Links to other sections in this series:
If you have followed along in this series, or you have some auction drafts under your belt, then you are ready to take your next steps in refining your auction skillset. To this point, the strategy has argued strongly for preparation in advance that gives you a reliable backbone to fall back on as you draft. But as you become more experienced, the beginner techniques become more second nature and you can begin to slowly loosen things up. You can begin to explore mid-draft changes in strategy, nominations that target specific drafters, and price ranges instead of exact values. This series will hit all of those before it is over, but for now focus on something that is entirely within your control: Nominating a player for bid. In an auction, the one thing you can always count on is that unpredictability will rule. So when you are faced with uncertainty you must find your edge wherever you can. Nominations are one of those edges. It is one of the only things that you control completely, but that also gives you the power to drastically affect what other teams are doing. Here are some vital concepts to be aware of when crafting your nominations.
DEFINE YOUR DRAFT EARLY
It is sometimes easy to make the mistake of coming up with players you want and then attempting to sit on those players as long as you can to try and find a lower price. But while it is rarely correct to simply call out every player you want, on the other hand, if you want to execute your strategy there are going to be some key players that will send your draft off in different directions. You must nominate those players as early as the draft allows in order to avoid missing opportunities along the way if you’re waiting for players you are targeting to be called out. Some common situations:
- Top Quarterback – Aiming for a player like Patrick Mahomes II, Josh Allen, or Kyler Murray
- Running Back Heavy – Aiming for one elite running back and another top-12 to top-15 running back as your RB2
- Wide Receiver Heavy – Aiming for two to four top-24 wide receivers
- Top Tight End – Aiming for the truly elite options, in 2021 this is limited to Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Darren Waller
In each of these situations defining your draft looks a little different, but it means doing the same thing: Picking one or more key players that will tell you if your strategy is viable right from the start. For example, you are set on rostering Patrick Mahomes II this year and have budgeted $38 to land him on your team. But if you don’t get Mahomes you have decided you are going to switch to a Top Tight End track instead. Your first nomination needs to be Mahomes 100% of the time. This performs a critical function for you. If you have $38 set aside for Mahomes you need to know immediately if that number is going to hold up. With top players there is no need to wait to nominate them because you aren’t going to get much value, if any, on the elite guys. So if you wait on Mahomes and nobody gets around to nominating quarterbacks you might watch Kelce, Kittle, and Waller come off the board before you know if you’re getting Mahomes or not. That puts you in a tough spot because if the bidding stops at a reasonable price on a top tight end you have to make the call whether to jump ship on the main player you were targeting (Mahomes). Or what if T.J. Hockenson goes for $11 while you are waiting? He could be a bargain at that price, but it’s hard to commit to him when you don’t know if you’re getting Mahomes. It is also quite frustrating to land Kelce or Kittle first and then see Mahomes go for $31 when you can’t afford him anymore. Take the guesswork out. If you want to land some top receivers? Get Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs out there and see if your idea is going to work. Define your path early through your own nominations.
SNEAK THROUGH YOUR FAVORITES
You will notice that the auction settles into a rhythm at various points in the draft where people are nominating a bunch of one position group in a row, or they’re nominating the top players at each position. Your nomination strategy at that point should include some attempts to sneak some of your favorite targets through cheaper than they would go at another point in the draft. The best candidates for that tactic are players who are ranked low relative to that point in the draft, players who have had little preseason buzz, and players you believe will go cheaper than they should for some other reason (i.e. an injury-filled 2020).
Your job when you put your nomination sheet together (according to Part 3 of this series), is to have candidates from all three of those groups on your sheet to use when you need to. If you are planning a bargain quarterback strategy you can take advantage of positional runs to try and get one of your top quarterback targets while people are focused elsewhere. Therefore, if you have faith that Matthew Stafford will have a shot at a Top 10 quarterback season because of his move to Los Angeles, you can wait for the inevitable wide receiver run and throw out Stafford in the middle of it. You just may find yourself with a $5 starting quarterback and then you can largely ignore the position the rest of the way.
These three categories of nominations are somewhat risky but can be effective. Remember that nothing is ever certain to work, but this is a fairly advanced approach that requires you to read your room, read the other managers, and pull the right player out of the hat. The key in this tactic is not to fall in love with any of the players you are attempting to sneak through. Have a handful of them and if it doesn’t work then try again the next time the opportunity arises. One of them should work and accomplish the goal.
