Links to other sections in this series:
So by now, you know what mistakes to avoid and you know what a beginner auction is likely to look like. But you’re still a beginner yourself, so what should you do to reduce that adrenaline spike you get in the middle of a big moment? How do you get around the likelihood that you wilt in the heat of an intense bidding war until you have more experience? You need to be in control of three separate lists that you continually update until the day of the draft.
AVERAGE AUCTION VALUE TIERED RANKINGS
A whole article could be written about the usefulness of Average Auction Values (“AAV”) when preparing for a draft. You can read Section II of Jeff Pasquino’s auction primer to show you how to come up with individual values for each player on your own prior to the draft. But assuming you aren’t ready for that level of involvement, AAV acts as sort of a cheat sheet for coming up with price points for each player. AAV is compiled by taking all the prices that have been paid either in mock or real auctions to that point in the preseason and averaging every price to come up with a value that is supposed to approximate what players will go for in a real draft. The problem, of course, is that there are a lot of variables that affect draft values such as when the nomination was made, who is left at the position, and what money is left in the room. So, you can use AAV to tell you what everyone else is thinking, and then use those initial AAV prices to give you a baseline to tweak each number up or down according to where you want them in your rankings.
Then what you’ll do is study those numbers, break each position into tiers based on where your price breaks are, and tweak them up until it is time to draft. Then you need to erase those numbers from your tier sheet. You read that correctly. Erase them from your tier sheet before you go into the draft room. When you walk in there you must have your tiers, but as a beginner, you do not want to have a dollar value for each player in front of you or it will cause you to feel anxious when players don’t go for what AAV predicted before it started. You’ll also be tempted to try and jump on every perceived deal that you see happening or stop bidding every time someone gets too expensive. Creating those hard lines is the worst way to approach auctions because those who thrive are the ones who can constantly adjust and be flexible in their approach. When the bids start flying AAV rarely holds up as more than a general guide. A strong case can be made that as your experience goes up, the effectiveness of AAV goes down. Use it to help you as a guide as you prepare, but don’t be handcuffed by those estimates when the draft starts.
EXACT ROSTER VALUES
So you just got done reading about how you should not restrict yourself to exact values when drafting but follow along and see why you need them when it comes to your own roster. The first thing you have to do is decide what your strategy will be in the draft. If you don’t know what that means, stop reading and go read Section V of Pasquino’s auction primer about different strategies to use and how to apportion your money according to what you choose. Once that’s done you should go down your roster and come up with exact numbers for every single roster spot, starting at the bottom by assigning $1 for kickers, defenses, and any slots at the back of the roster for final backups. Then spread the rest out according to your strategy. What you’ll end up with is an exact dollar value for every single roster spot. As you get better at auctions these numbers can become ranges, or disappear altogether, but for now you need them to be exact. As you win every player during the auction you should slot that player on your roster, see whether or not you paid more or less than you wanted to, and then put the difference in a running total on the right side of your paper. This number will have a “+” if you got a deal for that position, and a “-“ if you are behind the game.
So why have the exact price for the roster spot, but not the prices for the players in your rankings? The answer is that this method allows you to be flexible for deals while still sticking to the strategy you have mapped out. As you continue to draft players the running total on the right side of your sheet will tell you whether you have money to throw somewhere to improve, or whether you are going to have to cut somewhere. In the end, you know what you can spend on each position, and this is where your tier sheet comes in. Avoid falling in love with players or you’ll be tempted to overpay. Instead isolate a tier or tiers of players and say “I find any of this group of players to be acceptable as a WR2.” Then take one of them whenever the price is right. This is the way to get a deal, get someone you want (as you’ll see later, your tiers won’t have players you have no intention of drafting), but fulfill the biggest goal – getting the position filled at or below the value you decided on before the draft. Take a look at an example:
You have decided on a wide receiver heavy strategy. You feel confident that you will get a top wide receiver for $49. For your second wide receiver slot, you have allotted $32. Your goal for the WR2 slot is to get one from the pool that starts with D.K. Metcalf (your WR8) and goes down to Chris Godwin (your WR15). As things develop you see several players in your Acceptable WR2 tier, like Justin Jefferson, go for over $32, but your WR9, Keenan Allen, stops at $29. You never expected to get a top-10 wide receiver in your WR2 slot, but you bid $30, and when the auctioneer says “sold!” you can smugly pencil in Allen in your WR2 slot and write “+2” on your page.
What you’ve done in this example is passed on wide receivers that didn’t fit your price, isolated the value in the pool you were drawing from, and added $2 to another position later in the draft. This method is the best way to control nerves and adrenaline in big moments because you know the numbers you have in front of you were conceived in the dozens of hours of preparation that you did before the draft when you had a cool head. It is a comforting thought in the most uncomfortable of moments. In a nutshell, this is how you stay flexible, while still giving yourself a rigid framework to keep you calm when you need to make or break your draft. And hey, if you end up not getting any of the wide receivers you wanted and end up with your WR20 – Cooper Kupp – but you get him for $19, then you have just added a massive $13 you can plow into top talent somewhere else. Things aren’t always going to go perfectly but when you have a framework to fall back on you’ll be able to adjust when it doesn’t fall in line with your exact thinking before the draft. Auctions almost never do, and that’s why you’ll be prepared to roll with it.
