Most fantasy football leagues have managers choose their rosters via a snake draft. Most … not all. There is an alternate way to draft, and that is the auction. Otherwise known as a salary cap draft, it presents a whole new set of challenges you must prepare for. What is an auction draft, how does it differ from a traditional snake draft, and how can you best prepare for it?
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What Is an Auction Draft?
Most of you are probably familiar with the concepts of snake and auction drafts. For those that aren’t, hopefully, by the time you read this, you understand enough about auction drafts to want to give it a shot.
As you are likely aware, in a snake draft, there is a predetermined order of selection. Each team makes one pick, and then the next team goes, and the next, and so on.
In an auction draft, players are nominated in a predetermined order, just like a snake draft. The difference is after a player is nominated, each team must decide how interested they are in the player and make offers accordingly — just like a real auction. Teams bid on players, and the team with the highest bid wins that player.
How Do Auction Drafts Differ From Snake Drafts?
In both auction and snake drafts, the goal is to draft players for your fantasy team. That’s about where the similarities end. These are two very different ways of drafting rosters. I would say they both have their pros and cons, but that just isn’t true.
By that, I don’t mean snake drafts have no redeeming qualities. Rather, auction is just a vastly superior format.
In snake drafts, fantasy managers are beholden to their draft slot. So much about your draft strategy and the players you are 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, you know without a shadow of a doubt that there are a bunch of players you will never get.
In an auction draft, fantasy football managers can, in theory, draft any player they want. 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. That is not true in snake drafts.
For better or worse, it is beneficial to frame auction values in the context of snake drafts. Snake drafts are far more common and snake ADP is much more static.
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, unless you pick on the corners, you have no shot at drafting both of them. Your options are to reach a full round for one of them or just choose.
In auction drafts, if you prefer two guys that typically go in the middle of the third round 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 look at the players projected to go over the next couple of rounds and wish you could just take them. Technically, you can, but you are sacrificing significant ADP value.
Plus, it’s often a situation where you don’t prefer the players going later, you just prefer them at their price than the guys you are looking at with your current pick.
Auction drafts allow you to bypass large groups of players and focus on drafting the ones you want. In snake drafts, every team has one first round player, one second round player, etc. In auction drafts, 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 am a fervent advocate for kicking off dynasty leagues with auction drafts.
If you’re going to draft players that will remain on a roster for their entire careers, shouldn’t you have full control over what guys you get?
In redraft leagues, you don’t really want to draft players you don’t particularly like just because ADP says you should. That is even more pronounced in dynasty leagues. 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 is difficult to envision that ever changing. Snake drafts are easier to understand, easier to navigate, take less time, and present a lower barrier to entry for novice players. While undoubtedly the most common draft format, it’s not my favorite. Auction drafts, on the other hand, I absolutely love.
If you’re looking 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 draft. It appears that all future leagues I join will be auction. 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’m usually allocating 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. In doing so, they often overlook the fact that only the players in your starting lineup score points on any given week. If you can make those players better at the cost of your bench, it gives you an advantage.
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.
The main benefit of this strategy is not only will your starters will be very good, but you won’t really have to worry about dropping bench players early in the season to churn the waiver wire. In fact, this strategy is designed for you to do just that.
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.
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 is 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.
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. Think of a balanced approach as having a starting lineup comprised of a bunch of third to sixth-round players. 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, your opponent would have a handful of players that terrify you. You will get outscored by those top guys. The idea behind a balanced approach is that once you get past the top guys, you still have viable starting-caliber players while your opponent is starting guys that wouldn’t sniff your starting lineup.
A balanced roster will consistently produce at or above the league median. Your team will be unlikely to completely faceplant any given week. You will dare other teams to outscore you. The idea 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. And 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 snake, 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.
When entering your auction draft, you need to know what you want to do. 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 adapt. 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 are just dipping your toes into the auction world, it is 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 strategy.
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.
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