Fantasy football draft strategy: Auction drafts provide a chance for skill, luck and bang for your buck

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy football auction-style drafts are gaining in popularity. We've got a basic rundown on strategy for your own auction draft.

Auction drafts are the fantasy football version of shows like The Wire or Breaking Bad. They're not really mainstream, and it's easy to get annoyed by the people who are always evangelizing about them at the water cooler. Then you do one for yourself, you fall in love and YOU become that guy at the water cooler, trying to convince the world of what they're missing out on.

Auction drafts are just awesome. They add another layer of strategy, keep you from being enslaved to a random spot in the snake draft order and give you the best chance to employ your Fantasy knowledge at every single moment in the draft.

With that said, if you've never done an auction draft it's easy to be intimidated by the process. And that worry isn't totally baseless - even guys who know their players and snake draft strategies backwards and forwards can get tripped up by the particulars of auction drafting and be left scratching their heads as to why all their knowledge didn't translate into a better team.

But be not afraid, neophyte auction drafter - SB Nation Fantasy is here to help. Below you'll find some rules that can quickly bring you up to speed, or help polish your game even if you've done auction drafts before. Armed with this knowledge, you'll be ready to rock and roll.

Let's get to it.

Tiers or Tears

If you do absolutely nothing else in preparation for your Auction draft, it’s VITAL that you get the players at each position grouped into tiers by how you think they’ll score this season in your league’s scoring system. It’s important to do this in a snake draft, but even more so in an auction. With a solid set of tiers at each position, you’ll know which players can basically be substituted for each other – if the bidding is running way up on one guy, you can comfortably let someone over-spend since you know that there are three other guys on the board who can give you the same bang for fewer bucks.

Assign Value

Doing your point projections and grouping guys into tiers is half the battle. The other half is figuring out how to assign dollar values to each player. You may be able to slot guys into snake draft rounds by rote at this point in your Fantasy career, but if it’s your first auction draft you might not have the foggiest notion as to how much Adrian Peterson is worth out of a $200 budget. $30? $50? $100? He IS the best player on the board, right?

If you want to accurately predict the auction prices that will develop during your draft, it’s important to remember one simple fact – no one can accurately predict all the auction prices that will develop during your draft. Each and every draft is its own unique animal, with everything from scoring systems to drafter opinions to simple variations in when each player is brought up can make things unpredictable in a hurry. But if you’ve got your players properly grouped and know a few simple rules of thumb you’ll have a good idea of what to expect and when to strike when the value is right.

The first rule of thumb is that running backs dominate auction drafts, and the No. 1 running back almost always fetches the highest price in the whole auction. In a typical year, that price tends to be a little over a quarter of a team’s cap dollars – say, $55 out of a $200 cap. In years like 2000 where Marshall Faulk was absolutely going to lap the field he would go for $75 or more. This year, even while Adrian Peterson is a ‘consensus’ No. 1 it’s easy to imagine him having a great season and still finishing very close to guys like Doug Martin, CJ Spiller and maybe a couple of others in total points. So if the top guy isn’t going to run away from the field, something around $56 as a guess for Peterson’s value isn’t a bad place to start. (NOTE: Even if YOU think another back deserves that top slot, the odds are at least 3 or 4 of your league-mates think Peterson does, so he’s the likeliest to command those top-back $).

The second rule of thumb is that in most scoring systems, at least half of your league’s total salary pool is probably going towards running backs. If you start assigning dollar values based on guys’ relative values to the top runner, work your way down to $7 or $8 for the ‘last starter’ (say, the No. 24 running back if your league starts two, or probably down to $4 or $5 for the No. 30 or No. 36 RB if your league starts 3 RBs or has a flex), and that total comes out to a bit less than 50% of your league’s total dollar pool, you’re probably pretty close.

The top receiver tends to go for about 20% of a team’s cap total, and Calvin Johnson’s overall monstrousness probably nets him several dollars more. Let’s start with a figure of $48 for Johnson in a $200 cap league and start working our way down the receiver list to the ‘last starter’ in the same way, with the knowledge that receiver prices tend to fall off even faster. If you end up with around a third of your salary pool allocated among the top 30 or so receivers, with the last guys going for $3 or so then again you’re likely in the ballpark.

Quarterbacks and tight ends tend to be very top heavy – the top QB will probably go for close to 20% of a team’s cap value, but then things fall off pretty rapidly and you’ll see quality starters going for $8 or less. Tight end falls off even faster – Jimmy Graham will probably command around 20% of a team's cap, but high-quality guys will be available for $5 or $6, or even less as the draft goes on.

Kickers and defenses tend to go cheap. If your league’s scoring system really rewards them a top D could go for $7 or $8, but $3 or $4 will usually get you a quality starting D and some go even cheaper.

With all those prices laid in, it’s probably a good idea to tack on a few extra dollars to the top 8 or 10 runners – that’s who everyone wants, and that’s where the money is going to go. Since math is math, that means there will be less cap dollars available elsewhere, which can mean opportunities for the patient and savvy drafter (read: YOU) to exploit.

OK – now we have a good idea (or at least as good as anyone in your draft will have) as to what each player should be worth, so the hard part is over. The rest just comes down to drafting well, but there are a few key strategies in-draft strategies to keep in mind.

A Fair Price is Fine

It’s no secret that you succeed in auction drafts by getting some under-valued guys. With that in mind, it’s tempting to walk into your draft with a mindset of, "I’m not buying anybody unless I can get him for $X or X% less that his value". A good thought, but it’s easy to go overboard with that approach. In many auction drafts, the top guys at each position get brought up early. When it’s early, everyone has money, and everyone wants a stud RB (or WR or even QB, but they reaaallly want a stud runner). That means someone like Trent Richardson or C.J. Spiller just isn’t going to fall into your lap for a 20% discount.

