Every year, the auction format becomes more popular in fantasy football. It might never replace the old-reliable snake draft as the industry standard, but many will only participate in auctions. Auctions allow fantasy owners to acquire whichever players they want as long as they outbid the rest of the league and as long as they stay under the salary cap (generally set at $200 per team). So, having an auction strategy and budget on your 2022 fantasy cheat sheet is paramount for success.
There are always some general strategy rules to follow for any type of draft. For auctions, you usually don’t want to blow the majority of your money on two top-tier studs at the start of the auction. If you do, you could be relegated to value picks the rest of the way. But you also don’t want to be too conservative and rely too heavily on mid-tier producers and long-shot breakouts. Auction draft mission statements should mirror basic snake draft strategies. Always look to maximize value, don’t reach, don’t be reactionary, and establish depth at running back.
Easier said than done, right? There’s always going to be one owner who manages to screw up your game plan, always one bid you regret, and always one player you can’t believe you let your opponent snag. But that’s life! There’s still a whole hell of a lot less disappointment in an auction — where you can largely control your own destiny — than in a snake draft where you sit and wait to see which players fall to you. In the auction world, we can dictate our fate. And who doesn’t love freedom? It’s like a fantasy American dream!
Just like in a capitalistic society, there’s plenty of people who fall flat on their faces chasing their dreams (or in this case, bidding on workhorse backs). You’ll fail if you don’t have a business strategy in the real world, and your fantasy team will absolutely tank if you go into an auction draft without a plan.
Today, we’ll discuss some fundamental auction rules and the strategies that can take you from a history of mediocrity to a wildly successful future as an auction-draft tycoon. Take notes now because the ones who wing it in auction leagues on the big day are generally the ones with top-heavy teams and/or an abundance of “good” but not “very good” talent.
Now bang the gavel, and let’s get this money!
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2022 fantasy cheat sheet
Fantasy Auction Strategy: Tips, advice for fantasy football auction drafts
1. Know your budget (and format) and set your limits
Much like your budget in everyday life, you need to stay within your limits and draft within your means. Spending $130 on two guys in the first 10 minutes of your draft may feel amazing for the moment, but it’s going to be pretty brutal 50 minutes later when you’re trying to stretch the remaining $70 out to fill your roster. Your team will be top-heavy, you’ll have poor depth, and you’ll be relying far too heavily on bargain-bin buys the majority of the auction.
Everything is about balance. If you spend up to draft a top-five running back, you’ll have to sacrifice a bit at another position. So, it’s probably a good idea to cross off the most expensive guys at wide receiver if you draft the most expensive running back early. Drafting a top-five player at each position just won’t happen unless you somehow figure out how to hypnotize your leaguemates. But what’s the fun in that? You want your opponents fully cognizant when you own them, from the opening bell to the final whistle.
Determine the price points you like for each one of your target players. Review our projected auction values and then make your own list. Tier off your players so you can better establish where you value each group. That way, you can better appropriate your next order of business if and when you make a big splash. You need to constantly do the math in your head and be one step ahead of your next move. Avoid the noise caused by other owners — your biggest enemy in an auction, often, is yourself. “If I grab this guy at this price point, what kind of money will I have left to finish building my core roster?”
Obviously, you have to know your format. Derrick Henry might not be worth a $65-70 bid in PPR leagues, but he’s almost assuredly going for at least that in most standard drafts. Deebo Samuel, a YAC-playmaker who relies on quality over quantity, also figures to drop in PPRs. However, players like Austin Ekeler and Najee Harris will typically yield more value as PPR backs. Just like you would pinpoint specific players round-by-round in snakes, do your research and know your targets at every price level in auctions. Don’t lose sight of your average remaining per-player budget.
2. Mock and mock and mock some more (both auction and snakes)
Of course, you’d better get plenty of practice runs in before the big day. Even experienced auction drafters need to mock ahead of their yearly draft because so many variables exist each NFL season. Trades, free agent signings, injuries, rookies, and even coaching moves can all affect a players’ fantasy impacts from one year to the next.
The most valuable part of mock auctions is determining what the public actually deems fair-market value for each player. Any of us ‘experts’ can list a price next to a player’s name and call it their “projected value,” but just like in real-life open markets, supply and demand ultimately dictates the actual values. A player’s true cost will be whatever people spend on him, not what an analyst suggests it should be.