To further this thought, it is encouraged to work up two to three strategies for how you want the draft to play out. For example, you could have one draft sheet where you spend on a top-three tight end, one sheet where you spend heavily on two top running backs, and one sheet where you go zero running back and spend heavily on three wide receivers. Then once the draft starts and you pick up your first deal you can use that to determine which sheet you’ll be using and you can scrap the other two. Later in this series, the necessity of defining your draft through nominations will further refine your abilities in this area.
The final piece of the puzzle is a nomination sheet. This is very different from a rankings sheet. This is a list of players you want to nominate each time it is your turn to start the bidding on a player. While you may think this seems like overkill, it is quite important to make your draft go the way you want it to go. For purposes of your beginner status, you can very easily guide your draft by making a list with two columns: players to call out that you like or are targeting, and players you have almost no interest in rostering at all.
Before talking about those two lists, a quick word about some general nomination thoughts is in order. There are two important guidelines you can follow to help you with your nominations in addition to your two-column list:
- Don’t waste a nomination – As players come off the board, your options start to dwindle for who you can call out when it’s your turn. Keep some players in mind for your nomination just like you would in a serpentine. For novices, when J.K. Dobbins goes off the board it’s tempting to simply look at the running backs and say, “Chris Carson” when it’s your turn. This is a mistake. Throwing out a random player cancels the small advantage you have to steer the draft your way! The theory behind that is coming in Part 4 but just remember – have a reason for every nomination you make. In its most reductive form, those two reasons are to use your own money, or use someone else’s. Of course, the underlying reasons behind your nomination are a combination of a bunch of complicated factors, but ultimately they boil down to one of those two goals. That’s why when you’re starting out you’ll have this nomination list. Use it and be deliberate with your nominations.
- Keep your kicker and defense nomination for late in the draft – There will be many, many times over the course of your auction career where you will be running low on money and you have a player or two that you desperately want to nab for your squad. For example: You have 16 roster slots, and 13 of them are full. You only need a kicker, defense, and a running back or wide receiver. You also have Dalvin Cook and you feel that you must roster Alexander Mattison as his backup. There are several teams with more money than you, but they only need 1-2 players. In this situation, one of those teams might be drawn to a player like Mattison for a what-the-heck type of lottery ticket if he is nominated while they still have money or are alive in the draft. So you need to sit on Mattison as long as possible. In this scenario it is often the entire difference between getting your guy or not if you can effectively punt for a couple rounds. Having saved your kicker and defense allows you to do that. Otherwise, if you call out a running back and other managers are paying attention, they can simply let you have that guy for $1 and they take you out of the draft. Keep the kicker and defense nomination until you absolutely have to use them.
Now back to that list of players you need to have handy. You shouldn’t compile the list by going down your ranking sheet and putting every player in column 1 or 2. Rather, you should make the list by thinking of what players should go on the list that will further your pre-planned draft strategy. Therefore, if you believe that you are going to go super cheap at quarterback and tight end, you will likely have some cheap players at each position in Column 1 (players you like), and some expensive players at each position in Column 2 (players that don’t fit your cheap quarterback goal). i.e. Column 1 could have Baker Mayfield and Kirk Cousins. Both players are going somewhat cheaply this year. Don’t worry if your nomination doesn’t work. If you call out Kirk Cousins and suddenly find someone saying “$9” on him then it’s easy and you’re out on him. That’s why you have a long list that you can go back to again and again when it gets to you. One of your cheap Column 1 quarterbacks should sneak through to you at some point for a good price.
Conversely, if you feel that quarterbacks are too hot you may feel that calling out Mayfield after Cousins just went for $9 is a mistake. Instead, pivot to Column 2, the players you want others to spend on. This year you may feel that Matt Ryan belongs in Column 2 for your strategy. So you nominate Ryan. Even if he goes for a disappointing price of $8 (you wanted it to go higher), you still accomplished two goals with your deliberate choice of Ryan to put on the block. The first is that you got someone in the league to take a quarterback and they won’t be competing with you later for that position because most managers won’t draft a second one. The second thing you accomplished was forcing someone else to pay money, no matter how small, for a player you never intended to roster in the first place.
To that end, it’s advisable to compile as many players as you possibly can on this nomination list. Sixty players would be an absolute minimum, and 100 is preferable. The longer your list is, the more likely it will still be relevant later in the draft when you need it.
There you have it. A comprehensive run-down of the exact mechanics of putting together a pre-draft strategy as a beginning drafter. When you walk into the draft, have your tier sheet, your roster permutations with exact dollar amounts, and your nomination list. Other than your software you don’t need anything else in front of you. These three lists will make you more prepared than almost any auction drafter out there, veterans included. The very nature of auctions means that you can’t ever nail every detail down, but if you have read the first three parts in this series you have a firm, yet flexible, way to succeed right out of the gate in your first auction draft.
Continue on in the series to get into more nebulous and theoretical approaches to drafting that take you to the next level into the Intermediate phase of your auction draft development. Part 4 will talk about how to define your draft in order to execute your plans.