You’re about to learn nine ways to win your Fantasy Football auction draft every single time.
1) Understand Your Waiver-Wire
Wait, why am I talking about the waiver-wire in an article about winning your auction draft?
The amount you should be spending on top talent in your draft is determined by how deep your league is. And how deep your league is can be determined by asking, “Can I pick up a starting-caliber player at this position at 12:45am Eastern Time Sunday morning?” In a 16-team league with large lineups, drafting depth has significantly more value than a shallow 10-team league.
I call this the Frank Gore conundrum. For nearly a decade, Frank Gore was the height of consistent fantasy mediocrity. He was good, not great. You could start him and get 7-10 points, just about every week. It wasn’t sexy, but in a deep league, it had value.
But, in a shallow 10-team-league Frank Gore had no value all those years. He shouldn’t be drafted in shallow leagues because you can easily replace that production on the waiver-wire. Meanwhile, in deep leagues, he was consistently undervalued because you couldn’t easily replace that production on the waiver-wire.
EVERYTHING about your draft depends on how easily you can replace that production on your waiver-wire. Study your waiver-wire people.
2) Only Pay $1 For A Kicker (or don’t draft one)
But, Justin Tucker? NO! STOP IT!
Go back to the waiver-wire rule above. If you can pick up a decent starter on Sunday morning in your league, the position has no value.
I will frequently nominate the big-name kickers for $1 when it’s my turn to pick a player in my auction leagues. If somebody outbids me, they’re an idiot who just wasted valuable resources on a kicker. If they don’t outbid me, I just picked up a decent kicker for $1. Problem solved.
3) Only Pay $1 For A Defense
Defenses have slightly more value than kickers do. The problem is that the prognosticators are reliably terrible at predicting which defenses will be dominant each year. They virtually NEVER get it right. If the predictions started becoming accurate, I’d be willing to pay more for a defense. But, they’ll never become accurate, so it’s not something you need to worry about.
Defenses are also best streamed. Meaning their value is more determined by how crappy the offense they’re playing each week is than by simply being a dominant defense. When you pay big money for a defense, you lose the ability to stream (or else you’ll be taking up multiple roster spots on defenses).
Nominate defenses with a great week 1 matchup for $1, and if you get them, great. If not, that’s great too. Don’t sweat it unless you’re in an extremely deep league where getting a defense on the waiver-wire is impossible (always go back to rule 1 when determining player value).
4) Draft Lottery Tickets, Not Handcuffs
It’s very tempting to draft a stud RB’s backup. If the RB goes down, you’re a genius. And as you inch towards the playoffs, owning handcuffs becomes progressively more valuable. Mainly since many stud RB’s get sat the last couple of weeks for preservation.
But, drafting RB handcuffs is a terrible mistake.
Once bye-weeks start happening en-masse, you’re almost assuredly going to have to drop the handcuff to field a team. If the stud RB didn’t get hurt in the first three weeks of the season, your bet didn’t payout, and you wasted a draft pick / roster spot.
Pretend you drafted a high-ceiling high-floor player instead. Somebody where we weren’t sure if they were going to get a lot of playing time, but they’d have real value if they did. You’ll know week 1 or 2 whether that bet paid off, and if it didn’t, you could drop the player.
I can’t overstate how valuable being able to drop a couple of players after week one is. Players you’ve never heard of will break out weeks one and two. Sometimes these players are league-winners. If you don’t have any spots on your bench because you’re waiting for your handcuff to become valuable, you’re doing your team a massive disservice.
5) Decide if You’re a QB-Streamer
There was a brief period, where if your name wasn’t Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees; you weren’t fantasy relevant at the QB position. But then quarterbacks started running the ball, and they broke the position. Now QB 5 through QB 25 put up comparable fantasy numbers with a favorable matchup.
This advice is irrelevant in 2QB Superflex leagues where QB’s have a lot of value. But, in a 1-QB league, does it make sense to pay more than $1 for a QB? You could argue the best strategy is to play matchups and stream the position all year long vs. dumping resources into it during the draft. Making all QB’s worth $1.
