Fantasy Football Auction Draft Strategies

For those new to the format or who want to try their hand at auction fantasy football, these strategy tips will help you navigate the draft.

The most popular and most common way to draft fantasy football teams will always be via a snake draft. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Rather, it’s merely the simplest.

There is an alternate way to draft, which is the auction. Otherwise known as a salary cap draft, it presents a new set of challenges, as well as more opportunities, for fantasy managers.

What is an auction draft? How does it differ from a traditional snake draft? And how can you best prepare for it?

What Is an Auction Draft?

Most of you are probably familiar with the concepts of snake and auction drafts. If you are, feel free to skip down a bit to the strategy portion of this article.

The primary objective of this article is for more novice fantasy managers that either haven’t been playing that long, or have, but never really considered the idea of an auction draft. Hopefully, by the time you get through this, you understand enough about auction drafts to want to give it a shot.

Unless you’ve never played fantasy football before, you know how a snake draft works. There is a predetermined order of selection. Each team makes one pick per round, with the order reversing each round.

Auction drafts also have a predetermined order of selection, but rather than draft one player per round, teams nominate a player. When a player is nominated, that means he’s going to be drafted by a team. Who will that be? The highest bidder, of course!

How Do Auction Drafts Differ From Snake Drafts?

At the end of either style of draft, each team will have a full roster of players. During the draft, only one player is drafted at a time. That’s about where the similarities end.

These are two very different ways of drafting rosters. I want to say they both have their pros and cons, but I would be lying. If you want to promote skill and fairness to the greatest extent possible, auctions are vastly superior. Also, they’re way more fun!

In snake drafts, you make your pick, and then you’re done until your next one. Sure, you’re paying attention to what’s going on so you can plan your next selection, but you aren’t doing anything special.

In auctions, you’re constantly doing something. With every nomination, you make decisions about whether you want the player, how much you’re willing to spend, how this player will impact the rest of your draft, and more.

The biggest criticism of snake drafts is fantasy managers are beholden to their draft slot. So much about your draft strategy and the players you’re likely to get is determined by when your team’s name is pulled out of the proverbial hat (or an actual hat). Once you know where you pick, there are a bunch of players you have a 0% chance of drafting.

In theory, no player is off the table in an auction. Of course, there are natural limitations imposed by the nature of how an auction progresses. But before the draft begins, every player is potentially yours. If you decide you want Player X no matter what, you can get him. That is not true in snake drafts.

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For better or worse, it’s beneficial to frame auction values in the context of snake drafts. Snake drafts are far more common, and snake ADP is much more static than AAV (average auction value).

If you take a sample of 1,000 snake drafts, most players will fall within a relatively narrow range of ADPs. If you do the same for 1,000 auction drafts, you will get wild variation in how much a player costs. For that reason, it’s helpful to frame auction values in the context of snake drafts.

In snake drafts, if you want two players that have a similar ADP, you’re almost certainly not getting them. If you pick on the corners, you might be able to. If not, your options are to reach a full round for one of them or just choose.

In auction drafts, you don’t have to make a pick in “every round.” If you prefer two guys that typically go in the middle of Round 3 as opposed to a single second-round player, you’re free to make that decision.

Have you ever found yourself staring at the top available players in a snake draft and thought to yourself, “I don’t want any of these guys?” If you’ve been doing this anywhere near as long as I have, you’ve undoubtedly experienced that.

Oftentimes, you’ll look ahead at the players likely available at your upcoming picks in future rounds and would prefer to just take those guys. But you don’t want to reach for them because you don’t think they’re necessarily worth taking in the current round. You would just prefer to essentially “trade down.”

Auction drafts allow you to structure your team however you want. You can bypass large groups of players and focus on drafting your guys.

In snake formats, every team has one first-round player, one second-round player, etc. In auction, you can draft two first-round players. Or none.

Do you just not want any of the players that typically go in Rounds 4-5 in a snake draft? Don’t draft them. Do you want to shell out for two top-five players? Go for it.

The primary benefit of auction drafts is the increased control you have over what your team looks like. This is why I fervently advocate kicking off dynasty leagues with auction drafts.

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In dynasty leagues, you will have one chance to draft with the full player pool — the initial startup. That’s it. If you’re going to draft players who will remain on a roster for their entire careers, shouldn’t you have full control over what guys you get?

In redraft FORMATS, there are plenty of instances where you don’t want to draft players based on ADP. If you end up with your hand forced and it doesn’t work out, well, at least it’s only one year.

If this happens in a dynasty league, it’s forever (or as long as your league exists). When you’re drafting players who will presumably be on your roster for the entirety of their careers, you want them to be players you believe in.

I never want to spend early-round picks on guys because I feel like I have to. Auction drafts make that possible without having to rely on finding a trade partner to trade down.

Fantasy Football Auction Draft Strategies

Fantasy football continues to be dominated by snake drafts. It’s difficult to envision that ever-changing. Snake drafts are easier to grasp, easier to navigate, take a shorter time to complete, and present a lower barrier to entry for new players.

While undoubtedly the most common draft format, it’s not my favorite. Auction drafts, on the other hand, I love.

