Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football Auction Draft Strategy: Play the People


A Fantasy Football auction draft is more of a poker game than a Fantasy sport. Sometimes the best hand can bust you out of all of your money (or Fantasy Football season) while sometimes you can win a massive pot with just a pair (or $1 player). You need a separate Fantasy Football auction draft strategy to prepare you.

What I really mean with that analogy is auction drafts are a completely different game compared to the more often used snake drafts. One of the biggest differences is there are even more ways that you can succeed or fail in an auction draft. There is not one simple strategy that you can live by; you need to be as flexible and prepared as possible.

In a snake draft, you can stick to one of the popular theories (Zero-RB, RB-RB, Single-RB, Elite QB/TE, etc.) and the team will more or less draft itself. You are in your draft slot and you take the best value that fits your strategy. While that is not exactly how I draft in snake-formats (Value-Based Drafting is the only way to go) there is still a level of blueprint that your team will follow with your draft slots.

An auction draft makes every single player available to every person in the league. You do not miss out on some of the best values because you are not cornered into a certain draft slot. There is no more test of Fantasy Football projection and skill.

Basics of an Auction

For those of you that have never participated in an auction draft it is what its name portrays. There is literally an auction on every player nominated until each team has a full roster. The kicker (and hopefully you all have eliminated kickers from your leagues) is that every team starts with a set budget.

I mean I guess you could have a league with no budget using real dollars. But that would lend itself to someone just money-whipping the rest of your league if they had more of a bankroll.  The budget used for an auction draft is fake money, usually $200. Every slot on your roster must be filled and every player costs at the minimum of $1. Therefore, a 15-man roster with a $200 budget leads to a maximum bid of $186.

Each team takes turns nominating players. While that may not seem that important, there is some serious strategy to be played with nominations which I will get to in a bit.

So each team nominates a player at a price point, and other teams then bid said player up until no one wants to go any higher. At that point, the player is “won” by that team manager and their overall bankroll is lessened by the amount used.

Fantasy Football Auction Draft Strategy

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Let’s go back to the initial comparison to poker. Say you get pocket aces playing Texas Hold ‘Em. As all poker players know that is the best possible starting hand. However it is arguably the most common hand that people lose their bankrolls with.

The problem with getting pocket rockets is you still have no control over the flop. Even more of an issue is that your hand’s likelihood of getting better is much smaller than say someone who has J/10 of hearts. You have only one way for a straight and only one card of two different suits.

So what if you could choose between having two aces and no control over the flop or having that J/10 suited and you get to pick two cards for the flop. Which route would you take?

This is the basic question regarding the two most popular auction strategies: Studs and Scrubs or Balanced Starting Lineup.

Studs and Scrubs

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Studs and Scrubs is the pocket aces of auction draft strategy. You spend around two-thirds of your budget on getting two of the elite, first-round players (or even more money towards getting three) and then fill out the rest of your roster with bottom of the barrel, budget-type guys.

I mean who wouldn’t want to have both Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey on their team? Their combined current average cost is $127 of your $200 budget. So if you need to fill out a 15-man roster, you get an average of $5.6 dollars per player. That’s the likes of Marqise Lee or Nyheim Hines.

While you can still win if Barkley/McCaffrey keep going nuts, you are one injury away from your team completely falling apart. Just like your aces are one spiked deuce away from the guy with pocket 2’s sucking out on you.

I’ve done the Studs and Scrubs before and it can be successful. I say that you almost go further and get THREE studs though, maybe not of the highest cost. I would like something more along the lines of Ezekiel Elliott ($56), David Johnson ($39), and Antonio Brown ($46). That would leave you with $59 to fill out four starters and eight $1 bench guys.

Still, there is a ton of risk with Studs and Scrubs and in leagues where the playoffs are more exclusive, it might not be for you.

Studs and Scrubs Example Team:

As you can see, I prefer going with the three near-elite studs rather than blowing my bank on just two guys. This gives you outs if one of your studs does get hurt. It also leaves a little bit more money to fill out my starting lineup.

As I also said, I’m not spending much on my quarterback. Rivers is a solid option and you can get him for a buck or two. I am also not spending too much on my bench. I took a bunch of high-upside guys that could turn into stars. Or that I have no problem dropping if they don’t.

Balanced Starting Lineup

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A Balanced Starting Lineup auction strategy is the inverse to Studs and Scrubs. You try to build an overall balanced team and avoid the super high-dollar players. It is the J/10 suited but knowing you have a couple of hearts and a straight draw on the flop. Your hand is not made yet so nothing is guaranteed, but you give yourself more outs.

This is the best time to talk about allocation of capital. No matter what strategy you use, you need to have a distribution of your draft budget in mind. If you don’t then you either blow through your budget faster than you wanted to or you perform the ultimate sin of having money left over at the end of the auction draft.

