Auction Drafting: A New Way To Dominate Fantasy Football
By Steve Uetz
Neophobia is the fear of new things. There certainly is comfort in routine and what is familiar. I have discovered that in the moments where I am pushed outside of my comfort zone is when I achieve the most personal growth. How does this relate to fantasy football, you ask? I have found that the fantasy draft season nomenclature typically revolves around one type of draft and player value system. However, there is a less played and discussed draft type that I believe will help you improve as a fantasy football player; just like it has for me. First, let’s discuss the most common draft method.
The snake (or serpentine) draft is king of the fantasy realm, as player value is discussed with an associated round # which is often figured by gauging ADP (Average Draft Position). In a snake draft what drafters must do is specifically strategize around their given draft slot to figure out which player(s) or position(s) is the most optimal to target in each round to complete their roster.
The less discussed drafting method is often referred to as Auction; or more recently referred to as Salary Cap or Budget drafting. Auctions require a higher level of thinking and adjusting on the fly compared to snake drafting. Auctions are like chess while snake drafts are like checkers; both are fun but one, Auction drafting requires an elevated awareness of strategy variables which leads to a more rewarding sense of accomplishment when successful!
If auction drafting is new to you, let me explain how to cure your Neophobia.
An auction is a type of a fantasy football draft where every drafter begins with a budget of draft-dollars to be used to construct a roster. Every available player is first nominated by a drafter and then eventually gets drafted by the highest offered bid until all rosters are full. This matters a lot because in an auction every single drafter has the same exact opportunity to draft every player. I’ll repeat it: EVERY SINGLE DRAFTER HAS THE SAME EXACT OPPORTUNITY TO DRAFT EVERY PLAYER.
Auction begins: Each drafter is given a nomination slot rather than a draft slot. The draft will have a specified amount of time to nominate a player for bid and then the bidding commences until the timer runs out during the highest offered bid. Each bid will add some time to the clock to allow for more bidding until the highest offer is reached. Any available player can be nominated for as little as $1 or as high as the nominating teams’ maximum bid; which is the maximum remaining team budget subtracted by roster spots to be filled. As an example, with a $200 team budget with 16 player rosters, the initial max bid is $185 to then have 15 players that can be drafted for $1. It is extremely ill-advised to spend $185 on a single player but you get the idea (I hope). Nominations go around in the same nomination order until rosters are filled up (and not necessarily when all the money is spent, as you can fill a roster with less than your draft budget).
If you play in a $200 budget 12 team league with 16 roster spots the draft will be completed with 192 players nominated and drafted. The average cost of a player is $12.5. If your league plays with Kickers and D/STs, and can draft both positions for $1 each then the average cost of a player jumps to $14. Understanding this can be helpful in figuring out how you want to structure your roster. I do this using budget %, not budget $. Using the budget % will help apply to all draft budget amounts since the same % of money is spent and should be valued to players whether it is a $100, $200, or $500 auction budget. For example, Tyreek Hill being valued at 20% of budget would be $20 in $100 budget, $40 in $200 budget, and $100 in $500 budget.
After you understand your specific league settings I suggest making a budget % blueprint of how you want to use your budget to create your roster.
Here is an example roster make-up blueprint:
QB – 9%
RB – 40%
WR – 40%
TE – 9%
K+D/ST – 2%
For pure drafting purposes, I am one who typically waits on QB and the TE positions, but this blueprint allows for some wiggle room to explore stronger options at those positions while maintaining a balanced roster. Then, however the draft shapes up, you can reallocate the remaining unused % to the other positions of need. With this blueprint you will be able to get the right depth at RB/WR to potentially trade for an elite QB/TE option in season. This will also allow for optimal line-up setting with positions like RB and WR that require 2 or more starters, plus FLEX spots.
Having an idea of how to use your draft dollars is step one, step two is figuring out who to spend that money on and what that cost will look like. With any draft I suggest you refer to player rankings of some sort; from either a trusted resource or even better by making your own. Once you have your desired positional rankings, the next critical step for an auction draft is to create player tiers with $ or budget % values.