It’s also good to establish your plan through a mock draft. Seeing what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to roster-building is vital — you have infinite do-overs in the Mock Auction lobbies whereas you only have one go when you’re drafting your real-deal 2022 fantasy team.
Do some snake drafts, as well, and then compare your favorite mock team from a snake to your favorite mock team from an auction. How do they differ? In what ways do your snake teams seem superior to your auction teams, and how can you bridge that gap in your next auction draft? Understanding your strengths and weaknesses, like every facet of life, can improve you greatly in the long run.
3. Follow the same core standards and mission statement as you would in snake drafts
Eventually, after myriad mocks, you will reach a vital breakthrough: your auction teams will begin to showcase similar starting strength, upside, and depth as your snake teams. You’ll regularly feature the equivalent of a first-rounder, a second-rounder, and a third-rounder, or two firsts and a fourth, or three seconds.
In that sense, it’s almost worth it to define a pre-draft value for each positional tier. Just like NFL general managers refer to a “Draft Value Chart” when contemplating trading draft picks, you should be referring to your own draft value chart when considering which players to target and which ones to fade (and when, and at which price points). Higher-priced wideouts might not have as much value if they turn into a bidding-war asset. Two lower-tier receivers at good value might be obtainable at the same total cost as one stud WR and could inevitably net you more per-spot average production than if you paid up.
A top-heavy team doesn’t always win in auctions or snakes, and neither does a team with little to no depth. Spend wisely on a balanced team.
4. Nominate and spend wisely
Yes, budgeting is so important, we’re going to reiterate it. In fact, nominating and spending are really what auctions are all about, so we’ll do breakout sections on both below.
5. Show up, pay attention, stay focused, and have fun
This could have just as easily been tip No. 1. It might sound boring, but you have to be present for your auction to be a success. Being late or not showing up can have dire consequences. Auto-auctioners screw everything up, so make sure your league members will all be at the draft on time and with reliable connections.
Next, pay attention! The ones present and engaged the entire time are the ones who so often land a massive value buy. You might not have been targeting D.J. Moore, but if you can land a $20 receiver at $12, you should probably consider it. You still want to grab some “best-available” players when the value seems too good to pass up.
One last rule: always, always, always have fun and learn from your mistakes. If you keep at it, you’ll be the one giving the advice before you know it.
Fantasy Football Auction Strategy: How to budget for each position
Once you’ve mocked a bunch and established a general understanding of who costs what among the actual fantasy football community, you should set a basic budget for your team. Plain and simple, you need to have an idea of how you’ll be spending your $200 across all your roster spots.
Sometimes, a steal of a pick will reshape your core plan a bit, but you can still follow the guidelines on positional and tiered budgeting. Put a certain percent on RBs, WRs, and TEs, and leave about 10 percent for your bench. Try to put around 10-13 percent total into QB, while RB, WR, and TE can vary based on your targets. Let’s run through a sample auction to see how it all works in action.
Kicker and D/ST
The easiest way to start this hypothetical budget plan is to allocate $1 at kicker and D/ST. If your league still has kickers, bummer, but please don’t spend over $1 on anyone but maybe Justin Tucker. Generally, the drop in per-game average from K1 to K2 and K3 at the end of each year proves that spending an extra buck is a waste. Nick Folk for $1 sure looked good with his fantasy football-leading 10.3 points per game last season (no other kicker surpassed 9.6).
You could really use that extra buck when developing your offensive depth. The same can be said for D/ST, a position that’s almost impossible to predict each year and lends similarly minute declines from one tier to the next. Cleveland for a buck lands you a talented defense with fantastic matchups in its first four weeks (Panthers, Jets, Steelers, and Falcons). You can just as easily stream after that or pick up a hot kicker or defense in-season.
Bench (Part 1)
We’ll go over which actual bench players we will select for this model after we build our starting squad, but you obviously want a solid bench. You don’t need studs — your studs are your starters, and you can also add breakouts via free agency and the waiver wire.
Your bench should be a variety of reliable RB2s, handcuffs, high-upside sleepers, and a rookie or two. If you go conservative at QB, consider grabbing a second QB with a high ceiling on the cheap. If you pick an injury-prone or volatile TE, get him a backup.
