I've been playing fantasy football for more than a decade, and I'd like to believe I've gotten pretty good at it. (Good enough, at least, that I felt qualified to start blogging about it for the Times this year.) But although I've played in multiple leagues for pretty much all but those early years -- and I've managed some of the more complicated keeper rules you've ever seen -- I've never done an auction draft. Until last week.
After years of my friend Mike talking it up and reading several fantasy football articles about how auction drafts are the "most fair" form of a draft, I noticed that Yahoo (minor aside, if you've never played fantasy football before and aren't sure where to sign up, use Yahoo. I've tried ESPN, Fox Sports and a couple others and, comparatively, they stink. I haven't tried NFL.com's yet, but Yahoo has the best interface and I've rarely had any problems with it, so I stick with what I know) offered auction draft public leagues. I'm not sure if they have done this before or not, but I figured I'd give it a go.
No longer an auction league virgin, I must say I could not be any more bullish on this format. If you haven't set up your league drafts already, I highly suggest doing a draft auction instead of the traditional snaking draft, especially if you have a group of veteran fantasy football players.
This isn't to say I didn't make some major missteps in my first go-round, but generally speaking, I was happy with the moves I made and think my team will certainly be a contender this year. Here's a look at my final roster, what I spent on each player, what I liked, what I didn't, and what I would do differently next time.
First, the league format. It was a 10-team league with a $200 auction budget, standard scoring (1 point per 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving; 4 points passing TD, 6 points rushing/receiving TD, etc.) with a team consisting of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 D and 6 bench spots for 15 total players.
Because it's an auction, in theory, someone could draft all 15 of their players before anyone else filled their roster. There are rounds, but only in the sense that you nominate a player to be bid upon.
This is where the first bit of strategy comes in. I don't know the experience level of the other 9 players in the room, but one "trick" I had heard about auctions was, early on, to nominate players preferably those who are buzzy or expected to have breakout years, that you aren't particularly interested in to get other managers to bid on them early and spend their money. I tried this a few times and, to me at least, it worked.
However, I think I fell victim to it a few times as well.
Here's where I got a little frustrated, and it's completely my fault. I decided to spend big money on players I wanted at what I viewed as the most important positions, and figured I'd fill the rest of my roster in with sleepers. I spent $190 of my $200 auction dollars my first five picks -- two starting running backs, two of my three starting wide receivers, and quarterback. I figured with my remaining $10, I could pick up a No. 3 WR for a few bucks, a third RB for a few more, spend a dollar on a tight end I liked and then fill out the rest of my roster with undrafted free agents. (I'm a firm believer that, after the first 120 to 150 players or so, the guys who are drafted versus the guys you like who are free agents are largely the same, especially kickers and defenses, which you should never draft until the last rounds, if you have to draft them at all.)
Here's where it went wrong. Once I was down to $10 with 10 roster spots remaining, I realized I couldn't bid more than $1 on any player. And that meant I really only got to spend that dollar when I was nominating, because you must nominate a player for at least $1.
Lesson learned? You absolutely must understand ALL the rules of your league and draft before starting. That means checking everything out, not just the scoring and the roster positions, which are most important. My advice if you're doing an online draft is if they offer you the option to do an online mock first, do it. Not only will it help you when you do your actual draft, you will get a much better feel for how the interface works and rules like that one.
So, after my first five players, I spent the better part of an hour watching other people bid and get some of my favorite sleepers for shells and beads (which are still apparently worth more than $1). The worst one? Miami running back Lamar Miller, who I think has a legitimate chance to finish as a top 15 back, went for $3. Three-freaking-dollars. There was nothing I could do as I watched time tick away and no one else bid him up. It was, without question, the steal of the draft.
By now, I'm sure you are wondering, who did I get on my final roster. Here's a look at my starting lineup, as well as what I paid for them.
Adrian Peterson, $67. Peterson was the first player nominated, and I decided to go all in. I think he's on a plain all by himself. He might not end up as the No. 1 scoring RB in fantasy football, but his consistency and all-around game, especially in a non-PPR league, had me buying early. I was happy with the price I got him at, as having AD means a lot of comfort and flexibility with the rest of your roster.
Wish I woulda: There are only a few backs I have very little questions about, and one of them is Ray Rice. He went for $52. I would've been fine with him as my top RB and saved $15.
Calvin Johnson, $57. This is what I love about an auction league. Unless you are in a 4-team league, there is no other way in the world you are going to be able to pair up Peterson and Megatron on your fantasy squad. At this point, I only had $76 left and 13 positions left to fill, and I was fine with that.
Wish I woulda: There is nothing I would've changed here. Like Peterson, I like Megatron is in a class all of his own, and I think owning the best WRs in a league where you must start three is critical.
Demaryius Thomas, $23. I'm not sure that I overpaid here, but my philosophy in a 3-WR league is that you need at least two you feel really good about, and I think Thomas can be a top 5 player at the position and he's going to be my No. 2. He also cost me significantly less than guys like AJ Green ($46), Brandon Marshall ($45), Dez Bryant ($38) and Julio Jones ($33) and I think he can be just as productive.
