Expert Series: The Ultimate Auction Guide – Part 2

by Dan Williamson · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

Acing the Auction: A Guide to Fantasy Auction Dominance 

Part 2

by Dan Williamson 

You’ve done all your prep as we outlined in Part 1 right? You understand player valuation and you’ve used either historical data from previous auctions or else found a good auction price guide like this one here on Player Profiler’s Draft Kit. Then you put together a few different plans to allow you to pounce on values during the auction without needing to revise your plan on the fly. Now auction day is here, and it’s time to crush your fellow managers. Here’s everything you need to know once you hit the auction room! 

Part III:  At the Auction 

Be well-rested when you head into that auction if at all possible. You’ll be making hundreds of decisions over the next 2-3 hours and if you’re already tired, decision fatigue will set in quickly. Also, try to arrive early and get a good seat where you can see the auction board well. Additionally, and just as importantly, being able to see the remaining budgets for your fellow managers is important. This information should also be posted somewhere prominently.

Often, this is located on the same board where the players are posted as they are sold. In an online auction, get in the room early as well, familiarize yourself with how bidding is going to work and where you need to look to find team rosters as the auction progresses. If you can access the information you need quickly, and without stealing your focus from bidding, you’ll feel much more relaxed and in control. 

The Auctioneer and Bidding

The auctioneer is a vital cog in any live auction. He or she can make the auction a fun and fast-paced affair or a brutal slog. No matter what though, you want that auctioneer on your side as much as possible. Help him/her out when you can. When you bid, speak up and don’t mumble your bids. It’s a lot easier for an auctioneer to tell who bid when your voice cuts through the background noise easily. Additionally, there will be many times during an auction when the auctioneer is looking away from you when you bid. If your voice is both loud (within reason) and recognizable, that’s going to play in your favor.

There will also be times where two bidders say the same number at almost exactly the same time. The auctioneer might not be able to tell who was slightly faster. If he’s looking for help from the participants, and you know the other person beat you by a fraction of a second, just volunteer that info. You’ll gain credibility as someone who is trustworthy. Also, don’t try to wait until the very last split-second before he/she says “sold” (or the gavel hits the table) to raise your bid. If you force him/her to constantly make difficult decisions, you’ll find those decisions begin to go against you. It’s fine to cut it somewhat close. This can be a smart tactic, but don’t carry it too far.

Before the Auction

Prior to the auction I will even ask what the auctioneer’s “point of no return” is on finalizing a sale so I know how far I can push it if I need to. On that note, the auctioneer’s decision about whether a bid was on-time or not, or which bid came in first should be final. You should support it unless he/she clearly missed something, and you have some support from others. If the decision goes against you and nobody else stands up for you, just stand down and live to fight another day.

Don’t make the auctioneer your enemy even if you find them frustrating to work with.  Finally, do the auctioneer and everyone in the room a favor and help keep the bidding process moving smartly by either starting your nomination bid reasonably close to what the player should cost. Or, if someone else started the bidding far too low, throw out a quality bid to shorten the process. For example, if someone bids $1 on Saquon Barkley, who you know will go for $40 or more, just throw out a bid of “30!” or something in that range to speed the process along. 

Knowledge is Power

Knowing how many players each team has purchased and how much money they have left is important, of course. However, as the teams spend down their budget, the most important thing to know is the Maximum Bid for all teams. It’s simply this formula: 

Remaining Budget = (Empty Roster Spots x Minimum Bid) 

Whoever has the biggest Maximum Bid as money is depleted has what I like to call “the Hammer.” This is because they can outbid anyone else for any player whenever they want. However, whenever the Hammer is used by a team, it will typically pass to another team. You’ll always want to be aware of who has the Hammer at any given time. Additionally, if that happens to be you, it’s your opportunity to potentially frustrate and bleed money from other teams. We will look at this further in Part IV. 

In a fast auction, nominations will be made one at a time by each team according to an order pre-set by the commissioner. However, nominating a player is just the beginning point for the auction. The team that nominates a player is no more or less likely to end up purchasing him than anyone else. However, there is also some hidden power in making a nomination as you will control the player and position where money will be spent. 

Keeping Track of Prices

Once the auction has begun, make sure you are marking down the price each player goes for. This way you can compare it against the prices you have on your cheatsheet. The important thing to remember is that there is a finite amount of money available. As long as your cheat sheet accounts for that, you can gain valuable information by watching how actual prices compare with projected prices. If there is $2400 available to spend across all teams, your cheat sheet prices should add up to $2400 as well.