This is where the preparations for auctions and snake drafts differ. In a snake, you are looking at a range of players at your pick and ultimately choosing one. In an auction, to be best prepared is to consider every individual player and deciding what their value is and how they can fit into your budget. This is to be used as a draft value/cost gauge to help you navigate through adjustments as the draft market unfolds in the draft. I would suggest you make the tiers as tight as possible so you can navigate through “The U Principle”. More on the draft market and U principle below. But first, here is an example of tiered WR rankings could look like:
The beauty of this drafting format is that it is completely unpredictable. As I mentioned before, instead of a snake draft order; auctions have a player nomination order. The player nominations can happen however the nominating drafter chooses; could be any position and any $ amount. There really is no right or wrong, initially. Of course, there are strategies involving who to nominate and when. More on that later.
Auction drafts can be highly unpredictable for two reasons: 1) positional scarcity increases as the market becomes further established – drafters who miss out on a player or a tier of players may overpay with panic because as the positional scarcity increases, the quality decreases as well creating a new layer of the increasing positional scarcity. 2) Since player nomination order can be so unique, the swings in value may not be fully realized until the end of the draft.
The market establishes itself in real time as more players at a variety of different positions get nominated and drafted. The learned skill as the drafter is to simultaneously monitor the player market, while monitoring both what you and your competition has and needs. This will help you learn when to pay, when to be disciplined and pass on a player, and who to nominate next.
Nominations: Player nominations can be utilized to your advantage for a couple reasons. You can use nominations to get money off the board, to create positional urgency, or simply test the market. An experienced drafter will have an idea of players they are targeting and players they are fading. A savvy auction drafter will nominate a player that they think is overvalued/overrated and only appealing to be drafted at a bargain. Every player is draftable at the right price, right?! Right!
This way if the player gets drafted at expected or greater value, then that is less money off the board on a player you didn’t want to spend expected cost on. However, if that player is going for much less than expected value, then you have yourself a nice bargain. This strategy is especially useful early in drafts. A situational strategy that I find useful later in drafts is to nominate the players that should cost the most money at a position I am already set at.
In auctions the roster construction possibilities are vast. Can’t decide on Derrick Henry or Nick Chubb? Why not draft both?! Can’t decide on one of Akers, Gibson, or Ekeler?! Why not draft all three?!
A common roster construction method is called “Stars and Scrubs” where you spend the 80% of your budget on 4-5 top players and fill the rest of the roster with $1-3 players. This method can certainly work; especially in more shallow leagues consisting of 8-10 teams. In shallower leagues, those $1-3 players can still be quality players! However, I have found it to be risky since I typically approach auctions looking for more roster depth and balance. Since auctions give you the freedom to load up on talent the way snake drafts simply can’t offer, I find it is best to leave a draft with more depth in the case you need to navigate through injuries or bye weeks.
A more balanced approach can be skillfully achieved by tier-based drafting or purposefully waiting to bid on a player until the first 20-25 players have been drafted. This will help you gauge the draft market and give you the opportunity to get some better deals on early-mid round players. As I mentioned above, I have found that “Stars and Scrubs” works better in more shallow leagues; while a more balanced approach works better in deeper leagues. The draft is just the foundation before free agency and trades can alter your roster makeup. Although with the right depth assembled on your roster, there is less inherent pressure to improve your roster especially early in the season.
A simple way to help mold your personal auction values and ideal roster construction is to gauge how you respond during a snake draft. Which player do you tend to add to your queue as the next round begins? Which player are you glad someone took in front of you? Which player makes you furious when they get drafted in front of you? Since the auction draft can be a more personalized drafting method, those little moments can be used to reveal who you should prioritize with your budget and which players you’ll be happy to draft only at a bargain.