Let’s base our budgetary plan on a league with standard 16-player teams. With $2 slotted to K and D/ST and $20 allotted to our bench, we have $178 left to spend on our eight starting skill positions. Now you can really break it down (erra-erra-erra).
At QB, we generally recommend going for value. Much like with kickers and defense, the contributions of a second-tier and third-tier QBs are not massively different on a per-game basis.
Spending 10 percent of your skill-position budget on mobile QBs like Jalen Hurts or Lamar Jackson seems like a big risk, not just because of their injury probabilities. Their $18 projections and average auction values (AAVs) rank higher than those of Tom Brady and Dak Prescott ($15), and almost double the AAV of Aaron Rodgers ($10). Brady and Rodgers both beat Hurts’ and L-Jax’s scoring output last season (total and per-game average), and Prescott has a very QB-friendly 2022 schedule.
Let’s slot Rodgers, the MVP of the last two seasons, into QB at $10. Even without All-Pro wideout Davante Adams and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (Denver’s new head coach), the veteran remains a value at that price point. Over the past three seasons, A-Rod and the Pack have won all seven games for which Adams did not suit up. Rodgers’ fantasy scoring average across those seven contests: 24-plus fantasy points.
Obviously, you don’t have to get Rodgers, but looking for similar value makes sense at QB unless you can get one of the top studs for well below market value.
That leaves us $168 for two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, and a flex ($41.6 per player). Now we’re having some fun! Since it’s rare to win a fantasy championship without an elite back — or multiple RBs from within the top four tiers — your priority should be at the running back position.
Najee Harris ($46) has huge value in PPR leagues. I also like Aaron Jones ($35), but going Packer-Packer at QB-RB seems risky. Plenty of top-tier talent also exists in the tier containing D’Andre Swift, Javonte Williams, Antonio Gibson, and JK Dobbins.
You might also consider going with two young RBs in the $20-$28 range who are capable of exploding into the top-10 RB leaderboards. Jets rookie Breece Hall ($22) and Jaguars second-year RB Travis Etienne Jr. ($19), the latter of whom didn’t play a snap last season due to injury, could both be rostered for less total salary than Harris. Now you have two young, high-ceiling guys who could easily combine to average more than Harris and a $10 back (and cost $15 less total).
This is a perfect example of an actual draft differing from the pre-draft plan. We started with the intention of grabbing a top-tier RB in the $40s and instead landed two guys at $41 total. That leaves us plenty of room to spend on pass-catchers and flex ($29.4 per player remaining), and turn those into our positions of dominance.
In any format, I’d be targeting Ja’Marr Chase at this point in the draft ($38). He’s 22, he has a solid rapport dating back to college with always-improving young QB Joe Burrow, and the Bengals are coming off a Super Bowl run.
Chase received nearly 35 percent of Burrow’s 2021 targets, and finished in the top five in PPR points per game (17.3), receiving TDs (14), end-zone targets (14), yards per target (11.4), and yards per route run (2.51). He’s a dynamic playmaker with explosive speed, strength, quickness, and hands. We thought our RB would be our best player — as it turns out, that’s not the case.
Now we have $89 remaining to fill in our final four spots (WR2, WR3, TE, flex). We could grab another wideout with elite playmaking ability in CeeDee Lamb ($29), who also has a great schedule this season. Maybe A.J. Brown ($21) piques our interest more in his first season with Philly; or maybe we just pick them both up and have a truly elite wide receiver corps with $39 still left for our final two spots.
Tight end is a starting position you never want to completely reserve for boom-or-bust types. Sure, Irv Smith Jr. and Cameron Brate, two guys we value as sleepers, seem like great investments at $1, but we can feature one of them as a backup to our TE1 in case he gets injured.
Yes, you guessed it: we’re going with George Kittle ($18). He’s one of the three best receiving tight ends in football when healthy, and he should see some positive regression if San Francisco steadies the waters at QB (and if Kittle can see more than 14 games and 94 targets).
When he’s on the field, the three-time Pro Bowler’s a lock for five-plus catches and 65-plus receiving yards per game. If second-year QB Trey Lance ($7) materializes, Kittle’s end-zone production should increase, too. He hit his career high in TD grabs last year with six. Hell, we’re sticking Lance on our bench at $7 in case he booms and Rodgers busts!