Then if you see players selling cheaper than your projections, you know it’s a great time to be nominating players you want and also buying players you want that are nominated by others. Sometimes a league can be a little tentative about bidding early and some great deals are available right away. Other times, there is a lot of exuberance as the auction begins and teams bid aggressively. This can drive prices higher than expected.

Trust The Process

This is a great time to trust your plan and lay low, letting the over-anxious bidders exhaust a good portion of their budget and make it difficult for them to win players for a large chunk during the middle auction “rounds” where some of the best deals are often found. If teams are overpaying early then by definition the bargains are coming later. 

Take advantage of bargains but only on players you like and that are part of one of your pre-set plans. A bargain isn’t a bargain if it ruins your plan or comes on players you don’t really want. Sometimes you have to let the bad guys (the other 11 managers) win. But if that player wasn’t already somewhere in one of your possible draft plans, then are they really winning? This is why sharp players show up to an auction with a quiver-full of possible strategies, since it allows them the fluidity to work bargains into their budget. 

Part IV:  Psychological Warfare?

The most enjoyable part of auctions to me is the unique style of interactions with fellow managers that you just don’t get with a draft. It’s like combining poker and football as raises. Bluffs and knowing how to play your “hand” are all part of the strategy to win. You’ll also constantly work to read your competitors. Good players are looking for tells in their opponent’s actions and attempt to predict how they’ll react to your moves. And finally, there’s an art to timing your nominations to increase your odds of slipping players onto your team at bargain prices. 

What Causes a Player’s Value to Vary?

Let’s start by looking at what causes player values to vary from auction to auction. In general, more expensive players are going to vary less from auction to action than less expensive players as a percentage of their total cost. However, often in absolute dollars these more expensive players can vary by the same amount or more.  Make no mistake, we’re far more interested in absolute variation than anything else since we have a finite budget to work with and every dollar we can save without taking a hit in player quality makes it easier to assemble a dominant team. 

When a player gets nominated in the auction can have an impact on their price. The more expensive players (like those costing 10% or more of your budget) will almost never come really cheap. But even small discounts help if you can find them. The mid-range players are where you’ll really want to watch your budget as players you have ranked similarly can vary widely in price. Remember you’ll only control 1/12th (or 1/10th or 1/14th, or whatever) of the nominations in the auction. Therefore, you’re going to be reacting to other nominations far more often than you will be able to control which player is up for bid next.

Positional Scarcity

Most other managers will want to put the best players at each position up for bid first while they have lots of money to spend which ensures star players rarely come at a big discount. But at least some mid-range players will not be brought up for nomination until late in the auction when most or all of the managers are nearly out of money. As a result, they will go for a cheaper price than they might have had they been nominated earlier. And finally, the last player in a tier at a position will often cost more due to scarcity or resources.

If all the other elite RBs are gone when Derrick Henry comes up for bid, there usually will be multiple managers who recognize they will be shut out of the tier if they don’t land Henry, which can drive up his price. Desperation is never your friend at an auction! 

Auctions can definitely have positional runs just like drafts. It’s quite common for managers to continue to nominate at one position several times in a row. If Jalen Hurts comes up for bid first among all the QBs, you’ll commonly see Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and potentially a couple of QBs from the next tier down nominated one after another. Typically runs like this will lead to fair prices during the run. However, the last of a tier may end up costing more.

Finding Real Value

Where the real value sometimes comes is when you or someone else nominates a player that doesn’t have a good price comp among the players who have already been sold. This is why it’s critical to have your projected prices set before you walk into the room. You can be the first to recognize a bargain and pounce on it. Whereas other managers not as well-prepared as you dither about whether the current bid is a good price or not. Or just as often, bidding might get overly exuberant for that first player. If this happens, the value shows up later as managers become more rational.  

Pay Up Smart

The best player at each position is likely going to cost a premium, no matter what. For example, Josh Allen was the consensus QB1 in snake drafts last year and I had his value pegged at $19.50. Mahomes was the consensus QB2 at a projected value of $16.50. Last year in two of my auctions, Patrick Mahomes went for $13 and $14, but Josh Allen went for $21 and $22. By taking Mahomes, his manager still got an elite QB at a savings of $8 over the Josh Allen winner.

In the same vein, Jonathan Taylor and Christian McCaffrey were the consensus RB1 and RB2 last year. They cost $55-56 in all my auctions last year, while Austin Ekeler, the consensus RB3 (and still with an ADP of 5!) was only $45-48. What could the Mahomes and Ekeler winners have done with the money they saved? Players like Devonta Smith, Tony Pollard and Josh Jacobs all went in the $7 to $10 range, so that savings could pay for most or all of the cost of such a player rather than a $1 player like Zamir White or Alec Pierce.  Let someone else pay up for the top player at each position. Use those savings to strengthen some other area of your roster.  

