Auction drafting is like the craft beer of the fantasy football realm. For various reasons, craft beer is still a niche market while the mega-breweries still hold their grip on the general populace. In the same way, auction drafts are the redheaded stepchild next to snake drafting.
I suppose the reasons are similar – craft draughts and auction drafts are acquired tastes for the dedicated, but their aficionados would argue their superiority.
You may not be partial to a Hawaiian porter or an artfully crafted IPA, but the superior quality is there. Maybe a particular brew of auction drafting does not suit you –perhaps you prefer a live draft over an interface, or a higher starting budget – but auction drafting is much more engaging, strategic, in-depth, and just plain fun than its slithery brother. The biggest advantage auctions have, though, is that you are not at the mercy of a random drawing for draft position – every player is available to you from the beginning of the draft. No more cursing your luck for drawing the 9th draft slot!
Because auction drafting has yet to catch on with the masses, it gets treated like a little sibling – dismissed often, paid cursory attention by the major fantasy conglomerates. I am here to spread the Auction Gospel. Set aside your skepticism and take the plunge. In ten years, the snake will have gone the way of the dinosaur; you may as well jump on board before the bandwagon fills up. How many more clichés do I have to use? All right, perhaps I am overstating auction drafting’s market share down the road, but its popularity has skyrocketed in recent seasons and I see no reason why that trend cannot continue.
Why write this article? Aside from my affinity for craft beer, I will be focusing on auction draft values this off-season, and this is a good start. This week I will be covering the basics and intermediate strategies of auction drafting to set up next week’s article on advanced tactics.
Auction drafting is basically timed free-agent bidding. Each fantasy team owner starts with a pre-determined amount of money that they can use however they would like to pursue their free agents of choice. Nowadays, standard public leagues start you with a $200 budget, and thus for the purposes of the article we will assume that cap. Set a flexible budget for each position so that you can avoid overspending and being left out in the cold for players midway through the draft. Alternately, do not be afraid to spend money lest you be left holding a lot of cash at the end of the draft. If you have more than, say, 5% of your starting budget left at the end of the draft, you have under-spent for your players.
Like a traditional snake draft, a draft order is randomly generated in which each owner takes his/her turn to nominate players for bidding. Generally speaking, you do not want to nominate a player you are targeting – other owners will catch on quickly and know you are announcing your intentions with each nomination.
Whether you are drafting live or utilizing a website’s interface, find a way to keep tabs on the other owners’ players. If you notice that running backs are being snapped up early, you might want to adjust your budget at the position or nominate running backs to finish filling other owners’ rosters. You can pit other owners against each easily and lay low at the same time. You will also know to draft the position before the rest of the league drafts them all.
Obviously you are not reading this because you are planning to wing it when it comes to drafting of any kind. There are generally two approaches to auction drafting: Studs & Duds, and Balanced.
Studs & Duds
This approach is for the gamblers. Using this strategy means you are going for broke with three or four high-priced players at the expense of your depth and flexibility. Generally speaking, unless you are looking to unload one of your franchise players for some depth, this leaves you with little room to maneuver with other team owners. The Studs & Duds owner has to absolutely nail his/her draft on both ends, work the waiver wire like a tightrope, and pray there is no major injury to the studs.
Pros: Studs are more likely to produce huge numbers on a weekly basis; no question about who is starting at those positions
Cons: Possible lack of quality at other starting positions; little depth to begin the season; one injury away from fantasy irrelevance
Known as the risk-management solution for auction drafting, this approach minimizes risk while also minimizing star power on your roster. Taking the balanced approach gives you a margin for error, where there is none in the Studs & Duds approach. Aside from depth, having a balanced strategy gives you palatable trade chips when injuries inevitably hit the Studs & Duds team. While this is a safer way to draft, it can also lull team owners to sleep; too many times have I been left with useless cash at the end of the draft, and too many times have I drafted lazily because I had the most money at the back end of a draft.
Pros: Good depth for your team; viable trade pieces; more money to spend in the back half of the draft
Cons: Little star power; heavy discipline required to execute successfully.
While not a groundbreaking idea, I tend to hybridize the two approaches. If you can manage to land one or two lesser-priced “studs” and stay patient, you can still achieve balance. Last season I ended up with Jamaal Charles ($37) and DeAngelo Williams ($40) – both good deals at the time – while still keeping enough money to spread around for good talent on the rest of the team – thankfully, because I was able to trade away DeAngelo before he ruined the rest of my fantasy season and still retain the depth that I am typically comfortable with.
This almost goes without saying, but I am amazed by the lack of preparation by some folks going into an auction draft, stupefied by their apparent coolness. I suppose it is because we all have different personalities. There are the casual wing-its, the procrastinators, the dedicated, and the insane. I would likely fall in the latter, fully participating in over 50 mock drafts every preseason (see below). Going into a draft armed with simply the site-generated projections and values, though, is like going into battle with a musket. Dig a little deeper. I suppose that is why you are still reading this.
Listening to a few podcast episodes and reading a couple of articles is a good start; there is certainly value in reading up on material from fantasy experts. But be warned: half the league is likely targeting the same “sleeper” if a certain famous fantasy guru puts them on the map. Dig even deeper.
One popular and effective way of preparing is to group players into tiers. After determining which strategy you will employ and how much money you would like to devote to each position, put all the players and your values for them down somewhere, likely a spreadsheet. Begin, then, to put each position into tiers from higher priced players down to the dregs. Finally, determine how many players from each tier you would like to target and jot that down next to each tier. This allows you to map out your draft from a general standpoint. Say that you want to spend $30 at quarterback, but you would like to draft two good players within that budget. The first-tier of quarterbacks (e.g. Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers) is likely out of the question, but you could very well wind up with two second-tier QBs (e.g. Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan) if you play your cards right.
And that concludes the first portion of this show. Tune in next week for part two with more in-depth and advanced strategy advice.
Questions and comments are always welcome via Twitter – @PFF_Alex