I swear our leader Nando Di Fino assigned me this auction article just for the joy of having me give shade to fantasy football auctions (in conventional formats — more on that later). Inevitably, the auction aficionados who conflate accounting with a more sophisticated game clap back at me in the comments.
Some people just want to see the world burn.
I know: “I like auctions because if I want to get three first-round picks, I can.” Or even, “There’s no player I can’t get!” Sure. I stipulate that. There is also no price that’s too high assuming you are starting nine players or even 10 (Flex 9 is two WRs and a Flex; Flex 10 is three WRs and a Flex). Basically you want to spend almost all your money on three or four stars, have six or seven $1 players/kickers/defenses, and maybe have $20 total for the rest of your roster. The idea is you’re going to cut half your team anyway so why pay for the bottom of the roster?
So is it more of a player-picker game than a draft? Sure. If you whiff on your high-priced stars — even one — you’re in trouble. But who those players will be is unknowable. We’re mostly just lucky in avoiding the season-killing busts. There’s more of an illusion of control but, to be honest, if the starters who busted went for 20% less in the auction, you would have jumped at buying them — and gotten murdered.
But you have to take the stars and scrubs approach. Having the most $1 players is counterintuitively a structural feature rather than a bug (meaning you’ve spent correctly) — but hitting on the stars (or avoiding the stars who get injured or are inexplicably bad) still is luck. It’s not a less random game, auction leagues.
Keep in mind, I’m talking about conventional formats. The more players you start/the more teams in your league, the more meaningful an auction is. So SuperFlex makes auctions a better option than otherwise. You can even require two tight ends. You can move from 12 to 14 teams. Now you have created a real cost for teams to have $1 players. The waiver wire is far less vibrant with free loot. Now the actual initial roster on your auction day is at least 75% of the winning formula vs. 50% at most in a conventional format.
The shorthand way to look at auction vs. draft is whether there is a real cost in having $1 players (basically via draining the waiver pool). Because if you haven’t, you’ve just traded everyone having a spread-the-risk team building strategy (12-team, Flex 9/10 draft) for everyone (who is sharp) having a stars-and-scrubs strategy (via an auction).
But maybe you’re playing with a bunch of people who want to win the auction by having the most money in the end game or who put an arbitrary ceiling on a max bid for any player or who budget by positions, etc. People who make all the really dumb mistakes. The real green eyeshade types who are finally realizing their life-long dreams of being an NFL salary cap wonk.
But the vast majority of leagues are standard 12-team formats with no extra players beyond a third WR, and probably PPR. These tips are for them.
Committing to stars by paying whatever it takes for top-tier players is the first strategic decision to make. One way is to tier players and not bid on the first player in the tier. In a league where everyone is auctioning the right way (stars or bust), Justin Jefferson goes for $75 out of a $200 budget. Maybe you let him go and get Ja’Marr Chase for less. Or maybe you say, “I like Davante Adams way more than the market so maybe I get him for $50.” Okay, I know what you auction wonks are thinking. Yes, if you are tiering players differently than the market, you can leverage that much more in an auction than in a draft. This is more fun, to make more of these bets.
The second related question is how to budget the onesies — quarterback and tight end.
Assuming a one-QB, 12-team league, your QB should be one of your $1 players. They have uniform touches and you can just crush your league with a 16th QB who pops for at or near a minimum bid — Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff… even Matthew Stafford.
So same for tight ends, right? No! Whatever it takes for Travis Kelce should be the No. 1 objective. Bring him up with your first nomination. Jump bid from the $5 (or whatever) nomination right to $45. Make everyone feel uncertain what Kelce’s true value is (hint: he doesn’t have a true value). Create hesitancy. If you win Kelce, you have the biggest edge in our game. I don’t care that he’s 34. There is no evidence that great age 33 TEs collapse at age 34. Zero! I think $60 max gets Kelce irrespective of age because I guarantee half the league wants to spend no money on tight end. Yeah, that’s a crazy price, but if the league makes you walk him up from $45 to $60, you’ll be able to get a bunch of players who most view as $10-$20 players for $5-$10.
If you fail with Kelce, the data of the past five years is that it pays to double up on $1 tight ends and hope you get a Top 5 finisher (beating most of your league there). That happens every year — last year it was Evan Engram.
Bottom line: You have to resolve whether you have Kelce as quickly as possible. By your first nomination at the latest. If nominating, say $1, then count on someone else to say $10. And then jump to $45 and pray for crickets.
Let’s see what the projected auction values are via FantasyPros (remember these prices may have changed by the time you read this).
Their values say my prices are crazy inflated. They have Jefferson for $49 and Kelce for $45. Sign me up! But if you’re valuing stars conservatively, you have people like Kirk Cousins at $9 and Matthew Stafford at $0 and Derek Carr at $1. Is the Carr team, for example, at a bettable QB disadvantage versus the team that has Cousins? No.
Similarly, are you happy to have passed on Kelce because you needed $10 for AJ Dillon when you could have D’Onta Foreman for $1? No, you should not be. You’ve gained nothing in my book. Give me Kelce and $1 Foreman and $1 Carr vs. Dallas Goedert, $9 Dillon and $9 Cousins every single time.
If you’re Flex 10, you want to spend on Kelce, one RB and three WRs, and a non-minimum bid on the fourth WR/Flex. Out of $200, maybe the league lets you have Kelce at his FantasyPros price of $45. Sticking with their values, I’ll take Miles Sanders as my main back for $18. At WR, give me Chase at $47, Garrett Wilson at $25, Chris Olave at $23 and Courtland Sutton at $4. That’s only $172 spent. I am loaded for the rest of my roster since QB, second TE, K, and D/ST are going to be $1 buys. So now I have $24 for six players. I’m actually worried I’ll eat money (never has happened to me and is a sign of abject failure when you do — even if it’s $5). There’s nothing dumber than saving money early for the unknown late players in an auction where you don’t know whether one or more people will have more to spend than you. You have the illusion of control with zero actual control.
Finally, in terms of auction gamesmanship, a few big points, some of which we touched on but that I want to make sure you consider:
- Never make a plausible bid to drive up the cost of a player (price enforcing). This makes you a chump since you are assuming all the risk for a benefit that you can only share with the entire room.
- Tether bid. What this means is that say you want George Kittle but don’t know what he’s going to cost but really would like clarity. Toss out Kelce and then Kittle’s price is tethered to Kelce. It will be “Kelce’s price minus X.” It will not be more. If there’s a WR 15ish you like, nominate a consensus one who you do not want for a minimum bid and see what he goes for, then you know your guy is definitely not going to go for more and could go for less.
- Jump bid after tethering. Be aggressive. If Jefferson is the WR1 and you think Chase is as good or better, jump Chase to right where Jefferson went. You can count on crickets because no one wants to be the chump who paid more for the WR2 than the WR1. Remember, in 12-team, one-QB, even Flex 10 auctions, it’s not about the price. It’s about the player.
(Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)