Auction Draft Strategy

by Shamin Shah – August 17, 2020 – 25 minute read

Most of the articles out there on Auction Draft strategy have the following characteristics:

  1. Explain what auctions are and the differences between that and a standard draft. 
  2. Have auction values that are so unrealistic, if you actually abide by them, it’ll completely throw you off.
  3. May talk through draft strategies but don’t really talk through adjusting those strategies during the draft

In this article, we will try to tackle these important aspects of an auction draft, how to use mock drafts to your advantage, and how to go into your draft ready to make adjustments.

What is an auction draft?

To keep it brief, an auction draft is one where a player is nominated, you bid for players and the person with the highest bid gets that player. Most auction drafts have a $200 limit, and if you don’t use every single dollar that is allotted to you, you will be at a significant disadvantage. 

Benefits of an auction draft?

An auction draft allows you to build your team any way you see fit. You can have a top heavy team with 2-3 all stars and fill out the rest of your roster with cheap high upside players. Or you can have a very balanced team with maybe one all star and plenty of mid valued players. The strategy you choose can vary significantly compared to a standard draft where for the most part, you would take the best player in the most needed position available. 

How can I anticipate the auction values of players?

  1. You can read some articles of auction values, but they always seem to be so uninflated and unrealistic that they just don’t come close to what happens in drafts
  2. You can take a look at the average auction draft values at your draft site. For example, Yahoo has averages of all players based on not only their ADP, but also their average draft price. I am not 100% where they get these values, but at least for top players, they are definitely deflated.
  3. You can do mock drafts. This is probably the best thing to do but the problem is that players sometimes don’t join, or they leave early, and the bot takes over and over inflates everything. 

For example, here is a list of players and their difference in values

PlayerAuction value from fantasyprosAverage Auction value on YahooAverage Auction value in 4 mock drafts
Christian McCaffrey$65$75$76
Saquon Barkeley$55$72$71
Ezekeil Elliot$54$62$66
Alvin Kamara$46$60$65

As you can see, these numbers vary drastically and it is very difficult to identify where value lies before the draft starts. So in short, there is no way to know exactly what will happen in an auction draft during draft day. 

So what can you do to be best prepared? 

Here are some steps you can take before and during the draft. 

  1. Do multiple auction mock drafts using the same format and and write down the prices the players were auctioned for (not just the players you drafted but everyone!)
  2. Jot down players that are significantly increasing or decreasing in value. This can happen for a number of reasons.
    1. Players get hyped up throughout the offseason. See Kenyan Drake and CEH
    2. Players start to lose value as well based on news, or most of the time, just by what analysts are saying about these players. See Austin Ekeler and Aaron Jones.
    3. Third and most importantly, a lot of auction values depend on when the player is nominated. This is the main reason you may be varying auction values for players. You can use this to your advantage.
  3. Get your tiers in order
    1. The most important aspect of preparedness for an auction draft isn’t rankings, but tiers. Your goal is to get the cheapest player within your tiers, and the players within your tiers should be similar in cost. Infact, if a player in your tier generally goes much cheaper than others within that same tier, you can very well prepare to draft that player with major value. In other words, you get your guy who you think is similar to a lot of other guys for much cheaper.
    2. Also, when it comes to tiers, if a player is generally cheaper, do NOT automatically move him down in tier. You may see value in players that others don’t see, but tiers should be based on your research and everything you are seeing and hearing, not based on other people’s values. In other words, trust your tiers and don’t let other rankings or values alter it for no reason.

