Links to other sections in this series:
After Part I, you have a basic framework for how to avoid some common problems for beginning auction drafters. Now you can start to focus on how exactly to avoid those mistakes instead of just knowing that they are undesirable.
When your league decides to try auction drafting for the first time it is probable that the majority of the league hasn’t done it before so there will be some easily predictable results for the first couple of years of the draft. Assuming reasonably intelligent drafters, these trends will gradually become less pronounced and eventually disappear altogether. But before that happens if you are aware of what’s coming you can take advantage of their inexperience. Furthermore, even if they eliminate some of these simple rookie mistakes, there will always be drafters who don’t learn from their mistakes year to year, and newer auction drafters who don’t know what they’re doing. These skills you learn now continue to give you benefits no matter how long you do auctions.
HALLMARKS OF BEGINNER AUCTIONS
For new auction leagues, emotion and lack of self-control are two of the bigger calling cards you will see. The word emotion is just another way of saying that people tend to be somewhat unpredictable when the bids start flying and things are real for the first time. They themselves often don’t know why they bid sometimes, and therefore their emotions will manifest themselves in different ways. Some owners are so jacked up to get going and start drafting that they forget how long the draft will be. Instead, they are bidding on every player and they’ll start spending wildly.
The other side of that same coin is beginners who are very intimidated by the moment and are extremely passive as big names are flying off the board. More often than not this will be what you see in a new auction league. The teams have likely not read Pasquino’s article on how to come up with values for individual players. They likely have not come up with numbers that they are willing to pay for certain positions or tiers of players, and even if they did they’re likely to be inaccurate. As a result, when players cross the $50 or $60 mark (assuming a $200 cap) they will be scared about the amount of money they are committing, and in that uncertainty is where you pounce.
Regardless of whether players are intimidated or wildly aggressive, don’t forget the cardinal rule of auctions: If teams are overspending for players the prices will always come back down to bargain levels later and you should be able to wait a little bit. But if teams are sitting back and not getting involved because they are nervous then you must recognize this and jump in to start getting those deals. That window is sometimes small, sometimes in extremely novice auction rooms it can last a whole draft, but either way, it’s your job to be alert for this possibility. Remember, though, that this idea is subject to the topics covered in Part 1 in that if people are bidding too high for the top talent you must decide if you can afford to wait or if you will need to wade in and overpay as well.
There is sometimes another excellent opportunity in a wild room that is overpaying for the top guys. In those rooms, it is eminently feasible to sit back and let the top-tier players go for insane prices and instead gobble up a bunch of second-tier players (Note: Second-tier means players ranked just below the top guys). This doesn’t mean grabbing a bunch of RB2 or WR2 level players. It means that as people go hard for Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry you may be able to let them go and scoop up four late Round 1 or Round 2 type players at a massive discount. Knowing ahead of time that you will see this lack of control from new drafters gives you opportunities that astute auction drafters seize. Instead of having Cook and Tyreek Hill for $101, you could possibly get Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, Keenan Allen, and Allen Robinson in the neighborhood of $130. Those players are just illustrative, and values will change a lot as the season approaches, but the point is important. Is it a crazy room or a timid room? You can attack either one, but you have to recognize it as it is happening and pivot appropriately.
Another one of the more obvious things you will see due to pure inexperience is the spending on defenses and kickers. It is not uncommon to see the top kicker from the previous year nominated and see the bidding reach $2 to $5. Don’t do this. There have been many studies on the ability of kickers (and defenses) to repeat their performances from year to year, but the conclusion is simple: they probably won’t. The 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars team defense was popular in 2018 drafts and they disappointed. The 2018 Chicago Bears team defense was excellent that year, but then they went too high in 2019 as they were a middling fantasy unit. The 2019 San Francisco 49ers were excellent and sought after last year and they fell apart due to some crushing injuries. Don’t fall into this trap. You can easily get a kicker or defense at any point in the draft, or off the waiver wire, so your only job as a beginner in an auction is to spend exactly $1 for every kicker and defense you draft. If you feel comfortable throwing out a top defense or kicker knowing they’ll be bid up a little that’s a fine strategy. But be careful, nomination strategies will be discussed later on because for now, you need to hoard that team defense and kicker nomination for later in the draft. The value of holding on to those free nominations later in the draft while you wait on a player far outweighs the value of sticking another team with a defense for a few extra bucks.
One note before moving on. There are certainly plenty of leagues that award more points to defenses than the average league. This can include higher rewards for points allowed or incorporating yards allowed as a way to earn fantasy points. Check your league settings before you draft, but in those leagues, it can be advantageous to pick a couple of defenses that have some continuity to them, like the Washington Football Team or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and throw a few bucks at them. This should be done in moderation but is a viable approach in limited situations like this.
