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By now if you’ve made it this far you’ve been inundated by over 10,000 words on how to craft your auction draft skills. What all of it is leading to is an ability to isolate certain points in the draft when your individual skills come together to allow you to capitalize on opportunities that can make or break your draft, and your season. Those moments are called inflection points. They are best defined as moments when the draft shifts to a different course for a variety of reasons. When those points hit, it signals a need for you to shift your approach as well. If you miss them, and you are falling behind the curve, it will lead to some big mistakes.
Inflection points occur multiple times per auction and can last different lengths of time. In fact, each point can and will last different lengths of time for each auction that you do. When you know you have reached each of these points during the draft you can then bring the rest of your skills to bear while pouncing on the opportunities presented.
Of course, there are many miniature points along the way that still will merit your attention, but in general, these are the major points you’ll see that portend a shift in the draft. If you are constantly behind when those shifts occur then you will not be successful. So bring every skill with you to these moments and take advantage. Here are the 6 major inflection points of every auction draft.
#1 – SETTLING IN
This one is easy to spot. When the draft begins there will be a period of time right at the very beginning when people are still getting settled in. They will be thinking big picture about the draft, organizing their papers or computer program in front of them, and getting ready to do battle. Often a big-name player will be called out right away and this heightens the effect of this phenomenon. Quickly there will be a large portion of someone’s cap in play, and because it is so early people won’t want to spend a big percentage of their money immediately. With the whole player pool spread out before them, and their full $200 left, there will be a subconscious but real mental barrier to spending top dollars on the first couple of players.
What You Can Do – Getting a deal on a top-tier player looks different than getting a deal on a lower-tier player. Very often a couple of dollars, or maybe up to $5, is all you can expect in a deal for the elite players. The best way to get one of those deals is while people are settling in. This inflection point is often extremely short so it’s important to recognize it immediately and jump on it (sometimes it can last as little as one player). Don’t forget, this can also recur during a draft if there is an extended break at some point. Just prior to going on a long break, or just after a food break where you have been paused for a while, can replicate the behavior you saw at the beginning of the draft from other managers.
#2 – FAST SPENDING, TOP TALENT
There are always going to be varying degrees of experience in any auction room and that will have an effect on this particular point. Veterans don’t get as excited to throw out the big names and start piling up talent. But it will still happen, and this point will feature a fairly long run of elite talent before drafters begin to branch out to different types and levels of players. The end of the run is when everyone takes a breath and starts to nominate their kicker, or the first defense, or the first low-ranked tight end. There will still be talent on the board but people will start to focus on their individual plan at this point.
What You Can Do – Sometimes it is advantageous for you to slow this run down by throwing a curveball out there. Nominating Jamison Crowder after watching DeAndre Hopkins and Alvin Kamara go can often wake people up to the fact that you don’t have to nominate all the best guys first. But more often than not you won’t be able to stop it. Instead, now is the time for you to start to define your own draft as discussed in Part 4. At this point, you’ll be seeing the market getting set for the top guys and you’ll know if you’re going to be competing for them or not. This inflection point is one of the most important ones of the entire draft. It is where you decide on a strategy and watch everything flow from the decisions made during that crazy first run of players. The purse strings are loose, the talent is elite, and the bidding is wild, but you must control the moment to set up the rest of your draft.
#3 – SCARCITY CREEPS IN
At this juncture, there are plenty of players left, but there are two major things that have changed: There is a substantial amount of money subtracted from the room, and tiers begin to show scarcity. Managers have secured several players and plenty of elite talent has already been rostered. This is not to be confused with a lack of total available players. Rather, this is where the boomerang effect will start to become more prominent as tiers begin to dry up. This might be one of the longest points in the draft. Some teams have already taken themselves out of the running for big players, but others have quietly spent almost no money. As a result, prices will become the least predictable that they will be for the rest of the draft. There will be big spikes as players panic and try to secure the final guys in their respective tiers.
What You Can Do – First, don’t be one of the ones panicking. Because you have read this series you now know that you cannot allow positional runs to dry things up before you secure the players you need. So when you see the draft move to this point speed is of the essence. You may feel as though you are spending more on a player than you wanted, but the alternative is to pay a lot more for someone later because they’re the last good player remaining. The worst-case scenario is that you get bid up on one of the remaining players because of scarcity so you stop and think, “I’ll get one of the couple others that are left.” Someone else is likely thinking the same thing. If you don’t buy that player now it will not only get worse for you in a minute, it will get much worse. The random spikes in pricing will be challenging, but it is what you have prepared for.
It is hard to judge this and pull the trigger at the right time but finding that balance is what turns a decent drafter into an excellent one. Hopefully, at this point, your plan is already in place (you defined that during #2 above) and you can begin to shift your focus from a meta-picture of the draft to a more specific focus on people’s rosters and the reasons behind their bidding.
#4 – MAX BIDS IN PLAY
Now the game of auction drafting is truly afoot. Most teams have a maximum bid that is in play and that limits their desire to spend on players they are not targeting. The elite talent is gone, as are most of the tiers directly below the top guys. At this stage the buying power in the league becomes unequal. The playing field is slanted substantially with cap dollars and this will affect who people nominate. Conversely, your draft is affected by other people’s decisions more than your own.
