• How to succeed in your fantasy football auction.
By Brandon Niles
July 11, 2019

The most common fantasy football method for building fantasy football team is the snake draft. Draft position strategies are key to winning, and with the right plan, an owner can excel from any slot. However, most common doesn’t necessarily mean best, and that is the case here. If you want the best draft-day experience, you shouldn’t even have a draft day. Instead, you should have an auction day.

The appeal of auction leagues is obvious. Anyone can get any player on his or her team. A Dallas Cowboys fan can go all in on Ezekiel Elliott and guarantee their fantasy roster matches their jersey in an auction. In a draft, that same Cowboys fan would have to have one of the top picks, and in many cases the No. 1 overall pick, to get Elliott. Auctions allow fans to be fans in a way draft leagues simply do not.

These types of leagues provide an extra layer of strategy. Briefly, auction league owners start with a certain amount of fictional dollars to bid on players, typically $200. Owners take turns nominating a player to bid on, and then the highest bidder wins. Keeping a competitive roster under your budget presents a new wrinkle in the challenges fantasy owners face, but it can be a tremendous amount of fun. The following are a few ways to convert your standard draft thinking into a winning auction strategy.

Find or Make a Value Chart

If you’re in an existing auction league, finding estimated values could be as easy as looking at the previous year. While player values will fluctuate over time, positional value in a league can often be consistent. With some outliers, an RB1 can typically be expected to go for what an RB1 went for last year in the same league.

If this is a new league, or a league converting to an auction format for the first time, it can be tricky to get an accurate valuation chart. However, the site hosting the league usually will have some resources available based on the auction values in similar leagues, and 4for4.com releases auction values every summer.

Make sure whatever valuations you use are using the same budget settings as your league. This may seem obvious, but it’s very easy to accidentally use $100 valuations for a $200 league. Different sites default to different budgets, so make sure you’re using the right ones.

Putting together a value chart isn’t going to be 100% accurate by any means. Each owner values players differently. However, putting a value on a player based on some sort of outside consensus or historical data can help you identify bargains during the auction, and can help you plan where to spend your money. Of course, updating as you go during the auction is important, as your individual league will be unique in its valuations. You might notice the top backs are all going for more or less than what you expected, so adjust accordingly in real time to stay ahead of the game.

Convert Rankings into Tiers

Tier-based drafting isn’t restricted to auction leagues, and it can be very helpful no matter your format. Segmenting the rankings into different tiers gives you an idea of what you can and can’t afford, and helps you decide where to spend the bulk of your money. Going into the auction with your tiers and value chart already prepped and ready gives you a leg up on the competition and will help you avoid panicking during the auction and forgetting about the most important part of fantasy football: value.

The following is an example of how I tier the first several groups of players in each position group.

Ask 10 fantasy owners to tier their rankings and you’ll get 10 different sets of tiers. Obviously, things will change between now and the start of the season, but starting with this type of legwork allows me to walk into an auction prepared for how I value each group of players and allows me to track the value different players. For example, if Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey both go for 40-50% of the total budget, then I can expect similar values to be spent on the other players in that first tier. Likewise, if someone nominated a player from my second tier, and the price skyrockets, I can step out of the race and let someone else overpay for a sub-tier player. In an auction, I try to acquire at least one first-tier back and receiver, while watching for value at the other positions.

Assign Percentages

Now comes the fun part. After you have tiers set up and some approximate values for each player, you can start planning how much you want to spend at each position. First, it’s best to break out your starters and backups, then divvy up how much you want to assign to each roster spot.

When I’m answering questions about auction leagues, the first question I get is always, “How much should I spend on my starters?” Well, depth is nice, but starters win your league. There’s no point in having two stud quarterbacks if you can only use one each week. Therefore, much like in a standard draft where filling out the bulk of your starting lineup before trying to mine value in the later rounds is a waste of capital, so, too, is spending top money on backups in an auction. I usually recommend spending somewhere between 80% and 90% of your total budget on your starting lineup, with the bulk of that going to a couple of tier one players at the running back or wide receiver positions.

Here’s an example of how I might value my lineup heading into an auction draft in a typical league with 16 roster spots:

Notice I don’t leave any money on the table. There’s no reason not to spend your entire budget, as waiver acquisitions typically are run from a separate pool of fictional money or by different rules in most leagues. Check your league rules, but in most leagues there’s no incentive to not spending your entire budget.