Here are some things you should do during draft day

  1. Pay close attention to the first couple players auction values to gauge how the rest of the draft may go. People tend to compare values to previous players that were already auctioned off. For example, if someone like Barkeley or Elliot get taken for $70 each, it is not likely that the next tier of RBs (Kamara, Cook, Mixon, Henry) will go for slightly less. 
  2. Gauge if players are going generally for higher or lower prices then you have seen in all your research and mock drafts.
    1. If players are generally going for more early in the draft, mid tiered players will end up going for less. In this scenario, a balanced team would make more sense as you will get tons of value later in the draft.
    2. If players are auctioned for less than expected, grab some of these players while you can get them for a good price, as mid tiered players will end up going for more. In this scenario, you can have more of a top heavy team followed by some cheap high upside guys on your bench
    3. If players are going for around the same price, stick with your strategy (top heavy team, or balanced)
  3. Mix in high risk and low risk players. If you have drafted a high risk RB1 or WR1, try to get a safer RB2 or WR2. You will need that balance to ensure your average weekly scores stay on the higher end. For example, sure it’s great to get Tyreek Hill on your team, but it’s probably not a good idea to then get someone like AJ Brown as your WR2. Rather, maybe get a safer guy from AJ Brown’s tier such as DJ Moore or Adam Theilan. Remember, because you are paying similar auction values for these players, you can make these types of adjustments throughout the draft. This doesn’t work as well in standard drafts.
  4. Even out your team between the WR and RB position. What I mean by this is not just to get 5 or 6 of each position, but to get similar value between each position. If you pay a ton for your top 2 RBs to start, make sure you draft more WRs than RBs. Chances are, you are never going to bench those 2 RBs that you just paid for, so playing extra for RBs to sit on your bench is not as valuable as having WRs that you can potentially start. 
    1. If you have a sure fire starter as your flex (eg. you draft three really good RBs), and you will likely not replace that flex player with a WR, then that fourth RB on your bench will be less valuable. At that point if you are trying to decide if you want to pay for a high upside player like JK Dobbins or a low risk player such as Duke johnson, you should go with the high upside pick
    2. If you don’t have a sure fire starter as your flex, then it may be smart to spend a few dollars extra on 1-2 bench players so you can plug them in based on matchup. You may want to get a player such as Duke Johnson, or a James White type. 
  5. Try to avoid targets at the end of tiers. People will generally pay more for them. Once you have a gauge at expected cost based on other players already auctioned, if a player from a new tier is up for auction, try to get him early before price for that tier is established. In other words, establish the price instead of waiting and then having to pay extra for the final guy in that tier. 

Who should I nominate?

There is no 100% best strategy when it comes to who you should nominate but here are some general rules I would recommend.

  1. Early in the draft, nominate players you don’t want and let someone deplete their funds. 
    1. If you nominate players you want for $1, people can easily pay $2 because they have so much money. Then you are stuck either playing $3 or taking a player you wanted for $1 off the board.
    2. If you REALLY want to lock in a cheaper player early, nominate then for $2 and hope no one bites for $3
  2. During the middle of the draft, start nominating players for $1 that you are okay with (but also okay without) and see if they stick at $1. Start doing this with positions you need to fill your bench with. 
  3. At the end of the draft, nominate high upside guys only. The bench is not for boring guys that max out at 10 points/game. 
  4. Another reason to not nominate your bench targets until towards the end of the draft is that you will have a better idea of the types of players and positions you need on the bench based on your starters. If you fill up your bench early, you cannot adjust later.

What should I be doing once most of my money is gone

At many points in the draft, there are going to be players nominated in which you want no part of. Either you don’t want that player, or you don’t have the funds to purchase that player. Don’t just sit there and wait until the next player is nominated. Use that time to identify targets for your next nomination, and to go back and check out who has been going for what price earlier in the auction so you can anticipate the cost of other guys who want that will be nominated later on. 

Final tips

  1. Don’t fall in love with anybody. You cannot go into an auction when the mindset that no matter what happens or how much it costs, I want player X. Rather than that, identify the following:
    1. Players you absolutely don’t want
    2. Tiers in which you want a player from

That way, if a player becomes too expensive, you avoid that dreadful bidding war that could kill your entire draft. 

  1. Which reminds me of the final tip. Do NOT bid up players to screw others in the draft. You care about YOUR team, not other teams. As a matter of fact, the other owner might be doing the exact same thing to you and you just don’t know, and he can stop the bid at any time and your strategy can easily backfire. Once you think a player is overvalued, just let it go and let the other owner have him. You need to worry about your team, and your team alone.
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