What You Can Do – This is prime deal-getting territory. Since drafters are more carefully monitoring their cap and have several players on their team, you will see some players inexplicably go cheaply. The spikes in prices become smaller, and overall behavior becomes more predictable. Unless they are on your “Do Not Draft” list, you should be trying to snap up the first couple of deals in order to dominate the draft going forward. Remember you aren’t falling in love with certain players, you’re here to fill a few spots during this period (not a lot – a few!) with good players at rock-solid prices.
Stacking a couple of deals is the best way to put together a dominant roster while still remaining relevant through the draft. You will still subject yourself to the limitations of keeping your roster flexible, but it is a mistake to pass on some of these deals by trying to save your money for someone better. You can’t get those deals back when you pass on them! You must grab a few deals during this particular period or your chances at a next-level roster are gone.
#5 – LOW CAPS – HIGH COMPETITION
There is a tendency to lump this particular inflection point with #6 below (Low Cap – Low Competition). But that is a mistake. After #4 is winding down you will see a lot of people with smaller amounts of money that seem too low to be much of a factor. Assuming this is dangerous. Even if a team is sitting there with eight roster spots left and $31, you may not be aware of their intention to spend $23 (their max bid) on one final player. It is common to make the mistake of saying that this period is like the period of the draft at the very end where there are lower cap amounts but almost nobody is capable of spending more than a few dollars on any one player. When you reach point #5 the competition for players will still be fierce and teams are going to be trying desperately to finish strong. Raw dollar values bid will become smaller, but each dollar will matter more and more.
What You Can Do – Hopefully you have saved your least important nominations for right now. This is when they come in handy if there are still difference makers (for this point in the draft) available that you want to sit on for a little while. Now is when waiting is usually the optimal play. In order to do so, your nomination game takes on the most extreme importance. You must call players out that other people either spend money on or fill a roster spot with. This is also one of the more critical moments for using your player tells when a player is nominated. Pay attention to the teams that can compete with you in remaining cap dollars and analyze what they need. Your goal at this moment is to start to fill up your roster. You’ll stall as long as you can by getting your kicker and your defense wrapped up, and then get the final player or two because you saved the right amount of cap to snag the best players on the board before this inflection point ends.
#6 – ENDGAME – LOW CAP, LOW COMPETITION
The final shift in the draft happens when the auction turns into a modified snake draft. There will be several teams who can’t bid more than $3-$5 for anyone, and some teams begin to grab their last players. This part of the draft is still important! You have gone from competing for players everyone wants, to the “get your guy” territory. You will want to be on the lookout for players with big upside that have been ignored to this point because of some major flaws. They will be popular targets, but you have been cagey and saved enough to get them if you want them. For example, would you rather grab Michael Pittman Jr for $4 or Sterling Shepard for $2? Shepard may provide some sort of fantasy value, but he is the ultimate auction fade. If you have done your job to this point you have plenty of wide receivers and Shepard does nothing for your team. Pittman, on the other hand, showed flashes of becoming a special player in his rookie season. Taking a player like him with breakout potential over a steady veteran like Shepard is almost always a better play. This point in the draft is for longshots with upside and players people have forgotten about.
What You Can Do – The idea during the endgame is to have enough money to get the lottery tickets you want while also spending your money before the draft gets to the true $1 per player point. You should aim to finish your draft before the majority of your league-mates by fixating on a couple of players you have isolated for this stage in your pre-draft preparation. Is there someone suspended that can be a factor down the road? Hurt and out for a month? A handcuff you need for your top guy? No matter the case or reason, grab your guys and get out. There is nothing more frustrating than sitting there watching your favorite guys go because you spent your money too early. The endgame doesn’t have the pressure of the previous stages because you should’ve already set yourself up to finish strong, and if you didn’t, it’s too late anyway. It is still important to pay attention to physical tells and nominations, but the difficulty level is substantially lower as you finish the auction.
So there you have it. You’ve followed along as you learned the most basic of concepts – spend all your money! – to the most advanced analysis on when your room is shifting during the course of an auction. There is no substitute for experience when identifying the right moves to make in any auction. Often people can forget that instincts are built through experience and preparation. You don’t gain instinct by walking into the third auction of your life. You gain that by carefully studying these concepts, preparing for your drafts, and then observing and implementing everything you can every time you draft.
In the end, the best auction drafters can walk into a draft room with absolutely nothing but a computer program to track money. The fewer things to encumber a seasoned auction drafter the better. When all of the skills in this series are mastered, or at least thoroughly understood, then the instinct for drafting becomes the drafter’s best friend instead of the crutches of AAV sheets or tiered player lists. You’ll see the shifts as they happen, spot the tells on the fly, and instantly know which buttons to press, when to bid, and how to dominate your auction.
You’ll likely never leave an auction room in your fantasy career thinking that you had a perfect draft. There will always be a move you could’ve made that you failed to make. This is what makes the auction so much fun and why it is so important to push every edge you can find in the pursuit of Auction Perfection. Good luck and happy bidding!Follow @DrewFBGAuctions