FF Rant: I Hope You Dance, Or, Why I Auction (Fantasy Football)

With fantasy football right around the corner, I’ve been asked by several folks how a fantasy football auction drafts work. So, here’s my play-by-play. Ask questions, challenge points. I’ll use ESPN as my example, as I find it to be the smoothest option so far. My personal preference is a keeper auction draft with PPR (point per reception) scoring, but your examination of your own league’s scoring system and rules for additions, injured players, etc. is crucial. [Quick note on terminology for those new to the game: a keeper draft allows you to draft someone for a value that extends beyond one season; an auction will be explained shortly; PPR scoring benefits those players who don’t necessarily score a lot of touchdowns but are crucial to their team’s success in receptions.]

I remember walking into my first auction draft and feeling some of the same emotions I had walking into my first school dance. Does everyone else know how this works? Some of this is going so fast… and some of it is really slow! How can I…? What should I….? Is someone going to explain all of this to me?

I still get a rush of excitement when I’m drafting against my friends. Some of the leagues include guys I’ve been drafting against for years, but by the time I get around to those drafts in late August and early September, I’ve drafted fifty-plus teams. As I’ve admitted before, I can’t keep up with all of the pre-real draft teams the way I used to, but I still find the give-and-take of the draft to be one of the most fun parts. Sure, pulling off a good trade to win the league is awesome, but most of your league mates will cautiously sit on their hands rather than “go big or go home.”

So here are my thoughts on an auction draft, which sounds risky to those who’ve only ever drafted via snake before. But you have to get out there and bust a move. Otherwise, you’re going to end up sitting on the other side of the cafeteria, wondering why that cute guy/girl never met you halfway and asked you to dance. Seriously, was that actually any fun?

Everything about an auction works the same way in a snake prior to the draft. You can pre-adjust your auction values per player, just like you could pre-rank your players in case you won’t be available for the draft. You should be exploring different experts suggestions about how much to pay per player, and what positions have scarcity or abundance. You can practice through mock drafts or public drafts the types of strategies you might use. But unlike a snake draft, where you’re elevated or condemned based on the predetermined order of your draft (either by league decision or computer randomization), EVERYONE has an equal shot at every player because the budget is the same for everyone (usually $200 per team).

The team itself… is pretty much the same: depending on how you want to load up on players, you’ll spend more money. But if the league is a keeper league, you’re considering how your pick value (or auction value) relates to what you’ll have to surrender the following year. Say that Player A is considered to be a top pick in 2012 but has a terrible year or gets injured, and his draft stock plummets. If you drafted him in the first round or paid $50 for him in 2012, but you could get him in the 4th round or pay $25 for him in 2013, his value is altered. (See: Adrian Peterson 2012 vs. 2013.)

I draft in several leagues that have (1) quarterback spot, (2) running back spots, (2) wide receiver spots, (1) tight end spot, (1) flex (RB/WR/TE) spot, (1) kicker spot, and (1) Defense/Special Teams spot, plus (7) bench spots. In a snake, I’d be obligated to fill up each spot by drafting one player in each of the sixteen rounds; in an auction, I will be forced to keep a minimum of $1 per player for each spot, but how I spend the $200 is up to me.

But once the auction begins…The first person in the queue nominates a player. If the person is absent, the computer’s “auto bid” system nominates the first player in their queue. The typical first player is Adrian Peterson, and team owners can bid on AP in $1 increments for twenty to thirty seconds. Once the clock hits the :10 countdown to the end of the auction, the clock resets to :10 every time an owner bids on AP. There’s little-to-no chance of sneaking up on anyone, but someone will try to bid on :01– they still reset the clock.

As the draft unfolds, each person nominates someone round after round. Team owners can drag and drop a player into the queue, so that they can handpick who they’re nominating. There are strategies for not nominating all of the top talent first, but that depends on how you as an owner want to see the draft play out. (For instance, if you’re playing and several of the teams are set to autobid, you can nominate a few of the lesser players, and potentially fill up the absentee owner’s spots. But sometimes that backfires!) The draft is over when everyone’s money has run out or all of the spots are filled. Remember, that money doesn’t carry over! Kickers still aren’t worth much, some defenses might be more valuable than others, but the majority of the money will be spent on the players you know you want already.

After the draft, you will most likely (in a true auction league) have a budget to pick up players off of waivers. Again, it doesn’t matter what your waiver order is as much as how much you are willing to bid on picking up a player. Someone picking up Alfred Morris last year could’ve paid as much as $50 for the right to get him, and that amount would be deducted from their free agent “bank” of $200. That matters for two reasons: 1) they would only have $150 left for additional free agents and 2) if they chose to keep Morris in a keeper league for this year, they would’ve surrendered $50 from this year’s $200 draft budget. Trades work the same way, with the caveat that a traded player’s keeper value is retained for the following year’s draft.

I strongly encourage you to read ESPN columnist Tristan Cockcroft’s strategy guide to winning an auction draft. It’s more about how to win than how to do it, but it saves me rewriting the next stage. My short summary is this: I’ve seen people try to save it all, and people try to spend it all, and neither works. Some kind of balanced approach that makes sense to you is worthwhile. But again, PRACTICE it out with your predesigned auction sheet beforehand. It’s free, and it’ll let you work out as many kinks as you can.

If you’re still wondering WHY you should be playing fantasy football, check out my first post in this series here. If I think of additional comments, I’ll edit this again sometime; if you think of something I missed, Tweet me or comment below! Thanks as always for reading, and good luck in your draft!

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About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at ChristianCinema.com, Cinapse.co, and the brand new ScreenFish.net.
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