The importance of allocating your funds beforehand is that no one knows how much each guy will go for in your draft. We have the average cost of the player or what you think he is worth. All it takes is one auto-draft bot or guy who has had too many for Saquon to go for $77.

You can be prepared for players getting bid up too high by having an allocation of your funds in mind. Even more importantly, you can find values of guys that you might not have had in mind but you can snag for dirt cheap.

That last point is the basis for building a balanced starting lineup. Say you have a starting lineup of QB/RB/RB/WR/WR/FLEX/TE with eight other bench spots or DEF/K. You then allocate how much money you want to spend on your bench so that you know the maximum you can spend on your starting lineup.

With that number in mind, you then pick off the best values that arise in the auction draft. It will usually be after the first couple of rounds of nominations, but you will be able to scoop up six or seven guys that would normally go in Round Three or at the top of Round Four in a snake draft.

Balanced Starting Lineup

As you can see in the example team above, I allocated $25 for my bench and $1 for K/DST. That left me with $172 for my starting lineup after getting a cheap quarterback at $2. The balanced starting lineup can give you more depth to ward off injuries or bye week blues. However, come playoff time your team’s overall ceiling can be capped.

While I like almost all of my players, my running backs are depending on Josh Jacobs becoming a star. If he does not, I do not have a back that can win you the week by himself. If I am going balanced, I am definitely getting one of the top tight ends.

Other Fantasy Football Auction Draft Strategies

There are other auction draft strategies but most of them are just variations of the previous two mentioned. Some people might go as far as to allocate funds per every position which seems a bit extreme. You can really pigeon hole yourself into bad values there.

Other people tend to go with an overall value-based strategy. They just wait for players that they see are going for less than market value. This can lead to waiting too long and ending up with too much extra funds at the end.

Then there are the people that have their minds made up on certain players no matter the cost. These are the ones that can really screw up your plans for price points on different guys. This is a good time to make sure you look at the average values of players beforehand. Do not take these numbers as gospel, but more of a guideline what a guy will be drafted for.

Strategies Within Auction Draft Strategy

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There are other tidbits that you should use no matter what your auction draft strategy is going to be. These are things that you should do within the draft room no matter whether you are going with Studs/Scrubs or a Balanced approach.

As I mentioned earlier, nominations have strategy within them. There are different ways to use them, and many can be successful. I just urge you to use your nominations in some sort of meaningful way.

Some people nominate guys that they do not want that are high cost early so that people blow their bankroll early. Others get their mid-level value plays in early when people are scared to spend too much. You should definitely nominate the top kickers/defenses early though. Either someone bids them up and they spent more than $1 on that position, or no one does and you get the top producer at the cheapest price.

Along those same lines as nominations is the always trusty bid-up. Say you know that a guy is a huge Cowboys’ fan and is getting Zeke no matter what. Don’t be scared to bid him up above market value. The key is to not get your hand caught in the cookie jar by pushing it too high. It is all about reading the room… which leads into my personal auction draft strategy.

Play the People

My personal auction draft strategy is just like poker: I’m playing the people in the room. A lot of what I have already said uses this tactic whether it is your nomination strategy or bidding people up. My over-arching thought process takes into account who I’m in the league with.

If it is a group new to the auction draft process, I’m expecting them to blow their money quickly. This will lead me more toward a balanced approach. If it is a group of veteran auction players that are more risk averse, then you will probably see me go Studs and Scrubs.

Something I have learned this year though is to not worry about my bench at all. The past few years I have gone with a very balanced roster, picking up great values in the $15-$20 range. I have built rosters that go 9-10 deep with quality starters so that I don’t miss a beat from injuries or bye weeks. I have been consistently the top seed but keep losing in the playoffs. Why?

I have been lowering my overall ceiling by not getting elite talent. Todd Gurley and Christian McCaffrey have killed me back-to-back playoffs They go crazy and my team just has a solid day. Now I’m not saying you have to have one of the Top-3 overall players. You need at least a couple of guys capable and probable of putting up a 30-spot.

I am no longer worried about spending money on my bench. I will pick high-upside guys or backups that can fill starting roles, but all of my draft capital is going towards my starting lineup.

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The goal is the win the championship right? We are not just trying to make the playoffs and hope that the other person’s team doesn’t have an exceptional day. We should construct our lineup to have the ability to have that exceptional day but still has the depth to not lay an egg.

Be sure to check out our up-to-date rankings as you prepare your auction draft strategy.

About Michael Tomlin

Michael Tomlin is an ESPY-nominated, former college football player who stays associated with the game through Fantasy Sports. He has been writing his personal blog,, for three years and it focuses on Fantasy Sports, as well as handicapping. He was born and raised in the DFW Metroplex, and he follows all of the Dallas teams, along with Texas Tech athletics and Manchester City F.C.

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