Winning a Fantasy Football Auction Draft

Before you get started on this post, make sure you’ve read:

The best part about auction drafting is that it takes all the good parts about fantasy football (football, math, beating your friends at things) and keeps the same amount of football while adding way more of the math as a way to get more of the beating your friends. It’s an adventure.

Everyone has the same dollar amount and the built-in price estimator technology is going to be pretty accurate in determining what players will go for, so rest assured you can still draft a pretty decent team even if you have no idea what you’re doing. But that’s not the SpreeGoogs way.

What is? Glad you ask.

This is how winners draft

This is how winners draft

First, I take the annual projections from eight different fantasy resources (Yahoo, NFL.com, ESPN, CBSSports, FFToolbox, FFtoday, Walter Football and FantasyPros) and average them into one final projection. I used the same eight sites last year and at the end of the season, I input the actual points scored for each player and determined each site’s prediction/reality correlation. For each position this year, I weighted the sources based on last year’s accuracy, so the most accurate running back source from last year (FFToday) has its projection counted eight times and the least accurate (NFL.com) counts once.

After I have an average point total for each player, I look up how many players at each position are getting drafted on average and then remove the value of the next best player. For example, if 55 wide receivers are getting drafted, I subtract the 56th highest average point total from all WR averages, this gives me a marginal value for every player, basically it’s how many point you’re getting beyond what would be available on the waiver wire.

After that, I add up all the marginal points for starting players (In my league, the top 12 quarterbacks, 24 running backs and 36 wide receivers and 12 tight ends) and divide by 2160 (180 for a team to buy its starters times 12 teams). That gives me a points/dollar constant. I divide each player’s marginal points by that constant and I have my own value for each player. It works pretty well.

You probably don’t do as much spreadsheeting as me, and that’s OK, because I’m about to take all of what I learned and drop some knowledge on you. Here are some free tips to dominate your auction draft in 2014:

  • This is what a first rounder looks like.

    This is what a first rounder looks like.

    This year’s auction draft is about knowing what to do about quarterbacks and tight ends, I’ve got a positional guide after this list to help you with that one

  • If you didn’t read last year’s tips, you should be nominating a kicker in the first round. You’re only going to spend one dollar on a kicker, you might as well either a) get the one you want for $1 or b) make someone else pay $2 to get their kicker
  • Here’s a bonus nomination tip: after the kicker in round one, nominate a defense in the second, the logic is identical and people will pay something like $5 to take Seattle’s defense, even though the NFL just changed the rules to make sure they can’t repeat what they did last season
  • You don’t need to do any pre-draft math, but you should come in with a few players you like more than everyone else, especially at running back
  • Like those players, but don’t get married to them; if you get lost in a one-upping battle with someone who has also determined to get a specific player you like, you’ll definitely overpay
  • When you nominate Adrian Peterson, don’t start the bidding at $1; if you don’t want him, you can still throw him out for $40 without worrying about getting stuck with him and you’ll save everyone extra time
  • You’ll look like an idiot if you draft Sam Bradford. Even for $1 as a backup. You’ll feel like an jackass if you draft Josh Gordon, but he might appeal his suspension and get some playing time in there somewhere. You don’t want to rely on that though. He’s an elite player who you could get for $1, but don’t
  • DO feel good about buying Ray Rice at a discount price. He’s not super elite like he used to be, but he’s still a great running back and you’ll miss him for 4 weeks, but there’s certainty that he’ll be back in week 5
  • Last year’s projections were the most accurate for wide receivers in general, that means they’re the most predictable position. If you read that and think that you should load up on WRs to maximize your team’s reliability, then do it. If you read that and think that you should buy bargain WRs because you know what you’re getting there and you’d rather put your money into high-upside RBs, then do that. I tend to agree more with the first interpretation, but that’s just an opinion

Here is a guide to each position (defense and kicker excluded because projections at those positions are extremely unreliable):

Running Backs

This is what $50 looks like. That's right, the Detroit defense is worth a quarter of your budget.

This is what $50 looks like. That’s right, the Detroit defense is worth a quarter of your budget.

Just like every year, this is where you will win a draft. You’re going to spend the most money here and these players will get you the most points, so do some pre-draft reading. The top eight or nine RBs who will cost $50 or more this year, so you need to either find a handful of cheaper options that you trust an awful lot or get ready to deal with spending a quarter of your budget on your cornerstone player.