I might adjust on the fly if an elite quarterback or tight end ends up going below market price, but, generally, I don’t invest heavily in either of those two positions. In a 12-team league, there simply won’t be much appetite to spend big money on a backup quarterback. If I end up getting someone ranked outside the top 12 like Philip Rivers or Dak Prescott, I’m going to be perfectly happy spending that saved money elsewhere on my roster. For a tight end, I’d really only consider extending my budget for the top-three players. If I don’t bite on one of them, I’m definitely going to look for value on a player like David Njoku or Trey Burton late in the auction.

Sometimes it’s fun to nominate elite kickers and defenses early in the draft to force other owners to pay for them. Open up with a minimum bid on the top kicker on the board. If you win, you’re within budget. If you lose, you just forced someone to spend $2 or more on a kicker. There’s no reason to use more than the minimum on a kicker and defense. Most teams won’t roster two, and both positions are highly streamable.

Be Patient

Here’s what you may not know going into your first auction draft. The money goes quick. Seriously. Fantasy fanatics are much like any other sports fanatics in that they zero in on players they fall in love with and overvalue them to a fault. This is why you’ll see that Dallas Cowboys fan spend 60% of their budget on Elliott, leaving them scrambling to fill out the rest of their roster. They’ll be trying to mine value in the same way that you are, but they won’t have the opportunity to bid on valuable second-tier receivers that may be undervalued by the time they get called up to auction. There’s no worse feeling than looking at an empty budget and two stud players while all the second-tier options are going for pennies on the dollar. It’s good to have elite players, but don’t overpay, or at least wait until your tier-one players are starting to run low.

Having players broken out into tiers is what helps you be patient. If you see three running backs fly off the board at higher prices than your budget and your valuation sheet, you may be inclined to panic and jump on the next available RB1. However, if you have your rankings tiered and your roster spots assigned values, you can keep track of your available options and let others overspend.

At the end of every auction, there is invariably a slew of quality players available for minimum or near-minimum bids. This is one of the key reasons I put 90% of my budget into my starters. After all the key players are picked up early and all the money is spent, several owners will have very little to spend and will be doing exactly what you’re doing to fill out the roster. Often, you can win the 20th-ranked quarterback on your board with a minimum bid. Sam Darnold is currently ranked 23rd in our rankings. I have no problem going into the season with Darnold as my backup quarterback.

Be patient with each individual player as well. There’s no reason to bid up any more than in small increments. You might want to usher along the auction, but you never know how other owners value the player. You could be much closer to their top value than you think and wind up cheating yourself out of a bargain by raising the bid by too much. A minimum or close-to-minimum increase per bid is sufficient.

The Counter Strategy

In most auction formats, owners take turns nominating players to come up for auction. Often the nominated players go in a similar order to where they’re drafted, so the best players are usually put up first. Likewise, many fantasy owners who want to make sure they get a certain player they’re targeting will put them out first while they have a full budget so they can guarantee the acquisition. This is a rookie mistake.

While it’s fine to nominate players you like and want, a more effective early auction strategy is to nominate players who are likely to garner a lot of attention but are not really on your radar. This will allow you to sit back and let other owners eat up their budget early on with players you weren’t very interested in anyway. If no one else is interested in that player, you might find surprising value following this strategy. Maybe you start with Tom Brady and realize no one is biting on him. So, you bid up to your budget number on him, and you end up getting lucky. Now the position is filled and you’re still on budget. Or, you get outbid and force someone else to spend more than you think the player and the position are worth. Win-win.

Know Your Leauge

Try to gleam as much as you can about your leaguemates to get some sort of an idea about how they might bid. I have a league where most of the participants are University of Oregon fans. I always know players from the Pac-12 are going to go for a lot more than their expected value, and I plan for it. My first nomination last year was Marcus Mariota, who went for four times his expected price of $3 in a $200 league. If you have any kind of knowledge at all about your leaguemates, use it against them when nominating and bidding on players. Part of your auction strategy is trying to influence other owners to use as much of their budget as possible on players in whom you’re less interested.

Have Fun

Don’t forget to have fun. This is a chance to dig into the weeds on player value and roster construction. It’s an opportunity for extreme gamesmanship. It’s a chance to test your fantasy knowledge against your peers, and to have a fantastic time trash-talking the entire way through it. You think Joe paid way too much for Kirk Cousins? Let him have it. Did Janet blow her entire bankroll on three Packers, leaving herself unable to cover her bye week with anyone above a minimum bid? Call her “cheesehead” all season. And, of course, gloat as loudly as you can when you steal Dede Westbrook for a minimum bid. All bets are off in an auction format, as owners can really dig themselves into a hole, and you should relish every second of it.

Every fantasy draft is an event, but there’s nothing quite like an auction to bring out the best—or worst—in you. Own your auction. Own your season.

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