Auction strategies: How to build a winning team

Thursday, Jul 27, 2023 at 9:28 pm ET

Auction drafts have become more popular in fantasy football, and some see them as the best way to measure who knows the game best. Every owner gets a chance to draft every player, and you have to decide in real time how to budget your team and go to plans B, C, and Z when the best laid plans go awry.  There are different ways to spend your $200 (the standard budget in most auction leagues), and I wanted to see what it would look like when loading up on running backs and receivers, paying big for a quarterback, or doing whatever it takes to grab the top tight end.

The values below are average prices from Fantasy Nerds set in a 10-team, standard scoring league with a $200 budget. Some of these players you will definitely have to pay more for on draft day and others less, but this is more about the outline of your team than the exact players and values. Numbers are correct as of 7/27/2023.

The Travis Kelce Method

Travis KelceI wrote recently about how Kelce is head-and-shoulders above all other tight ends at a level no other player is at any position, and doing whatever it takes to get him in your auction will give you a huge advantage over other teams at that position. Kelce is essentially a #1 receiver fitting into a fungible fantasy spot.

There are a few possible downsides: the price won't be cheap, as Kelce has the fourth-highest value among all players.  Mark Andrews is projected at $20 and T.J. Hockenson at $15, less than half of Kelce's $44.  Those players will probably produce more than half of what Kelce does, and that savings can be used elsewhere.  In the end, I see this as a viable option, but it's probably not the path I would take in my own auction draft.

Position Player Auction Value
QB Anthony Richardson $2
RB Nick Chubb $43
RB Joe Mixon $21
WR Keenan Allen $13
WR DeAndre Hopkins $11
TE Travis Kelce $44
DEF Washington Commanders $1
K Jake Elliott $1
RB Jahmyr Gibbs $14
RB Cam Akers $13
RB Rachaad White $10
WR George Pickens $7
WR Brandin Cooks $6
WR Jameson Williams $3
RB Alvin Kamara $6
RB Javonte Williams $5

Justin JeffersonWith so much budgeted to tight end, cuts must be made elsewhere.  I focused on running backs for this particular team while going more mid-level on receivers.  The top receivers will cost as much as top running backs, but there is a lot more depth throughout the draft, so I'm comfortable skipping Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase and grabbing former top stars who still have something left, like Allen, Hopkins, and Cook, and young players with upside, like Pickens and Jameson Williams.

The advantage of Kelce is clear, but some will balk at the uncertainty at quarterback and want to secure someone like Lamar Jackson or Joe Burrow (both given a current value of $19).  Skimping on quarterback and hoping for upside allows more to be spent on backs, as I have seven players at the position who could/will start for their team when on the field.

Kamara is facing a possible suspension, Jameson Williams is already suspended for six games, and Javonte Williams is returning from a major knee injury.  Rather than avoiding uncertainty, betting on upside at the end of the draft with players who are expected to produce when on the field can give you mid-round players at low-round prices.  There is obvious risk involved, but the upside is worth it in my mind, especially with the bottom of your roster where player churn is regular.

The Quarterback Method

I usually like to wait on quarterback in a draft and go cheap in auction formats, but there is something to be said for having one of the top consistent performers week to week.  Patrick Mahomes ($30 value), Josh Allen ($28), Jalen Hurts ($26), Jackson, and Burrow are the top five valued QBs, and they will all likely finish the season in the top 10 in scoring at the position (assuming health).  

Position Player Auction Value
QB Jalen Hurts $26
RB Bijan Robinson $38
RB Breece Hall $26
WR Ja'Marr Chase $45
WR Deebo Samuel $21
TE Kyle Pitts $11
DEF Denver Broncos $1
K Cameron Dicker $1
RB Brian Robinson $6
RB Dalvin Cook $5
RB Ezekiel Elliott $3
WR Jordan Addison $5
WR Kadarius Toney $5
WR Zay Flowers $2
RB Roschon Johnson $3
QB Anthony Richardson $2

Kyle PittsI grabbed a top player and a secondary option at both running back and receiver along with a middle-of-the-road tight end, as Pitts ranks 7th at the position in value.  The top of the roster is strong, but depth falls off fast and leaves uncertainty if someone gets hurt.  Football is a physical game, and injuries usually dictate championships in both real life and fantasy.  While I love Bijan Robinson, Hall, and Chase, the rest of the running backs and receivers are comprised of young players (with four rookies and second-year Brian Robinson) and current free agents in Cook and Elliott who I would be hoping find a home and get major touches at some point.

