and you come out ahead. For example, say you draft both backs in a competition for $5 apiece. When one is named the starter, his value will be much more than $10 you invested.

Try to Spend Minimum or Near-Minimum Money on Quarterbacks

Steer clear of the top-five quarterbacks unless they're going for very cheap, something like less than 5% of your total budget. The quarterbacks in the Nos. 10 to 20 range tend to be cheap to dirt cheap, and represent much better value. Auctions are a great format in which to build and utilize a quarterback-by-committee approach.

Let Someone Else Overpay for a Kicker

Your goal should be to get a good kicker with a minimum bid. One trick is to nominate a kicker in the No. 5 to No. 10 range with a minimum bid early in the draft. You'll often win the auction as your competition is focused on other positions.

Stream Defenses or Look for Defensive Bargains

Expect to pay 1%-1.5% of your bankroll on an elite team defense. If you are comfortable with using the waiver wire to change your defenses week to week, look for a mediocre defense with good matchups early in the season and spend no more than $1.

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How to Approach 2018 Auctions

Generally speaking, a player’s AAV will closely follow his ADP, so if a certain player looks like a bargain in snake drafts, he’s likely to be a bargain in auctions as well.

Below is a table that should be useful for those owners who don't have access to their league's auction history, based on multiple years of auction data compiled from sites that host leagues.

Using ADP to Estimate Auction Price

As an example, to estimate what Stefon Diggs might go for in a $200 auction, we can take his ADP, solidly in the third round, and see that he should go in the 10%-18% range with a 14.5% as a best guess. So we can plan on Thielen going for $20-$36 with $29 as a reasonably likely winning bid.

Let’s sketch out a roster plan for a 12-team PPR auction with a total budget of $200 and the following starting lineup requirements: one quarterback, two running backs, three receivers and one tight end. Regular readers will notice some of my favorite targets below:

RB1: Alvin Kamara ($56)
WR1: Larry Fitzgerald ($23)
WR2: Golden Tate ($14)
WR3: Robby Anderson ($3)
RB2/RB3: Rex Burkhead ($7)/Chris Thompson ($7)
TE: Zach Ertz ($29)
QB: Matthew Stafford ($3)

Total Cost: $142

That’s a pretty good starting lineup, and we still have $38 to upgrade our starters and another $20 to fill out our bench, assuming we allot 90% to our starting lineup. With $38 remaining, owners could conceivably add a second-round running back (Jerick McKinnon, Devonta Freeman?) or receiver (Keenan Allen, Davante Adams?) for $35–$40.

This is what I love about the auction format. Owners aren't beholdened to the randomness of their draft pick. Instead, they're able to build their teams in their own way.

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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
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