START THE DOMINOES
So you have executed the strategy above. You nominated Stafford but he went for too much at $11. Then you tried Ryan Tannehill and he too went for too much at $13. On your third try, you manage to land Jalen Hurts for just $8. But nobody else is worried about nominating quarterbacks. You are three rounds deep and nobody has paid any attention to the position except for your nominations. Instead, they are continuing to hammer away at the top running backs and wide receivers. You can let that go on for a little while, but eventually you need to start the quarterback run. Let the top running backs and wide receivers go, and when things start to turn towards the WR2 and RB2 tiers it is time to push the first domino and get Patrick Mahomes II up for bid. People will be in a trance trying to grab the top guys elsewhere and it takes your nomination to snap people back to the fact that there is top talent still left on the board at other positions. This can work for almost any position. This year it’s eminently possible that the beginning of the draft will be a quick run on running backs. If you want some of the second-tier backs you’ll have to start a run with a top player nomination at another position to shift the focus. And again, not everything you try in an auction will work perfectly so your first nomination might not be enough to start the run. But keep hammering away at what you are trying to accomplish, and eventually, your focused nomination angles will add up to a positive net gain for your team.
DON’T TAKE EVERY DEAL
There is a point in the draft at which the money is starting to run out in the room and raw player prices start to drop precipitously. It is in this zone that you start to see some of the better values in the draft. The draft room, or online chatbox, will be awash with comments like, “gosh that’s a good deal”, or “boy I thought he’d go for more”, or simply lots of head shaking and mumbling. It is a curious case of human psychology that will constantly be present – people will grumble about the good deals drafters are getting all the while having the ability to bid but choosing NOT to do so. They are waiting on certain players. You want to be active during this time, but a common mistake is to be too active and start jumping on every deal. Most leagues have a limit to how many of each position you can draft or it will have bench spots that are a bit limited thereby forcing you to make decisions about who you want on your team. Your nominations should capitalize on any of those limitations by attempting to fill other team’s rosters with players that are good but are not the best available players. You may be surprised at how often you can nominate the seven-best available wide receiver and teams with plenty of money fill their final wide receiver spot by buying that player instead of waiting on a much better option. Either they won’t be paying attention to the mistake they’re making because they aren’t monitoring their roster spots closely enough, or they simply won’t be able to pass up a good deal. Either way, it is a viable tactic to be used by smart auction drafters.
When teams are unable to pass on a deal, often what happens to them is that they fill up their roster with deals like Brandin Cooks for $6 and Curtis Samuel for $4. Those are good prices! But if you have $31 left and all you need is two receivers you’ve made the critical error of taking two deals instead of keeping your roster open for the better players still available. You will have to get used to seeing players go cheaper than you want them to. Resist the urge to bid and keep your roster spots for the better players left. Roster flexibility at that point is more important than taking every deal you see. Turning down Cooks for $6 is clearly the play when you can have Adam Thielen or Cooper Kupp for $21.
Once you see these situations playing out during a draft it will be much easier to take advantage of them instead of merely conceptualizing it in this article. Here’s a good example of a situation that happens in drafts fairly often and a way you can put your cagey nominating approach into play.
- Team A – Remaining cap - $38
- Team B – Remaining cap - $31
It is late in the draft and these two teams have the most money left and are also the most in need of key players. For purposes of this example, assume nobody else can afford to bid above $16 so these two will go at it. Team A is you. Your WR2 slot has a gaping hole to be filled, but there is just one wide receiver left who is an acceptable fit for that spot – Robert Woods. Unfortunately, you have let the last of the WR2 tiers dry up so the price will be more than you wanted for Woods, but he’s clearly the player you need to land despite being backed into a corner. Team B also needs a WR2 but their disadvantage is that they need a running back as well. The tendency for most drafters is to simply sit back and wait in order to possibly get Woods super cheap. After all, you have the most money, right? Nobody else has your buying power at that moment. The fallacy in that process is that while logical, it will play out much differently in reality. Why is that? Because most teams are acutely aware Woods is still available. And while there are some decent running back names left, between the two position groups he is clearly the highest-ranked player still on the board. So even if it takes someone’s last dollar, Woods is good enough that any of the drafters who don’t have enough money will still bid to their max to see if they’ll get lucky and get him. That guarantees he will go for at least $16. With that baseline, you can play out the two scenarios in front of you.