Grabbing Kittle leaves us with $21 for our flex spot, which we pretty much have to fill with a running back. Since we have two starting RBs and two bench RBs (who we’ll discuss in a minute), we feel compelled to insert another high-quality RB at flex for insurance purposes. It’s regularly the most difficult position to find on the wire, and more often than not it’s the most banged-up position on the injury reports.
We’ll go with Damien Harris ($21), a top-10 standard league player and top-18 PPR guy last season. Harris eclipsed 200 carries in 2021, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He also gobbled up red-zone opportunities, scoring a whopping 15 TDs.
Bill Belichick’s unpredictable RB usage always lowers the perceived value and ultimate cost of Patriot backs, but $21 is a steal of a value for a 25-year-old who just received 44 red-zone carries (and 30 inside opponents’ 10-yard lines. Backup Rhamondre Stevenson had just 23 red-zone carries and 11 inside opponents’ 10). Belichick should continue to pound the running game with Mac Jones in just his second year as a pro QB.
Bench (Part 2)
Rounding out our RB corps, we’ll grab a couple rookie RBs for our bench in Buffalo’s James Cook ($5) and Tampa Bay’s Rachaad White ($2). It’s a massive win if even one of those guys enjoys a breakout. You want at least five RBs on any squad without a $30 feature back.
Just the same, you’d probably want six or seven WRs on a squad with no receivers over $25. With our stud starting wideouts, we only felt the need to grab two bench receivers with volume opportunity and breakout ability: New England’s Devante Parker ($3) and Green Bay’s Allen Lazard ($2). Notice all our players under $10 play for consistently above-average offenses?
Look at this squad. It’s filled with so much promise at running back and so much established greatness at QB, WR, and TE. The only real question marks have contingency plans, and whatever doesn’t work out we can solve through the waiver wire. Great success!
- QB1: Aaron Rodgers, GB ($10)
- RB1: Breece Hall, NYJ ($22)
- RB2: Travis Etienne Jr., JAX ($19)
- WR1: Ja’Marr Chase, CIN ($38)
- WR2: CeeDee Lamb, DAL ($29)
- WR3: A.J. Brown, PHI ($21)
- TE: George Kittle, SF ($18)
- FLEX: Damien Harris, RB, NE ($21)
- K: Nick Folk, NE ($1)
- D/ST: Cleveland Browns ($1)
- Bench1: Trey Lance, QB, SF ($7)
- Bench2: James Cook, RB, BUF ($5)
- Bench3: DeVante Parker, WR, NE ($3)
- Bench4: Rachaad White, RB, TB ($2)
- Bench5: Allen Lazard, WR, GB ($2)
- Bench6: Irv Smith Jr., TE, MIN ($1)
Again, this isn’t exactly how you need to map out your auction, but it gives you an idea of how to put together a budget. In this case, we devoted just 8.5 percent to QBs, 34.5 percent to RBs, 46.5 percent to WRs, 9.5 percent to TEs, and $2 total to D/ST and kicker.
Some might opt to flip the percentages on RB and WR or maybe go all-in on Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews at TE and spend less on WRs. Whoever you like, balance accordingly, budget wisely, and commit to it.
Strategy tips for how to nominate players in fantasy football auctions
Big names often come with big price tags. Some of these names (and prices) probably won’t interest you, but they will surely interest your opponents. Get your leaguemates spending their money early on these big names you don’t like. Nominate players early who you think will go for a higher cost than they’re worth. You can even bluff-bid, or “bid up” a player if you have intel that a leaguemate really likes a guy. Just don’t get greedy and screw yourself by overspending on a guy you hate because you tried to bid him up.
If you clear some money out on players you have no interest in, you will likely have less competition for players you actually want. Some of your foes will already be cash-strapped, or at least taking it easy after chomping on the big bait. Every time we make a big investment in auctions, our per-player average and per-player max spending goes down. Let some of your opponents bid themselves out of the $30-$40 range before you cast your net on the $30-$40 guys you covet.
Of course, your leaguemates might have the same plan and nominate players you want. Don’t be afraid to bid, but also don’t be afraid to get outbid. There will always be more good players, and as long as you stick to your plan, you’ll be able to build a winning team.