I’m a fantasy player who likes to draft a balanced team more than stars/scrubs, but this year is kind of different. My usual strategy is to spend about $90 on three running backs, all in the $30 range. This year, I think it’s a different animal. The second tier of starters (RB2s) is pretty shallow, so I’d end up with more points for the same dollars if I bought one of the backend top horses and then two equal-value players near the end of the second tier of players. Overall, I think you’re great to get a running back in your 7-9 range and then two in your 18-22 range.

If you like to go stars/scrubs, buy Jamaal Charles and then start him with Bishop Sankey. That’s not a bad strategy and Yahoo average costs puts those two players combined at $75. For the same Yahoo average money, plus a better chance to maximize matchup opportunities and minimize injury risk, you can get Giovani Bernard, CJ Spiller and Reggie Bush. I’d rather have that.

In general, you should know your tiers here and you budget based on them. My usual $30, $30, $30 strategy is pretty useless based on average costs of players, but a $50, $20, $20 lineup costs the same and fits this pool of players way better.

Quarterbacks

You could really buy this guy for $5.

You could really buy this guy for $5.

This strategy is easy, you either want to give up a lot of money for Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or you don’t. You can expect to pay $40ish for any of those three OR something like $15 for 4-12 QBs. My marginal value for Manning, Rodgers and Brees is three times higher than the value I put on my fourth QB (justifying, three times the cost), but the difference between QB4 and QB12 is only 15 points for the season, basically a point per week.

Matthew Berry would say in a snake draft you either want to be the first player to take a quarterback or the last. In an auction draft, you need to come in expecting to pay $40-$45 for a good one or $10 for anything else. It’s really that simple.

As usual with quarterbacks, take a backup eventually. He really doesn’t matter and isn’t worth more than about $2, but if your starter goes down, you don’t want to be waiver wiring Ryan Fitzpatrick do you?

Wide Receivers

Get ready for a surprise, but Calvin Johnson is still incredible and will still cost incredible money (something around $55). He’s alone at the top, but there’s a tier of other WRs who are almost as good and slightly more affordable: Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, AJ Green and Brandon Marshall will cost about $5-$15 less.

After that, WR kind of drops off, so if you’re in the camp that I described above who want to splurge on the reliable WRs, buy one of those. If you’re trying to load up on second-tier WRs, good news: there are about 15 solid WR2s this year that will go from $20-$35. The WR strategy is just like the running backs, you can go stars/scrubs or balanced, but don’t just pick a tier strategy, pick specific players in those tiers.

Just like the RBs, I’ll give you an example of what your money can get you. For a Yahoo average of $75, you can get Dez Bryant, Torrey Smith and Kendall Wright. For the same Yahoo average of $75, you can also get Andre Johnson, Pierre Garcon and Larry Fitzgerald. It’s a bit dicier, but I’d still take quantity over quality.

Tight Ends

His contract says TE, but he deserves WR money in an auction draft.

His contract says TE, but he deserves WR money in an auction draft.

In the same way that wide receiver strategy looking like running back strategy, tight ends look like quarterbacks. There are three worth splurging on (Graham, Gronk, Thomas) and then a whole lot take-your-pick after that. Graham is better than the field by more than Manning is better than the field, but his cost is also way more absurd. Graham is going for $53 on Yahoo, which is a clean $50 more than the last starting TE.

This position is really simple, you either buy Jimmy Graham and get a superstar WR or you cough up a few bucks and roster an extra top-level WR or RB.

In the biggest of big pictures, there is one elite TE, six elite WRs, three elite QBs and something like eight or nine elite running backs. That’s about 20 players. You should decide before the draft if you’re going to buy two or if you’re going to get one and better depth.

I’ll close with a piece of advice I gave in my original auction strategy: think about the first two rounds of the snake draft you’re used to. If you could pick at any position, who would you take? Is it worth it to take the best player overall and have to settle for Doug Martin as the next-best player? Would you rather have the 1/2 wraparound picks where you don’t really get the strongest top dog, but you get two of them?

Whatever your optimal strategy would be there, map it to your auction strategy. If you’d go RB/WR, then buy an expensive RB and a top-six WR. Same with RB/RB. Same with anything.

Good luck to you, happy auctioning. And for heaven’s sake, don’t wait until there’s a second left to one-up bid someone.

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