No matter how much you know about fantasy football, switching from the predictable, fixed pace of a traditional draft to the more anarchic auction setting takes bit of an adjustment.
Instead of player selection being determined by order, it's determined by demand. And since all owners start with the same budget, all owners have equal access to every player. Of course, once the bidding opens on that first player, all bets are off and anything can happen
The process itself works like this: a nomination order is determined, and each owner in order nominates a player to auction. The owner with the high bid wins the player. This continues until every owner has bought a full roster. Managing your budget to both acquire the best players and maximize value is key.
Here are some tips to help you successfully conquer an auction draft.
1. Make a rough sketch of your ideal roster
Prepare for your auction by putting together some plausible roster combinations and project the bids it would take to land those players. You can't fill your whole roster with elite players, so have an idea of the elite players you want to target. Would you rather have an elite running back and an elite quarterback, or would you rather have two elite running backs? What second- or third-tier players can you draft at a decent value, leaving you more to spend on elite players? Consider the parameters of your league (two QB league? Flex position?) and analyze how you can make your auction budget work best for you.
One of the biggest challenges of auctions is balancing the impulse to jump at perceived bargains and opportunities without losing sight of the big picture. When things start moving fast, it becomes easier to slip up than you might think.
That's why it's helpful to have a written reminder of a coherent gameplan. It will help you maintain perspective. Without that, you might find yourself casting winning bids for players you don't actually want that much, just because they're good values. While a bargain is always nice, not every "sleeper" or undervalued player is going to pay off. Don't be afraid to be aggressive on elite players. In fantasy football, it usually takes A-list players to win.
Of course, you can't become enslaved to a pre-auction plan. One constant with auctions is the unexpected. You simply can't know how much other owners will bid on players or what the market will be for second-tier wide receivers, for example. If a player you projected at $20 gets bid up to $25, be flexible enough to bid $26 if necessary. Likewise, if the price on your elite-WR target skyrockets, be flexible enough to turn your attention elsewhere. Use your plan as a guide, not a doctrine.
2. Change up your nomination and bidding habits
Resist falling into a nominating and bidding pattern. Your perceived tendencies will influence the strategic approach of your opponents, so you want to be deceptive or at least unpredictable, keeping your cards hidden in the process.
Here's a hypothetical of what can go wrong if you make your intentions too obvious:
Let's say you're a lifelong Bills fan, and you're pretty good friends with everyone else in the league. Given that, there have been more than a few occasions where you made your football opinions known to the people who are now your competition.
Let's say one of those opinions is that the Bills should not have drafted C.J. Spiller with the ninth overall pick in 2010. You didn't like the pick at the time, and a disappointing rookie year later, you're even more bitter about it now. What do you suppose your opponents will conclude, then, if you were to nominate Spiller when your turn comes around?
They might think something to the effect of, "Hey, he's nominating players he doesn't want." If you were to not bid a single time on Spiller after nominating him at $1, your opponent's suspicion would only be reinforced.
If you were to carry on for the whole auction nominating players you don't want while only bidding on players you do want, you can imagine how such information would be useful for your opponents. They would know ahead of time in some cases whether you're a threat to buy any given player, and by process of elimination, they'd eventually have an idea of the players you had an actual interest in.
The worst-case scenario from there would be that you would have opponents staying one max-bid dollar ahead of you, boxing you out when the players you're actually targeting finally get nominated.
Mix it up, hide your agenda, don't be predictable.
3. Know your enemies: Pay attention to your opponents' budgets and rosters
One way to avoid getting boxed out on the players you want, of course, is to do the boxing out yourself.
To do that, you need to track players as they come off the board, noting which owners bought which players and for how much. And be aware of what each fellow owner still needs. Online auction draft rooms usually track this automatically, but you as an owner still need to pay close attention to the information and analyze the results throughout the auction. Knowing who is in the market for each position and how much money they have at their disposal is crucial to stay ahead of the competition.
How many elite wide receivers are left? How many undervalued running backs are left? How much can you bid on the last remaining top-tier quarterback? If you're not paying attention to events in your auction, you won't have the necessary information on which to base your strategy and your bids. And when the curveball comes, and it will, you'll whiff. Stay ahead of the curve.
As the draft moves along, pay attention to each owner's max bid and have an endgame plan. If you suspect another is targeting a player you want, make sure you maintain a higher max bid than said opponent. You can figure out the max bid of a team by looking at how much money they have left and how many roster spots they need to fill.
For example, if an owner has $15 and five remaining slots, his max bid is $11. Awareness of each owner's max bid will enable you to execute an effective endgame plan, snatching late-draft targets from unsuspecting owners.
4. Beware of inflation
Average draft position in snake drafts does not convert to dollar values in auctions. A late-round flyer in traditional drafts might have increased auction value because a number of owners have him pegged as a sleeper. They've not only set aside money to target the sleeper but are motivated to land him.
Consider Arian Foster, for instance. While he may have been something like a fourth- or fifth-round pick in most drafts last season, he was still a player whom many fantasy football owners identified as a top sleeper. In auctions, that resulted in owners waiting on their second or third running back, thinking they'd be able to snag Foster on the cheap. Of course, when five owners are doing that, bidders can quickly become desperate. And if the next best running back available is someone like Chester Taylor … well, you can understand why drastic measures would have been necessary and why Foster's price would have inflated beyond his market value.
Of course, Foster panned out and out-earned his inflated auction value. But he's the exception to the rule. So, if you are going to overpay for a player, make sure you are buying a known difference-maker. Don't get stuck overpaying for a sleeper or a late-draft roster filler.
5. Don't be a know-it-all
Every draft has an owner who can't shut up. He runs his mouth, commenting on every player, ridiculing picks, praising picks, always ready with a wisecrack.
Don't be that guy.
For starters, no one knows how the season will turn out. If you have a hunch on a certain player, go after him and ignore criticism from the know-it-all.
Second, unless it's a keeper league, once the auction is completed, dollar values don't matter. The know-it-all ripped you last season for going a few extra bucks on Matt Forte. How'd that turn out?
Friendly smacktalk here and there is encouraged. And talking down a player you are bidding on might be part of your strategy to land the player. That's all fine. Just remember that your fellow owners aren't particularly interested in your running commentary.
Stay focused, pay attention, be a good accountant, execute a flexible gameplan. And have fun.