Michael Florio shares the keys to building a winning auction draft strategy for 2019.
Every year I look forward to all my fantasy football drafts, but one stands out more than the rest. It is a home league with many of my childhood friends, but I have two leagues with those guys and specifically get excited for one: my auction draft.
The snake league I am in with those guys is fun, it’s my first fantasy football league and the title I strive for the most every year. But the auction draft is always my favorite. We make it more fun by gathering in person, all 12 members of the league cramming into my friends living room, with chips and extension cord outlets scattered around the room, we all banter before the draft but the minute it starts… silence and mouse clicking as bids increase.
Ultimately, it is great to make fun of those who overspend, seeing reactions of someone who instantly regrets not bidding that extra dollar and all the fun of an auction. Now that I am living in LA, they still gather, just with 11 members in person, and one on FaceTime, but I never want to not be a part of this draft. You may be asking yourself why is this draft so much more fun? Well, it’s simple; auction drafts are the best way to draft in Fantasy Football!
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Buying Into Auctions
In an auction draft, you do not need to hope a player falls to you and the players you end up with are not determined by where you are randomly slotted in a snake draft. Instead, you are in on every player and decide who you deem worthy of spending up on and who you decide to let go to your league-mates. Want to grab two of the big four RBs? Broken hearted Steelers fan who still envisions having Big Ben, JuJu, and AB still on the same team? In an auction you can make all of this happen!
An auction draft is my favorite because I am invested the entire time. I cannot simply make a pick and go grab a beer or run to the bathroom because I am not on the clock for a bit. I am always on the clock until I simply run out of funds! Think of it as a snake draft, where you are potentially on the clock at every pick!
Auction Draft Strategy
Now that you are sold on the auction itself, you need to come up with a strategy. My auction draft strategy is probably a lot different from what you will see from other fantasy writers… why? Because my advice is to throw most of the other auction advice out the window!
Not that others are wrong, but I have found that many experts preach coming up with a projected amount for players and being disciplined at the draft. You do not want to vastly overpay for a player and end up paying for the upside. This is very sound advice, but it tends to work best when playing with other disciplined players.
One thing I learned, playing in my home league was vastly different from playing in a league with other fantasy analysts. In my first couple of seasons playing in an auction league I found that by being disciplined, it meant leaving the higher end players off my team. Not that I would leave with a necessarily bad team, but all the high-end RBs and WRs that make up most of the first two rounds were not on my team.
Instead, I had a team of middle round picks, bench and all. I had a ton of depth, a lot of safe, proven players, but none that really could be viewed as a league winner. Why is that? Because the auction values I had for the top players were in the upper $40 to low $50 range. However, my league-mates were paying in the mid to upper $50 range for those players, with the real high-end talent even breaking into the $60 range.
As I said, I ended up with a ton of middle round talent… but you know how the middle rounds are mixed with high upside players and those safe proven vets, who you take more for the floor than the ceiling? Well, guess which of those two players fantasy owners are more likely to spend up on? You guessed it, those upside shots with very high ceilings. With those guys going for more than projected I stayed discipline and just kept loading up. What I was left with was a solid roster who had a safe floor every week, but did not have the upside to truly win the league.
Sure, I would typically finish a couple of games above .500, but it usually culminated with an early round exit with a loss to one of the teams that simply had a higher upside than mine. Not that my players would never go off, but on average, they were safer. I did not have many bad weeks, but in the playoffs, you would need the stronger teams in your league to not go off.
I will never forget there was one Monday Night Football game between the Giants and Dolphins. I went into the game with a nearly 50 point lead and my opponent had just two players left. He had Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. and both went off and I ended up losing by a decent margin. That was when I realized my safe strategy works if your goal is to have a competitive team and make the playoffs. But, unless you hit big on a waiver wire pickup, you would need some luck competing with teams that simply have a much higher ceiling every week.
Think about it: those early-round picks not only provide a stable floor, but they also have some weeks where they put up video game numbers. And those weeks are much more frequent than a player who typically goes in the fourth or fifth round. I am sure you are like me in the sense that making the playoffs is just a step toward your ultimate goal of winning a championship. Playing it safe will more than likely end with you in the playoffs, but once there you will be fighting an uphill battle.
Instead, my auction draft strategy is to go get the high-end talent you want, even if you have to pay up to get it. Think about it, you know your league better than any writer giving you a general auction draft strategy. If most owners tend to be conservative, then you can throw away what I wrote. But playing in leagues for a very long time I can tell you, that seldom is the case. It is just more fun to have a team with two or three studs than it is having a safe team of players such as James White, Mark Ingram, Tyler Lockett, and Tyler Boyd. Plus, if the rest of your league, or even just most of them, is spending up early on, that simply means that there will be fewer funds when the middle and later round players go. You will still be able to fill out your roster with players you are comfortable starting.
I will admit that in deeper leagues, it is better to be disciplined, but that would not prevent me from getting at least a stud or two. But if you are in a 12-team league like the ones I mostly play in, you are fine to spend up. Even in an 18-team auction, I played in last year, the team that won it all spent up on Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Alvin Kamara. Spend up for those studs!
