PART ONE: THE STRATEGIES
Doing your first auction draft is kind of like the first time you jumped into the deep end of the pool. You’ve heard about it, everyone who’s done it seems to really like it – but then you look at this intimidating thing with suspicion and doubt and think “ya know, I was just fine in the shallow end. Why go over there?” But eventually you dove in and realized it wasn’t as bad or hard as you thought, right? In fact, it was a lot of fun, and you rarely if ever went back to the shallow end.
An auction draft is like that. It may seem kind of unwelcoming and difficult at a glance, but it’s not. There’s a reason almost everyone who tries it far prefers it to a snake draft. Besides, auction drafts are actually similar to snake drafts in most ways; you still assign relative values to players and have to decide when and how to fill out each position. The big difference, of course, is the salary cap used to do it. This does add quite a different wrinkle, but that’s ultimately a plus, because it gives you a lot more freedom and options on how to draft, which makes the whole thing a lot more exciting and interesting.
Of course, it gives the other owners those same freedoms and options, so you should go in knowing the common strategies and a few “tricks” that most auction vets know. That way, you’ll be on equal footing with them (or even get an edge on owners still in the dark).
DECIDING ON A STRATEGY
Remember this above all: There are various strategies you can use, but none are necessarily the best or “right” way. You might read differently elsewhere; don’t buy it. I have seen all kinds of strategies work brilliantly and fail spectacularly; they all have their pros and cons. You also don’t have to use any single one wholesale; you can mix and match to your tastes. But the worst plan is none at all. “Winging it” won’t fly (pardon the pun) in auction drafting.
Let’s review the most common formats:
STARS N’ SCRUBS
In this strategy, you blow most of your cap on a few of the very best players – the stars – and fill in the rest of your team with mostly “scrubs” – those bottom-feeder guys you can get dirt cheap at the end of the draft.
Pros: The advantage here is obvious; you have several top-end studs who are likely to give you fistfuls of points. It’s not only a lot of fun to win and have those top guys, but you now have a distinct advantage over others at those combined roster spots. Those players also generally come with the peace of mind of having fewer question marks than many others, like less playing time, a bad team situation, injury concerns (etc), so you feel more assured of getting that production.
Cons: There are two main disadvantages. First, the rest of your roster, especially depth across the board, will for the most part probably suck. This strategy relies on some of those scrubs rising above (or you being really good/lucky on the waiver wire). Second, if even one of those studs gets hurt or otherwise disappoints in a big way, you’re in big trouble. It’s a high risk/reward strategy.
Basically the opposite of the approach above, this means laying back and going for a more balanced, deeper team. This takes discipline; it’s hard not to jump at those flashy top-end players.
Pros: After the dust has settled from the top players being bought, these owners will generally dominate the rest of the draft, easily out-bidding the more cash-strapped owners for their choice of second-tier and mid-tier players. You can get a lot of good players this way and at most if not all positions. Further, since every year has its share of players who disappoint, you’re hedging your bets with a spread of quality guys vs just a stud or three – plus they have a better chance of becoming studs vs the scrubs that the Stars n’ Scrubs owners settled for. You can also build great depth, which helps you better absorb things like injuries or those disappointing players.
Cons: You don’t have any of the coveted studs (at least not on paper) and could wind up with a team that isn’t terrible, but isn’t good enough to be playoff caliber either. The idea here is that a second-tier guy or three will step up into studliness, or at the very least, you’ll have enough quality across the board to make up for the lack of a true stud – a true team effort. If you use this strategy, just make sure you don’t take it too far and wait too long to start buying, or you’ll end up with a team of mediocre players and wasted money sitting around at the end that could’ve been put to better use.
Some will use a mix of the two strategies above, aiming for one or maybe two top-end players that don’t break the bank too much. This way they have the benefit of a stud or two, but still enough cash to get good quality the rest of the way. The pros and cons are of course a mix of the two strategies above, to a lesser degree.
As in snake drafts, you may want to target RBs or WRs. You have more power and flexibility to do this in auctions. You can mix and match a top-end stud or two with one or more second- or third-tier type guys, betting your dominance at that position will make up for the resulting weaknesses elsewhere.
Pros: This can be a good strategy if you feel that a given position lacks depth; if you grab several top-end players at that position, the other owners are left scrambling to fight among themselves for a thin pool of leftovers and won’t have near the talent level you do. It also can work if the positions you don’t target are deep; this means you can dominate the thinner position and still draft enough quality elsewhere to avoid a glaring weakness.
Cons: Your other positions will suffer, obviously. Again, this strategy relies a lot on the specifics of a given year and how you feel the depth at the various positions looks. It also requires some deft drafting at those other positions.
Some owners are not married to any of the strategies above and don’t really aim for a certain level of player or certain positions. These owners stress the importance of their budget above all and react accordingly. To them it’s about value. If a stud they like is up for bid and the price is reasonable, they’ll go for it. But if the bidding gets too high, forget it; they know there are plenty of players out there and they have an entire team to buy. They are generally Hybrid drafters, but it can vary.
Pros: Since these owners watch their budget wisely and are flexible on who and how they draft, they are harder to predict, making them dangerous opponents the whole way. They are less likely to be caught napping.
Cons: Remember it’s not just about value, but fielding the best team. As with the Balanced strategy, if this is taken too far and you’re too strict with your budget, you may miss out on some really good players and end up either forced to pay similar prices for lesser players, defeating the whole point of this strategy…or worse, you’ll have money left over at the end, which is a hideous waste.
Next up… Part Two as we get into more of the details in Auction Drafting.