The Common Trap
A common trap that can occur in an auction draft is something called “Price Enforcing”. This is when you see that a league-mate needs a particular position, and you try to force the issue of driving the price up on that opponent-needy player by entering a bidding war with them. A player is drafted at the highest offered bid; so two or even three drafters could be going for the same player. There is a very tricky balance in learning when to aim to acquire and when to let a player go; even if the league-mate is getting a deal. Price enforcing or even position enforcing via nomination can get you into trouble. Although the lower % of the budget spent, the less you have to worry about. That is why you plan, make a budget, and try your best to avoid deviating from it.
Now, let’s see some of this information in action!
Example Illustration: QB Market Setting while Navigating the U principle
First let’s see an example of how the market gets set while making use of the U principle. For this example, we are starting at the very beginning of the draft. It is a $200 budget 1 QB league. Team 1 is up to nominate; they nominate Kyler Murray. Kyler Murray who is a consensus top 5 QB for 2021 holds passing and rushing upside among other QBs like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Dak Prescott. Say my ranks are 1) Patrick Mahomes 2) Josh Allen 3) Dak Prescott 4) Kyler Murray 5) Lamar Jackson.
My tiers would be Tier 1: Mahomes and Allen, Tier 2: Prescott, Murray, and Jackson. So Murray is up, I figure to spend roughly 6-7% of my budget on a QB of Murray’s caliber or essentially in the tier 2 group (and in this specific example my strategy is to get someone from that tier). Let’s say Murray gets drafted by one of my competitors for $13; with a $200 budget that would make Murray fit into 6.5% of my budget. In other words, that is exactly the range I was willing to spend. I still have two more opportunities to get a QB in that tier.
Now, let’s say Mahomes gets nominated and gets drafted for $28 or 14% of the $200 budget. I’m still feeling ok, because my plan going in was to get a tier 2 QB. Now let’s say, Dak Prescott get nominated and you draft him for $10! You get him under the 6-7% budget that you planned for, so now you are looking good with $2-4 extra dollars to play with.
Now it is your turn to nominate! In this situation, I don’t want another QB; my main goal now is to get more total money off of the board and especially at the expense of a position that I no longer need. I’m nominating the QB that I believe will go for the most draft-dollars, so in this case I nominate Josh Allen who should land somewhere between Murray and Mahomes but closer to the Mahomes end. Then, finally to close out the tier, Lamar Jackson gets nominated and gets drafted for $15.
I am thrilled with this result as I successfully got the best deal of the tier that I was targeting. Dak for $10, Murray for $13, and Lamar for $15. If I got cold feet on Dak, I would have been feeling the need to be aggressive and slightly over-pay to the original budget to land the last player in the targeted tier. This is where the U principle comes into play.
The letter U has two peaks and one valley. The two peaks represent the highest and 2nd highest cost of players in a specific tier; the costliest could be either the first or last players nominated and drafted in a specific tier. While the valley is the lowest cost of a player in said tier. The idea is to not get caught on the wrong side of the peak of the U by drastically over-paying for the last player in the tier. The valley of tier could be subtle, deep, or may even be flat. Not everyone will have the same tiers or ranks, but it is certainly something to be mindful of especially when scanning what players are left on the board and which are already drafted or undrafted by your competition as explained in the illustration above.
In conclusion, I find that Auctions are the more empowering and rewarding draft experience for a seasoned fantasy football player. Auction drafts are under-appreciated, under-utilized, and under-discussed in the fantasy football world. I’m on a mission to try to fix that. I hope this article eased the fear of trying something new and equipped and encouraged you to try out a few mocks! Or even eventually help convince your home league to make the switch from snake to auction!
Follow me on Twitter @FantasyLadder! Feel free to tag or DM me for any questions or tips on
auction drafts! I’d be thrilled to do a mock auction with you!
Steve Uetz has over 15 years of experience in fantasy football. He enjoys writing fantasy football content and articles. He is very passionate about Auction Leagues. Other than his own fantasy football teams, Steve is a huge fan of the Philadelphia Eagles & Penn State! Steve (@FantasyLadder on Twitter) is very accessible and involved in the Fantasy Football Twitter community! Reach out to him anytime for questions or advice! His primary goal is to help you win your leagues.