Auction Draft Strategies & Tactics

by: Perry Burr

Editor's Note: Below you will find more than a few thousand of the 10,000+ total words in this special article. If you'd like to read more articles like this one, please click HERE to order our 2023 Pre-Season Draft Guide. In addition, if you are looking for an Excel Spreadsheet Auction Draft Tool, look no further than our Executive Draft Master, which includes dynamic auction values that adjust on the fly. At less than $15, it's a fantastic deal!

"A person needs new experiences. Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken." – Duke Leto Atreides

The Move to Auction-Based Drafts: Too many fantasy football participants play the game in comfortable repetition. They have taken what should be exciting thing – draft day – and spend it waiting for their disorganized fellow managers to make a draft pick. There is a better way… a more fair way… a more exciting way for your league to distribute players. Auctions are overtaking traditional pick style fantasy football drafts as the preferred method of kicking off the fantasy football season. Distributing players via an auction represents capitalism at its finest. Every fantasy football team manager has a chance to acquire any player, so long as he/she has the necessary salary cap room. Every time a player is brought up for bid, all league managers have a chance to be involved. Auctions rescue organized managers from the mind numbing wait as other managers thumb through their notes to pick their players. That’s why auctions have grown in popularity for over two decades.

How I Started: I’ve been involved in auction leagues since 1988. Over time, I have found that preparing and participating in auction drafts is a much more interesting than being involved with a traditional NFL pick style draft. My first auction draft, in 1988, resulted in a 3-11 regular season record, my worst showing ever in a fantasy football league. I failed because I neglected to plan for the entire auction. My opponents exploited my lack of experience on the dynamics of an auction and my lack of planning. So I jotted down some thoughts about how I wanted to conduct my draft and ended up with a better record in 1989 (7-8). That improvement compelled me to develop additional strategies and tactics, which led to an 11-4 record and my first auction league championship in 1990. Twenty years later, I haven’t looked back.


"It’s by will alone I set my mind in motion." – Piter De Vries

Auction Mechanics: Each league manager begins with a draft stake (or salary cap if you prefer). I recommend a draft stake of $200. That amount allows each manager of a 10-team league to fill a 20-slot roster and provides enough flexibility to employ different auction strategies without making the draft an all day event. The auction draft starts when the first NFL player is brought up for bid. The nominating manager must be very clear about whom he/she is bringing up for bid. The player’s name, position, and the opening bid should be announced for all to hear. For instance, a manager nominating Minnesota Vikings RB Latavius Murray for bid would say… "I nominate… running back…Latavius Murray… Minnesota Vikings… for $1." Once a player has been nominated and an opening bid has been announced by the nominating manager, all managers may freely bid on the player. Bidding continues in a free form way until no one is willing to beat the last bid. When the bidding dies down, it is up to the auctioneer to guide the bidding to closure. At this time, the auctioneer should say "The last bid was $35 for Latavius Murray, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings by Manager X… Going Once… Going Twice… Sold!" Either the player will be awarded to Manager X or another manager will jump in and rekindle the bidding before the auctioneer says, "Sold!" Once that player is awarded to the manager with the highest bid, that’s it. There are no "do-overs." The player is written on Manager X’s roster for all to see, leaving Manager X with $165 and 19 slots remaining to be filled. This process is repeated for each player brought up for bid. The auction draft concludes when each manager’s roster has been filled.

The Auctioneer: Preferably, the auctioneer should have a working knowledge of NFL players, teams, and fantasy football. A good football background will help reduce mistakes and misunderstandings associated with bringing up players for bid. In addition, the auctioneer should not be a league manager. But, getting the perfect auctioneer is a tall order, so you should at least find someone who is organized and can keep track of things as the auction unfolds. The auctioneer must verify that each manager has at least $1 remaining per open roster slot. The auctioneer also must keep a record of each manager’s roster, including the name and cost of each NFL player. This will decrease the confusion that could emerge toward the middle or the end of the auction.

Auction Order: Unlike a traditional pick-style fantasy football draft, there is little to no advantage having the top overall draft pick. In an auction, league managers are nominating players for bid, not drafting them. All managers are free to bid on that player after that. The manager who nominates a player for auction first in a round, nominates players first in every round and so on. There are some small advantages to nominating a player for bid. First, you could nominate a player that you believe will drain other managers’ draft stakes. Second, you could "match" the highest bid if you league allows this (I recommend that your league incorporate match bidding into your rules). For keeper and dynasty auction leagues, you could trade for draft slots before the draft in order to use this block of draft slots to nominate players from one position to create a "run" on that position or nominate players who are the backups to those players kept by managers before going into the auction.