If you wait and wait and wait for a No. 1 RB or a No. 1 WR to go for bargain basement prices, you can easily find yourself completely shut out at those positions. You’ll have a ton of money to amass a fine stable of No. 2 RBs and No. 2 WRs, but when you line that team up against the guy with LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Marques Colston, you are going to lose.

The point is this – you almost certainly want at least one No. 1-caliber RB and No. 1-caliber WR on your team. Your tiers and your dollar values should keep you from getting caught up in a silly bidding war for any one guy, but if a guy you like is going right at his value – or even a dollar or two over – in the early going, feel free to pull the trigger. You’ll have a stud you can count on, and you won’t have blown your budget because everyone is paying for quality.

It also helps you avoid the ‘Last Chopper out of Saigon’ phenomenon that happens when there’s just one top-tier guy left at a position – the bidding in that situation can make a guy go for $4 or $5 more than BETTER players who went earlier as guys who waited too long get desperate to have at least one stud on their team.

Know When to Spend

Once you’ve got a couple of guys you can count on at RB and WR, NOW is the time to get a little more bargain-conscious. The longer the draft goes on, the more money gets sucked out and the more likely you’ll see quality players going for discount prices. Having cash in hand at this point in the draft can yield some real benefits, so keep that in mind as you’re getting 30-40 picks deep in the draft. It’s a balancing act between letting too many quality players pass you by and running out of money too quickly, but you should generally be demanding better and better value for players as the draft goes on.

If you've got a few studs in place and are still able to find yourself with $40 or $50 in hand late in the draft, it's a near-certainty that you'll find some tremendous bargains. It's often worth leaving one starting receiver spot unfilled until the latter stages of the draft, where you can collect a bundle of cheap No. 2 and No. 3-caliber guys to give yourself plenty of depth, matchup options and (if your league allows trading) trade bait for the season.

Nominate Tactically

Most auction drafts have a rotating order for who gets to ‘nominate’ the next player up for bid. "Bring up guys you don’t want" is a time-honored bit of advice, with the thinking that your opponents will overvalue these guys and overbid on them, leaving the guys YOU want on the table and you with a fistful of dollars. There’s some merit in that thought process, but it’s always good to assume that your opponents are at least reasonably smart. Here are a couple of other ways that you can take gain some tactical advantages when it’s your turn to nominate:

Get a great kicker or defense early – Depending on your scoring system, there may not be any such thing as a ‘great’ kicker or defense. But if the Seahawks or Matt Bryant can rack up major points in your league, there’s nothing wrong with bringing them up near the start of the draft. Many drafters will want to hold onto their $ for stud RBs and WRs, so you can potentially get your favorite D or kicker at a discount – or at least a fair price. If someone bids your nominee into the stratosphere, shrug your shoulders and move on, but at least you’ll have set a market price for positions that other guys

Get a second-tier guy you like – Another way to take advantage of the ‘guys want to save cash for studs early’ rule. If you’re high on a guy like Marques Colston – a No. 2 WR that others may not have super-strong feelings about – you could easily get him at a discount early as everyone else is thinking, "Yeah, Colston’s nice, but I’m saving my coin for Dez Bryant". Again, if he gets bid way past his value don’t chase him, but it’s worth taking a shot.

Flex the Pimp Hand – If the draft falls in a way where you’re in a power position with money, bring up the guy on the board you want most and just get him. Even if you've got the most money there may still be someone willing to go overboard for your guy, so as always don't make an insane bid, but the odds are you'll be able to bully other owners off and grab the apple of your eye.

You're Not DraftCop

It can be easy to fall into the role of the guy at the table who is bidding up every player who looks to be going cheaply in order to make sure that everyone goes for a 'fair' price. Remember that you're one guy with one budget, and that your #1 job is to build the best team you can. As the draft enters its middle rounds, you should be looking for real bargains. If one is on the table, by all means bid - but don't spend your time trying to nudge every player that's brought up to the exact dollar value that you think they should go for. Do that too often and you'll find yourself stuck with players you aren't all that excited about.

Likewise, it's not your job to keep someone from creating a 'super team' with two Top 5 RBs and two Top 5 WRs. As we talked about above, you should be willing to pay a fair price for those elite guys, but if someone is just going hell-for-leather and wildly overspending it's not your job to throw yourself in front of the train. Your team comes first.

Follow the Money

The most important information you can have as your draft unfolds is what players are going for and how much money each owner has left. Make sure you've got a system for keeping track of both. If your draft is online and the auction software makes that info available at a glance, great - but if you're drafting with your buddies at Hooter's make sure you can keep up with what's going on. A laptop is great, but even a pen and paper can help you know who's got who and who's got what money left. That's vital information as you work to understand the prices that players still on the board are likely to command.

Draft to Your Scoring System All the advice and pseudo-price projections above are geared towards a fairly 'standard' scoring system - 10 rushing/receiving yards per point, 4 points per passing TD, .5 or 1 PPR, and the like. If your league's scoring system is unique, adjust your player values accordingly. Bonuses for 100-yard days or long TDs, big passing bonuses or high-scoring defenses can all impact the value certain players bring to the table.

Be Confident

Your first auction draft can be intimidating, but that's no reason not to act with confidence. Believe in your player valuations, trust your instincts and don't be afraid to pull the trigger when the price is right. Just like a snake draft, the only thing that matters is coming out with a team that you're happy with and that can make a run at the title. Don't let any other concerns keep you from getting the guy you want if he's there at a fair price.

Good luck and good hunting.

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