RECORD KEEPING – THE MISTAKE THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
Remember that Part 1 talked about the need for good record-keeping as the draft goes on. It stands to reason that if one of the bigger mistakes beginners make is not keeping track of the money as they go, then there will be quite a few in a new auction room that are not aware of what their own max bid is, they certainly won’t know what other teams can spend, and they’ll mostly be ignorant of what anyone has on their roster. You can put this information to use more extensively after reading about Inflection Points and Nomination strategies later, but for now, you should be marking who is tracking money and who isn’t. You will be surprised at how often something similar to the following situation occurs:
Travis Kelce is up for nomination. The bidding is down to Teams A and B. Teams A and B have no tight ends on their team. Team C already has Darren Waller for $29, and only has $51 left while still needing an RB2, WR2, and the rest of their backup spots filled as well. Team C is not in on the bidding. The back-and-forth between A and B slows at $27 for Kelce. Team C is upset that he isn’t going for more money and jumps into the bidding by yelling “$30!”. Team C is not doing so as a calculated move. All he knows is that Kelce should be going for more than he paid for Waller, and he is petulantly making a snap decision without understanding the consequences if he wins Kelce for 30 of the 51 dollars he has left in his budget. Team A is keeping salary stats meticulously and realizes instantly that if he stops bidding then he is going to stick Team C with two tight ends, and effectively take him out of the draft because he’ll only have $21 left to fill most of his team. But Team B is not keeping track of the money. Instead, he just knows that he wants Kelce and bids $31 thereby letting Team C off the hook.
In this scenario, which team do you want to be? Team A right? It’s forgivable to be Team B, but not desirable. And being Team C? You’re not in control of anything that is happening to you and you’ll likely end up with a poor team. Pay attention to teams that aren’t keeping track of money being spent and you’ll often be able to trap them with bids or nominations and they’ll never see it coming.
It’s also not uncommon to see teams exceeding their allowable maximum bid because they don’t know what it is, buying a second quarterback for starter money when they already have Patrick Mahomes II, or buying a fourth running back they’ll never start before they have a wide receiver. The fact is, you could write a book on what mistakes a lack of good record keeping will do to a fantasy team and not all of them will directly benefit you, but if you recognize those managers that aren’t keeping up you can be watching for moments when it does.
The term “tell” is most often heard around the poker table when describing a player giving away the strength of their hand without showing their cards. Tells are involuntary actions of the body or speech that give clues to an opponent about what is in the person’s mind. As a simple example, police detectives are taught that when questioning someone if that person looks down at the table or floor when answering that is a sign of deception. Although the whole statement might not be false, there is deception there in a high percentage of instances because that tell has a high-reliability index. In other words, you can usually see a tell like that and take it to the bank – its reliability is very high. For purposes of this part of your development in auctions, you don’t need to be dabbling in tells that have a high degree of judgment behind them. Instead, focus on two important tells that are very reliable in beginners.
Tell #1 – Novice auction drafters will nominate players they want or players they don’t want. Of course, you can’t know which managers in the room are which when you first start. But your job is to figure that out in the first hour of the draft and then use it as the draft goes on. More often than not, beginners will tend to simply call out players that they are interested in. They’ll either end up with that player or they’ll bid to the late stages before dropping out. This is an easy one to spot if you are paying attention. Once you spot it you can use it to squeeze extra dollars from people because the risk that goes along with bidding someone up is vastly reduced.
Conversely, you should be on guard for this tendency in yourself. Part 3 will talk about some simple rules for nominating players, but for now, just remember that you should sometimes call out players you want, and sometimes your nominations should be players you have no interest in. When you call out players you don’t want, don’t forget this is subject to Tell #2 below and you need to act as though you are interested by putting in some bids as the price climbs. Then you can drop out and people won’t know if you wanted him, or if it was a bid to bleed other people’s money.
Tell #2 – Bidding only when interested in a player. New auction drafters find themselves in a situation they have never been before. The draft is long, they need to pay attention more than they ever have in a serpentine draft, and they can’t drift in and out of focus or they’ll miss things that are happening. But they will lose focus, they will get tired, and when they hear a name they don’t care about they’ll tune out. In fact, whenever they hear a name they don’t care about they’ll simply sit there and watch the draft happen around them. For you, this means it is extremely easy to know when someone is serious about a player because they’ll be bidding. It’s that simple. Again, when you spot this happening it is your job to squeeze some extra dollars from these drafters. They likely won’t even know that they spent $42 instead of $40, and that can happen six to eight times in a draft. Bleeding off $12-$16 from other managers just because they are giving away their affinity for certain players is easy money for your squad.
Again, don’t forget to check your own tendencies subject to this tell. You should do your absolute best to insert yourself in almost every single nomination that comes up. Any time a player is called out that you know will go for over $8-$10 you should register a bid. For the top half of the player pool, you should be active on every single player. The best way to make sure nobody knows who you really want is to be omnipresent in the bidding. For example, you are not a fan of Alvin Kamara this year. He is nominated for $10. You believe he’ll go for over $40, but you’re certain it will go over $35. So you should bid as many times as you can until the bidding gets to $25. At that point, you can keep going if the bidding is furious in order to push it higher before dropping out or you can drop out immediately. Either way, nobody will pay any attention except to have a vague notion that you were bidding again. This creates a subconscious impression in the heads of the other drafters that you are active and when someone comes up that you actually want it will mask your intentions. So you should attempt to do this on most of the players up for nomination throughout the draft. Only the most advanced of drafters will even pick up on the fact that you are employing this strategy. It is one of the easiest, and most effective, tools for you to implement to make other players in the draft unable to figure out your strategy.
This article is not an exhaustive list of all the things you will see in a beginner auction because that would be impossible to list. But, while unpredictability is the fun thing about auctions, you now understand this will be magnified in novice drafters and you are ready for how that will look. The advantage you now have is that you are alert for beginner mistakes, and you’ve just learned the theory behind attacking beginner psychology, so now you can head to Part 3 and learn how exactly to prepare as a beginner to keep you calm in big moments during an auction.