Or, you could argue that Pat Mahomes is likely to give you a surefire positional advantage and that it’s worth paying up for him. I’m not telling you which path to choose; I’m just saying you should make the choice before entering the draft. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending $17 on Ryan Tannehill for no reason.
6) Create a (Do Not Draft) List
A) Get a list
I’d start with ESPN’s top 300 players broken down by position (or any website’s rankings would work). You want a list of all draftable players broken down by position group.
B) Trim The Fat
If you’re in a 10-team 1-QB, 3-WR, 2-RB, Flex, TE, K, D, five bench spot league, there are only 150 players that will get drafted no matter what. Meaning you can pretty safely cut the bottom 130 players on the ESPN top 300 without even looking at them. Giving you a much more manageable list.
With kickers in a 10-team league for instance, it’s wildly unlikely more than 12 kickers are getting drafted. So definitely delete kicker 15-ish onward from your list. But, quickly give those players a look for anybody you think might be a hidden gem. Sometimes ESPN will have a weird ranking on a guy you want. Those players are great $1 target at the end of a draft. Repeat this process for every position group.
C) Finalize Your (Do Not Draft) List
Remember how I told you not to draft handcuffs? Well, there are going to be several handcuffs in the top 300 players. Now would be a good time to remove these players from your list so that you’re not tempted to draft them when the time comes.
Same with your QB strategy. Are you paying up for one of the top 3? If you’re dead set on that, now’s maybe a good time to delete the bottom 29 QB’s from your list.
There are frequently players that I don’t value anywhere near as high as what fantasy community is telling me they’re worth. These players will be drafted for good money, just not by me. I take this moment to delete these players from my list.
7) Create Your $1 Targets List
Now that you’ve got a list of all the players you’d be willing to draft in your auction draft, it’s time to order that list by the players you want most. If you know nothing about fantasy football, then maybe leave the order as it is. Sites like ESPN do an OK job.
However, now is when I change the position of players like Frank Gore based on my league. I don’t play in leagues deep enough where “good, not great production” is valuable. Instead, I want to overvalue “boom or bust” players. Players where I can see a path to being great, but I can also see a path to them being terrible. I overvalue high risk-high-reward guys. And that makes me a very different player than the industry analysts (analysts play it too safe because their incentive is to avoid being wrong).
Once you’ve ordered your players, you now know who you want to draft and the order in which you want to draft them. So when you get late in the auction draft and all you have is $1 left, the guys at the top of your list at the positions you still need become your clear targets. You don’t have to think about it under pressure. Just take from the top of your list.
8) Decide Who You’re Spending Big On
The fun part.
In an auction draft, we can all bid on Christian McCaffrey. Meanwhile, in a snake draft, whoever got the #1 pick will get him. This is what makes an auction draft so much fun. You get to decide your own players rather than a lottery number you were randomly assigned.
The reason we just painstakingly did seven steps to determine who you can feel good about spending $1 on is that you’re going to BID HARD on the players you want. Wildly overpay if you have to. But, get the players that you want to have.
The problem is the players you want are likely the same guys that everybody else wants too. You’ll have to pay a serious premium for them most of the time. You already have a giant list of $1 players you’d be happy to have on your team in case you dramatically overspend. So go nuts. Get the guy you want.
Which guy should you want? That’s going to vary year by year and situation by situation. For me, it’s almost always the top-tier stud RB’s. I will do everything in my power to get at least one. I’ll happily spend all of my money on three stud RB’s and $1 at every other position if my league allows it. Nothing compares to a breakout fantasy season by a RB. The ceiling is so high that it’s worth taking the risk on injuries, in my opinion.
I have the most titles in all of my leagues with this exact strategy. Because when I hit on it, my team is guaranteed to score a ton of points.
9) You Can’t Take The Auction Money With You
If you get towards the tail-end of your draft and you’ve still got $50 to spend, you messed up badly. Spend big on the players you want until you’re completely depleted of funds. You’ll regret it if you don’t. You’ll end up overpaying for the Frank Gores of the world when you could have picked up a ton of $1 lottery tickets instead.
Buy! Buy! Bye!