If you want to join a new league, I cannot recommend having an auction draft enough. I still love my snake leagues, but every time I look for a new league to join, I can never bring myself to join one with a snake format.

It appears that all future leagues I join will be auction drafts. That’s how much I love the format. Now, let’s get into some auction draft strategies.

Stars and Scrubs

The strategy known as stars and scrubs is, well, exactly how it sounds. Your goal is to allocate the majority of your budget toward your starting lineup while backfilling your bench with a bunch of $1-2 players.

When budgeting for my auction drafts, I usually allocate 85-90% of my budget to my starting roster.

Novice auction drafters often make the mistake of trying to have a complete, well-balanced team. I know this because I did it, too.

You can build very different teams in the auction than you can in a snake. That includes the potential to build a very, very deep team.

That may sound great (and it can be), but not at the expense of your starting lineup. Instead, you want to use the fact that you can essentially draft a bench entirely of double-digit round players to give yourself a stronger starting roster.

Of course, there are risks. This draft strategy leaves you vulnerable to injuries and underperformance. It makes covering bye weeks a challenge. I am a proponent of stars and scrubs, but I prefer to have at least one or two solid bench players before I resort to just throwing darts at the $1-2 players.

The main benefit of this strategy is not only will your starters be very good, but you won’t have to worry about dropping bench players early in the season to churn the waiver wire. This strategy is designed for you to do just that.

Every year, I come out of my snake drafts liking all of my players. I think to myself, “I don’t know who I’m going to drop when the time comes.” And every year, without fail, I have many, many players I can’t wait to drop.

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As Herm Edwards so aptly put it, you play to win the game. Drafting safety valves and trying to build a balanced roster isn’t always the best way to go. It’s a great way to ensure you won’t have a last-place team, but the goal is to win.

Heavily skewing your auction budget toward your starting lineup is a low-floor strategy. But you’re not winning your league without a broken starting lineup. If you don’t have it, someone else will.

The biggest mistake I made in my early auction days was putting together a roster full of good players but lacking great ones. It was a fantastic way to make the playoffs and lose. No one cares about coming in fourth.

A Balanced Approach

Unless you skipped over the previous section, you already know how I feel about this strategy. I’m not exactly a fan. Nevertheless, it’s objectively a strategy that exists. So, I would be doing you all a disservice not to discuss it.

You likely don’t need me to explain what this entails, but I will anyway. This strategy involves constructing a roster with no holes.

By no means should you avoid elite players altogether. However, your primary goal is to make sure you have a legitimate quality starter at every starting spot. If that means you don’t have the top-end talent other teams have, that’s okay.

Ideally, you can get values throughout your draft, thus enabling you to have a complete roster that also has some elite talent. But that’s more best case scenario than a predraft plan.

As I mentioned above, the easiest way to convey value in auction drafts is by comparing them to snake drafts. It can be helpful to illustrate a point.

Put in the context of snake drafts, a balanced approach is tantamount to trading away your first- and second-round picks to amass a surplus of picks in the third through sixth rounds.

You won’t have a single player in your starting lineup that shouldn’t be there. At the same time, your roster will likely lack those players who lack that legendary upside to win you matchups by themselves.

If you were matched up against a “stars and scrubs” team, you would never have the best players in the matchup. But you will have more players worth starting than your opponent. The idea is that even if your opponent’s stars smash, your flat, but effective lineup will make up for it against your opponent’s scrubs.

A balanced roster will consistently produce at or above the league median. Your team will be unlikely to completely flop any given week. You will put up a consistent weekly point total and go to your opponents, “Beat it.”

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The strategy is based on probability — if you’re slightly above average compared to the rest of the league, you will win more than you lose. That’s true. It mostly works.

You will likely make the playoffs at a high rate. You’re more likely to make the playoffs than a “stars and scrubs” team. As we know, once you get in, anything can happen… in theory.

However, to rattle off the three consecutive wins needed to win a championship, you typically need upside. That’s where this approach can backfire.

How To Navigate an Auction Draft

The key tenet of auction drafting is every draft is different. This is true in snakes, but even more so in auctions.

You could put the same 12 people in the same auction, run it 100 times, and each one will look very different. The unpredictability is what makes it so exciting.

You need to know what you want to do when entering your auction draft. But you also need to be prepared to adapt. Whether in snake or auction, you should not force a strategy if the draft room is pushing you another way.

Understand what you want to do and be prepared to audible. Read the room early. Deduce what type of managers you’re drafting against.

Are they hoarding money early? Is the value now, or do you think it will be later? Are players going for more than they should?

There is so much more nuance to an auction draft than a snake draft. If you’re just dipping your toes into the auction world, it’s important to not overwhelm yourself with information.

Focus on the basics. Get a few auctions under your belt. And then check in for other articles on more complex auction strategies.

Understanding player values, positional values, and how the amount you can expect to pay for a player shifts based on what’s already happened is paramount to your success. We at PFN will guide you every step of the way.

With the fantasy football season behind us, why not start preparing for your rookie drafts with our dynasty rookie rankings? Additionally, as you look to improve your team heading into 2024, our dynasty trade calculator can help you find the perfect deal to boost your championship chances.

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