Wish I woulda: I do have some concerns about Thomas losing catches with Wes Welker in town, but he cost me less than Victor Cruz ($27), Andre Johnson ($28) and Marquis Colston ($27) who were all nominated after him and I don't think will put up as big a season as Thomas. For a few dollars less, I might've been able to get Larry Fitzgerald ($20), Roddy White ($22) or Randall Cobb ($19 -- although I bid $18 on him and just missed as my WR3).
Matt Ryan, $19. I'm only drafting quarterbacks named Matt this year. Or Tony. Or maybe Ben. OK, I'm kidding, kind of, but I wanted either Ryan or Stafford, but liked Ryan a bit more. Stafford was nominated a few picks later and went for the same $19. Eli Manning went several picks later for the same $19 price tag. No joke. RG3, who I nominated a pick earlier, went for $15, but I didn't want to go that high on him considering the injury risk. I'm happy to get Ryan at the price I did.
Wish I woulda: Had I saved a few bucks for later on, I would've drafted a backup QB, but most of the good ones were off the board by the time the $1 rounds came around. Romo and Roethlisberger, the other QBs I liked as a starter and top backup, went for $10 and $5 respectively. But hopefully, I only have to use a backup on Ryan's bye.
Steven Jackson, $24. If you've read my running back primers online, you know I love me some Steven Jackson. I thought I was going to get a steal here, as he was only $3 as the clocked reached under 10 seconds. Then a bidding war broke out. I was hoping to get him for $20 or less, but was fine with this price for a top end RB2, especially considering Matt Forte and Chris Johnson each went for $35, and less dynamic (Stevan Ridley, $22), healthy (DeMarco Murray, $20) on proven (Le'Veon Bell, $18; Monte Ball, $17) options weren't that much cheaper.
Wish I woulda: Not been so enamored with Jackson. I'm glad I got him because he's a player I like, but I shouldn't have gone over my limit and instead stolen a couple of other high potential RBs like the aforementioned Miller ($3. Seriously. Three-freaking-dollars), Chris Ivory or Reggie Bush ($11 each).
At this point, I pretty much had to stop drafting because I was down to $10 with 10 roster spots left. However, I was pretty happy with almost all of my selections, although I did miss on a few because I stopped paying as much attention and the program auto-nominated/selected for me as we came down the stretch.
Josh Gordon. Currently slotted as my No. 3 WR, I think he has WR2 upside, especially in a non-PPR league where explosion is rewarded over possession skills. A steal for $1 and I'm surprised he lasted considering other teams still had money to spend. Unfortunately, he doesn't play weeks 1 and 2 because of a suspension.
Ryan Mathews. Are you serious bro? Look, I get he's an injury risk and was frustrating for owners last year, but Mathews is still fairly young and is the unquestioned starter on his team. I love getting him this late for a buck as my RB3. Like Gordon, I'm surprised no one bid $2 because there was still money on the board.
Andre Brown. I messed up a little bit here, as one of my favorite sleepers, Gio Bernard was on the board (he was way low in the Yahoo rankings and I missed him, assuming another team already drafted him). But still, this is another incredible value at the RB position, he will likely poach TDs from David Wilson ($14) and could end up in a 50/50 timeshare. I'll take it.
Brandon Myers. Ugh, here's the pick I hate. While I think Myers could be a fine TE, I like him a lot better in PPR. This was the pick that I missed and was autopicked. Two of my favorite late-round TEs, Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Cameron were still on the board.
Ahmad Bradshaw. Gresham and Cameron were still on the board, but I figured I'd rather load up at RB again rather than pick another TE. Bradshaw is going to start for the Colts. Anytime you can get a starting RB for $1, it's worth it.
Emmanuel Sanders. The only spot where I let my Steelers bias come through, I've been a fan of Manny for a while. He's an OK pick for a No. 4 WR. Shane Vereen was still there too, but I like him better in a PPR and am loaded at RB.
Bryce Brown. We saw how explosive he can be last year. A lottery ticket if LeSean McCoy is hurt and might even get a good number of carries in Chip Kelley's offense with a healthy McCoy.
DeAndre Hopkins. There wasn't a lot left at WR at this point, so I took a flier on the rookie who will start immediately opposite Andre Johnson on a playoff team. A great bye week fill-in who could be more.
Minnesota defense. Again, not much to choose from at this point. The Vikings usually rack up a good number of sacks thanks to Jared Allen and a slate of division opponents who like to throw alot.
Mason Crosby. The last kicker taken, and I get the guy who plays for one of the highest scoring offenses in the league. He was bad last year, but if he stinks again, I'll just pick up someone else. If he returns to 2011 form, I'll be laughing all the way.
Coming out of the draft, I'm really happy with my team. I'm stacked at running back, which I love, because there are only a limited number of starters in the NFL. I think I can parlay a back -- perhaps one of my handcuffs like either Andre or Bryce Brown -- into a wide receiver 3 or 4 or maybe a better tight end. If Mathews gets off to a hot start, I might be able to trade him for a top end player at either of those positions.
There are still a few OK bye week fill-ins at QB too, like a Jay Cutler.