Now that you know that an aggressive auction draft strategy is the way to go, let’s discuss how you should bid!
Tiers are Super Important
I cannot stress this enough: Tiers are probably the most important part of any auction draft strategy. I highly recommend not only having a set of rankings you like in front of you, but also break the players into Tiers. Whether or not you have realized before, but tiers often tend to drive up the cost of players in auctions.
Let me explain. We all know the big four RBs that make up the first four picks in most drafts are Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara. Do not be surprised if the fourth one nominated goes for the most money. The first may even go for the cheapest, as owners will sit on their hands and hope to get a better value with one of the other three. By the time there is only one left, there will be nine owners out of 12 without one of the truly elite running backs. The other nine will realize this is their last shot to get one of the elite players and will drive up the price chasing that player.
I have seen this happen time-and-time again. If there are say 10 receivers that you value as a WR1, then it is best to not wait until eight or nine of those guys are off the board. Sometimes it cannot be prevented. You go after a player you like but someone in your league is just higher on that player than and drives up the price, leaving you stuck to bid on the last WR1 left. You should be trying your very best to prevent this from happening. Players at the end of a tier typically go for more money, because no owner wants to be left either with middle round talent or holding the bag altogether and being forced to spend up on players later just so you do not finish with a ton of money left over.
This is the exact opposite of snake drafts. In snake drafts, you often hear that you want to draft players at the end of a tier, rather than be the one to pay up for a similarly ranked player. However, with the fear of missing out typically leading to players paying supreme prices, it is always better to draft a player at the start of a tier in auction, rather than at the end.
Be Aggressive Early
I have found that owners are a little more hesitant with the first couple of nominations in a draft. Think about it like this: no one wants to be the person to spend big early and has to sit there while the rest of the league still has money and is bidding. But, if your goal is to win and not simply to have fun, your auction draft strategy has to be aggressive! No one wants to be the ones left with no money, plus I think people are typically afraid of overpaying early on and wait to gauge the room a bit. It’s your job to take advantage of that.
I will never forget two years ago I was able to sneak one past the goal and grabbed Mike Evans for around $30. Evans was not coming off a huge year like he is now, but he was still viewed as a low-end WR1. But he was the first player nominated and no one wanted to be aggressive. As the words “sold” echoed out of 12 computers, there was a feeling of “How did he go for so cheap?” The reason was that everyone else was expecting someone else to bid, but no one actually did.
I have been on the receiving side of these situations, and early on in my auction days when I played it safe, I was watching it and sad that I was one of the league members afraid to click ‘bid.’ The year I got Evans, similarly ranked receivers went for $10+ more dollars. I will also never forget A.J. Green was the final elite WR on the board that year and went in the upper $40 range. If you can pull it off and be aggressive early, that could lead to you getting some higher end talent for a discount, which allows you to also be aggressive on other top-tier talent, or filling out your roster with middle round talent.
Every league is different, but I have found this to be the case in many leagues and being aggressive early on could help you find a great value that you were not expecting.
Building A Roster
I’ve spent so much time explaining how you should formulate your auction draft strategy, I did not discuss how I tend to build my roster in auctions. This does not vary too much for me from snake drafts. I typically will pay up for an RB and a WR, knowing I have a high-end talent at each position helps me maintain a balanced roster.
I typically start RB-WR in snake drafts as well, so not much changes. This season I will also be paying up for a tight end regardless of format. If I miss out on one of the elite options (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle) then I will be aggressive in my tier two options such as O.J. Howard, who I love this season, Hunter Henry and Evan Engram. Just like in snake drafts, do not pay up for a QB. The position is deeper than ever and you could literally be the last team to take a QB and still get a very reliable starter, with more to be had off the waiver wire. Unless each team in your league takes two QBs, there is no need to pay up for the position.
I will typically tend to pay up more for middle-round wide receivers than running backs. The reason being there is just so much turnover at the RB position that as long as you have one strong option, you can stream matchups and hopefully get something that sticks from the options you draft or the waiver wire. Receivers tend to be more predictable and the number one WR getting hurt on a team doesn’t instantly push the backup nearly as much as it does with running backs. Receiver is a more skilled position, where I view running back as more a volume/opportunity position, which is why I tend to pay up more for receivers after acquiring my elite talent.
When filling out my bench, I tend to take more upside shots. The likelihood is that the players you select in the later rounds are the first you are throwing back when making waiver wire pickups. So why not maximize the potential of those picks and chase the highest upside?
Hopefully you now feel prepared to go to battle and have a winning auction draft strategy in place! If you have any questions or just want to further talk auction drafts or Fantasy Football in general, you can find me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
Are you onboard with Michael’s Auction Draft Strategy? If so you need to head on over to the 2019 Fantrax Fantasy Football Draft Kit for more great strategy, analysis, and rankings.
Michael Florio is the winner of the 2018 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year and was a finalist for the 2017 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year. He has hosted video/radio shows, written for a number of print and web publications including the AP, NY Daily News and much more!
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