A strong front line will win games at the beginning of the year, but fantasy football is about winning as often as possible over the span of 15 regular season weeks, not winning Week 1.  I prefer getting quality depth so you can play matchups, be ready for injuries, and have intriguing players to trade to fill other holes.  A flier on Richardson, who could become a fantasy star, allows for a valuable trade chip if you have two starting-level quarterbacks.  (If you haven't noticed, I'm hitching my wagon to Richardson this year and expecting big things on the ground.)

The RB/WR Hoarder's Method

This is my personal strategy in both draft and auction formats, and I see these as the most valuable positions to load up on while finding more modest options and/or streaming players at the other positions and defense.  You can always trade these players later if you need to, so finding the best value should be the focus.

Position Player Auction Value
QB Russell Wilson $3
RB Saquon Barkley $33
RB Josh Jacobs $33
WR A.J. Brown $33
WR Calvin Ridley $14
TE Gerald Everett $2
DEF Philadelphia Eagles $2
K Justin Tucker $2
RB Travis Etienne $25
RB James Conner $11
RB Isiah Pacheco $9
WR D.J. Moore $13
WR Mike Williams $13
WR Odell Beckham $2
QB Aaron Rodgers $3
TE Mike Gesicki $1

Aaron RodgersYou can see the depth of the roster here compared to the QB method.  The "bench" running backs on this team average a value of $15 versus the previous team where they averaged $4.6.  The same is true at wide receiver where the bottom three guys average $9.3 versus $4.  I also don't mind grabbing an extra quarterback and/or tight end when I have so much depth at the other positions.  Wilson and Rodgers are both valued at $3, and the chance of one of them finishing in the top 10 in scoring at the end of the year is pretty high in my mind.  Tua Tagovailoa, Jared Goff, and Daniel Jones are all valued at $4 and could be swapped in with similar expectations. 

Everett starts the season against Miami and Tennessee, two of the worst seven teams last year defending tight ends.  Gesicki is a flier who shined in the past but was miscast last season in a new system.  I like his chances of having a good year in New England where tight ends have thrived under Bill Belichick.  Taking multiple shots at lower-valued players who could outplay their value is a smart play.

As far as kicker and defense, I listed players/teams in all three scenarios who are seen as the top options at the position (the Eagles and Tucker) or players who have good matchups Week 1 or play for good teams.  Don't plan for more than a dollar or two on these positions, but if you have savings built up toward the end of your auction, don't be afraid to overpay by a small price to get someone you love.  I prefer to stream those positions and draft accordingly, and I like the Washington defense as they have a lot of talent and start the season against Cardinals and Broncos.

Wrapping It Up

These three methods are just a few of the nearly infinite ways you can choose to build your team.  Taking pieces and parts of each and putting them to use where they make the most sense on draft day is your best bet to being successful.  Have a plan going in, but don't let it dictate everything you do; go with the flow and build the team where you see value and the best fit.  You may want Kelce, but someone else might want him much more.  Don't overpay and instead get someone at a fraction of the cost while supplementing your team with those savings.

There is no "wrong" way to build your team; it's your team, and you should use a strategy that will make you happiest.  Remember to give yourself the best chances of winning, though, and following one of these outlines or parts and pieces of each will be effective in finishing the draft feeling good.  Mock auction drafts aren't perfect, but they can give you an idea of how players are valued and what your options are like when following a specific strategy.  Try it out as many times as necessary, and you can feel confident going into your real draft.

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