Auction Phases… Timing is Everything: An auction draft can have several phases, many unexpected turns, and, at times, confuse and distract the best fantasy football managers. For this reason, there is no sure-fire strategy for a successful auction draft. Rather, you’ll probably end up stringing together a set of tactics as conditions change and opportunities arise. Generally, auction drafts are like seesaw tank battles during which various managers’ draft stakes are reduced at different times during the auction depending on their success at acquiring players. One constant in an auction draft is that NFL players brought up for bid in the early rounds are generally more expensive than those brought up in later rounds. There are two reasons for this. First, inexperienced managers usually bring up the best players early. Second, once managers see some stud players (especially running backs) coming off their draft boards, they will get a little anxious to acquire someone for their team. The key is to know when to bring up a player you want and when to bring up a player just to reduce your competition’s draft stake. So, if you can nominate a player very early in the first round, I suggest you consider bringing up a player at the bottom of the first tier of his position or a top-rated kicker or team defense. You may get that player now for what will be below "market price" when you are able to review the twists and turns of the auction draft after it concludes. Or that player may go to someone else for an inflated price. Either way, you need to consult your draft board to see if you are getting a good value or letting someone else overpay. Some time after the initial flurry of draft acquisitions, there will be a lull in the amount of bidding that takes place. This occurs for a number of reasons, but the most common is that managers are conserving their remaining dollars and checking those amounts against their remaining roster needs. In short, they are distracted. In addition, some managers may find that they have exhausted over half of their salary cap. Thus, this is an excellent time to nominate and walk away with a player you want. The end of an auction draft can resemble a traditional pick-style draft, where players are flying off the board for $1 each. So save some dollars and have your sleeper list ready! Having the funds to raise those opening $1 bids to $2 at the end of the auction can allow you to put the finishing touches on your roster.


"Experience shows that, if one foresees from far away the designs to be undertaken, one can act with speed when the moment comes to execute them." –- Cardinal Richelieu

Auction Draft Planning: Preparing for an auction draft is similar to preparing for a traditional pick-style draft. You must know your league rules, gather player information, review past player performance, make player projections for the upcoming season, and view results from other auction drafts (including prior year drafts from your league). In addition, you must develop and continually update your draft plan, which should include individual player prices and position expenditure caps. It’s all about having a plan and being organized. If you have a $200 draft stake (i.e. salary cap) and you have 20 roster slots to fill, you know that you have an average of $10 per slot. That’s fine, but if you believe (as I do) that it is critical to have your team’s running back position well stocked, then you should allocate more of your salary cap to that position, at the expense of kickers let’s say. For example, you could allocate $100 toward your running back position and only $1 toward your kicker position. If you plan on drafting five running backs, you could draft all five for $20 a piece or draft one for $96 and the other four for $1 a piece. Whatever your strategy, rehearse it… consider best case and worst case scenarios, and identify alternatives. You’ll have a much more pleasant and productive auction draft if you do.

Doing The Math: Any draft plan must include a list of players (ranked and by position) with assigned dollar values for each player. The dollar values that you assign must add up to the total amount of dollars available for managers to spend. For instance, if each manager has a $200 draft stake and there are 10 teams in the league, then the total amount of dollars available to be spent on players is $2,000. And if each manager is required to fill out a 20-player roster, then the total number of players "drafted" will be 200. This sheet will be your primary tool while you are bidding on players during the auction. Review you bidding sheet by comparing several different combinations of players (preferably your starting QB, RBs, WRs and TE) that add up to the same amount. If you don’t prefer one combination over another, then your bidding sheet is solid. But if you prefer one combination of players over the others, then you have some fine tuning to do.

Keeper and Dynasty League Considerations: Keeper and dynasty fantasy football leagues that have salary and/or contract year caps create situations where you must adjust the values that you assign to players. Make sure you take into consideration your year-to-year salary cap space. While you should use all of your available cap room, your league rules may permit in-season acquisitions that may require additional cap room. So, leave yourself some extra breathing space to make necessary roster moves within a moment’s notice.

Draft Day Materials: No secrets here… Gather all your materials on the eve of your auction draft. You don’t want to be running around looking for important items on draft day. Such materials should include your cheatsheet (complete with targeted players, alternatives, sleepers, and decoys), a blank roster grid (to fill out during the auction), pencils, several different colored pens and highlighters, blank paper with lines, a clip board (in case the auction location does not have a table on which to work), a fantasy football publication (although I doubt you’ll need it since you did your homework), a calculator (to tally the remaining dollar levels of each manager), an accordion file to keep everything together and private, and/or your laptop computer (if that’s how you roll). And last, but not least, your entry fee, should your league require one. If you find yourself tempted to crack open your fantasy football publication every other time a player is nominated for bid, leave it in a separate area so you can refer to it only during breaks in the auction. As Mao Tse-Tung once said: "When we fight, we do not take any books with us."