You attempt to play the waiting game. Save your money and see how long you can go before Woods is nominated. Your hope here is that he falls far enough that people are completely tapped out and you get him for a massively discounted price. Unfortunately, this strategy has a couple of problems that people tend to miss when employing the waiting game.
The first is that most auction rooms will contain various levels of drafters. There will be guys who are clueless and are working off a couple of wrinkled sheets of paper they printed off at the office before they came to the draft. They’ll be trying to find a name to nominate, will not have thought about it before someone tells them it’s their turn, and they’ll look down and notice that Woods isn’t crossed off their list. Invariably the question will come out, “Oh! Robert Woods? Is he gone yet?” That casual question will tear out the heart of your plan to wait any further.
On the other hand, if you don’t have someone like that in the room, you will have some more experienced drafters (or there will be a mix of both). If the experienced drafters are running out of money they will usually be looking to do one thing and one thing only when it’s their turn: Get you (and Team B) to spend your money. In that instance, the Woods nomination could come even quicker than from a novice. The veteran drafter will realize that they aren’t going to land Woods and won’t attempt to sit on that big of a name. Instead, they’ll throw him out there to kill some money from one of the cap leaders and attempt to bring the draft back to them.
In either instance, it is unlikely the waiting game will be successful. The other side effect of this strategy? You’ve taken yourself out of the draft at this extremely important point because if you bid on another player you will lose the advantage that has you in the driver’s seat for Woods in the first place. You can, and will, get Woods, but until you do you have almost no flexibility to do much of anything. As a result, you’re likely to see some deals pass you by that you can’t bid on for fear of losing your edge to get Woods. At that point, your ability to get him will effectively limit any move you can make until you get him on your roster and see what he will cost you. Getting him is important, but you’ll lose some buying power at the end of the draft and your overall team strength will suffer. You can have your Woods and eat it too! Scenario 2 tells you how.
When it is your turn to nominate you focus on one thing – how to get Team B to buy a running back. It doesn’t matter what they spend, it’s just important that they buy that running back. Examining your list you see that Raheem Mostert is still available and is in a tier by himself over all running backs left. That’s likely to be who Team B is waiting on, and even if it isn’t, they can’t afford to pass on Mostert because they will have effectively shut themselves out of the top running back left and they know you can still outbid them on Robert Woods. The prudent move for Team B is to pay whatever they have to pay for Mostert and take the next best wide receiver they can with what is left. Otherwise, they’ll lose both Woods and Mostert. Now, auction drafters are not always prudent, so the move won’t work 100% of the time, but your job is to make the best plays you can and hope for the result you want. They can always pass on Mostert and then bid their max $31 for Woods and kamikaze right into your chances at pulling this off, but that would be a spiteful move not made out of self-interest and unlikely to happen.
Now assuming the nomination for Mostert works, the other teams should make Team B spend up to the $16 max and it is likely that Team B is now effectively removed from the Calvin Ridley equation. Instead of having to pay somewhere in the mid to low $20s for Woods because Team B bid until they were forced to drop out, your new price point is $16. And with a little luck that number will drop before it gets back to you for you to nominate none other than Woods himself. At that point you roster him and it is entirely possible that you still have the highest maximum bid in the room for the final stretch of the auction.
What you have seen here is a simple but repeatable situation in which your identification of a key nomination at a key point in the draft can make or break how you finish your team. If you blow off your nomination and fail to isolate the right player to put up, you can cost yourself valuable players and cap money. The average auction drafter in this scenario thinks, “don’t nominate someone you want.” But the move in Scenario 2 – identifying it, isolating the right player to pull it off, and executing the plan – is an advanced play and it should become part of your skillset if you can remember these key concepts.
Nominations are a massive part of any auction draft strategy when you want to continue to grow as a drafter. Don’t hesitate to try and be the one to steer the draft. It is likely nobody will have any idea that you are attempting to drive the bus, and even if they do know, there is little they can do about it because your nominations are going to work for YOU, and that is why they’re so important. Use them wisely.Follow @DrewFBGAuctions