Know Your Competition: You must know your competition. And if they are your friends, that’s all the better. Knowing their previous experiences, strategies, and tendencies is very useful in developing your auction strategy and tactics. Specific information that you want to assemble includes knowing whom your competition values, their favorite teams (both NFL and college), and which players they have won with in the past. Use this information and nominate their favorite players for bid early in the draft in an attempt to drain their money. Whether they overspend to acquire them or lament over failing to do so, you win, because at the very least, they are distracted. One of the most enjoyable things to do is to nominate a player that two or more managers covet and who is overvalued in your opinion. The ensuing competition will give you a chuckle and time enough to re-evaluate your draft board. In cases where you don’t know any of the other managers, you can still nominate over-hyped players for bid. Are any of your competitors wearing NFL or college team gear? Nominate overvalued players from those teams to see if managers wearing their favorite team logo on their sleeve are thinking with their heads or their hearts. There’s usually one in every league.

Show Up Early to Work the Room: Most leagues have at least one or two managers who just cannot help telling you what they know. Listen up! A few choice words of encouragement can yield you a fountain of information, including tips that will give you insight into what they intend to do in the auction. Let these professors teach you, then show them that you paid attention during the auction. Before the auction, consult any popular fantasy football online service or magazine to find published dollar values for each player. Compare these numbers to the ones you developed so you can find the differences and exploit them during the auction. Do you know any managers who use a cheatsheet straight from a fantasy football online service or magazine? These managers are ripe for bidding on big name, over-rated players. Do your best to oblige them and bring up for bid those big name underachieving players early in the auction. In addition, read up on which players are being touted as sleepers and compare it to your list. Use this public information to your advantage and nominate some of these guys early in the auction as well.

Practice Your Poker Face: Like traditional pick style fantasy football drafts, it is important to conceal your intentions before and during an auction draft. Don’t be a George Costanza here! Practice your poker face. Keep your fellow managers off-balance and in the dark. Never reveal your player evaluations or draft plan. Say less than necessary and never reveal the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late. During the auction, it is important that you stay calm. Never show your disappointment in not getting (or getting) a player. You may inadvertently tip your competition to the position you’re seeking to fill. You may also jeopardize your ability to negotiate beneficial trades later during the season. So, stay flexible and focus on an alternative player. If there are enough quality players left on the board, be patient and let the auction come to you. And, for obvious reasons, never show your satisfaction in acquiring a player for far less than your dollar value board indicates. Let your fellow fantasy football managers do all the bragging. Stay low-key and don’t attract attention by trash talking during the auction. Remember, you may have to make trades with your competitors during the season, so why give them a reason not to trade with you? The best time to brag is with a championship trophy in your hand.

Timidity and Predictability are Dangerous: It is important to remember two things when employing any draft strategy or tactic. First, timidity is dangerous. You must enter your auction draft with confidence. If you are unsure about your draft plan, re-evaluate it and make adjustments far in advance of draft day. If you go into an auction draft unsure of yourself or your draft plan, the speed of the auction will eat you alive! Being aggressive doesn’t mean you should bid on player foolishly. But, you should not allow studs or players with high upsides to be bid on by your competition without careful consideration. Any player who appears to be undervalued during the bidding process demands your attention. So be bold, but be smart. Second, cultivate an air of unpredictability. If you know your fellow managers, then they probably know you. Humans are creatures of habit who seek the familiar in themselves and others. Your predictability is a calming influence because it gives them a sense of control. So, you need to be unpredictable to keep your fellow managers off balance.

Plan All the Way to the End: Since an auction-based draft is faster paced and more complex than a pick-style draft, developing and rehearsing a draft plan is critical. You will not be afforded the opportunity to look up players during the auction like you would in a pick-style draft. If you’re trying to research a player’s stats while bids are being made, you are in deep trouble. You must be completely familiar with your draft plan so that you can deviate from it should circumstances warrant. You have to think on the fly. If you want to spend half of your salary cap on Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott, go ahead. That still doesn’t change the fact that you must have a plan for the entire draft. The ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, taking into account all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work and give the spoils to others. The auction draft is a very exciting way to build a team, but it invariably chews up unprepared managers. To survive, a manager must stay calm and resist the urge to join in a feeding frenzy. Are players going for more than you predicted? If you prepared well, then there should be some bargains for you to scoop up later. Staying calm during the draft is so much easier if you come to your draft with a plan. It sounds so simple, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t come to their drafts prepared. Assign relative values to all the players. Identify primary targets and plenty of alternates. Devise a plan to acquire those players. Arrive at the draft location early and don’t forget any of your auction draft materials, especially your entry fee if your league requires one.



As mentioned atop this release, if you like to read the entire article, please click HERE to order our 2023 Pre-Season Draft Guide.

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