Using Nominations

Given that you control only a small percentage of the total nominations in an auction, use your nominations wisely. If you see a weakness in the room, follow up on it until your advantage goes away. The less you follow the herd when you nominate, the more effective these nominations will be. One way to do this is if there’s been a string of nominations at one position, switch it up. Force your fellow manager to refocus mentally as much as you can.

Another good way to keep others off-balance is lobbing out the name of a mid-to-late-round player you want while the rest of the league is focused on expensive players. You might get a guy for a dollar where he might have cost $3-4 if he was nominated later in the auction. Another tactic is sucking money out of the room by nominating players you have no interest in rostering. Nominating “sexy” players that aren’t in your auction plans can be a good strategy.

Nominating Top Tier Players

If I have no interest in spending up for Bijan Robinson, I might nominate him early in the auction because I know lots of my fellow managers will be in on him and push up the price. Or I might nominate Stefon Diggs if I’m hoping to land CeeDee Lamb or A.J. Brown just to gauge the price of WRs in this tier and hopefully take a manager out of the action when one of those target players is up for bid. 

The Weak Closer

When you’re bidding on players, watch other managers for tells. Some of them will only bid on players they want. Others might be price-enforcers who try to drive up prices on players they don’t want. Some may use a different cadence, tone, or volume as they bid depending on their interest level in a player. Others will be what I call “weak closers” who commonly drop out of the bidding just a dollar or two from the winning bid. Try bidding $2 more instead of the customary $1 more if you think you may be up against a weak closer.

You might scare them right out of the bidding. Read the body language of others too. Who is nervous and who appears confident? Is anyone getting frustrated by the course of the auction in any way? Be watching yourself for these same tells though. If you find yourself falling into predictable patterns, change it up. Also, be sure your own body language shows both confidence and calmness. The more confidence you can exude, the less likely others will be to try to play their own mind games with you. And by all means, if you find a price enforcer, be sure to drop a player on them by appearing eager to bid higher and then suddenly drop out of the bidding. 

Auction End Game

The endgame of the auction is always critical. Every year there are players who only cost a dollar or two that end up outperforming some of the most expensive players in the auction. Given that we are budgeting so much money to our starting lineup, it’s vital to get the $1-3 players you really want and not just the players that are left over at the very end of the auction. Of course, there’s no guarantee the players you want will be those massive overachievers. However, I can tell you from experience that it’s a lot more fun to walk out of an auction with a bench full of players you love than a bench full of players you really don’t like very much.

Manage your budget closely as the auction starts to wind down. Hopefully, you’ve been able to sneak through at least a couple of super cheap players during the first half of the auction. All is not lost if you haven’t. Assuming you have a few dollars over the minimum bid available for your last few players, you should try to sneak through any super cheap players that you think few if any other managers will be interested in. If you can sneak them onto your roster that’s a win.

The Last Bids

Once you hit the point where you only have a couple of extra dollars left over the minimum needed to fill out your roster, you need to be hyper-vigilant if a player you want badly comes up for bid. Often when the draft hits this stage, the first person to raise the bid to $2 is going to win. That is unless there’s a team than can and is willing to go to $3. At this point, forget tracking prices or crossing players off your list. You can gather this information after the auction is over.

Just listen for the player’s name that you want and strike like a cobra with your $2 bid. You have to be more alert than the other managers that would have been in on this player. If only they were as fast as you. During this end-game when it’s your turn to nominate, you should of course only nominate players that you want. If you think there’s any chance another team will bid $2, you can try a pre-emptive opening bid of $2. This will scare at least a few managers off who can’t or won’t go up to $3.

Just keep in mind it’s also possible you just wasted that extra dollar yourself IF it turns out that nobody else would have raised you. Therefore, I usually just save this tactic for players that I know will interest several other owners. If I think only 1 or 2 owners might be interested, I’ll probably just take my chances with a $1 bid.


Auction drafts are without a doubt the most fun way to build a team if you like being able to go head-to-head with all the managers in your league and have a shot at any player you want. The most important thing is to come to the auction with as good or better information than anyone else and good things will flow from there. Once the auction has started, make sure you enjoy the process!

Every little victory should be savored. Additionally, if your league does a lot of trash-talking, it should also be rubbed in your opponent’s faces. Continue to work your plan and set up your next move designed to demoralize yet another league mate. Just remember, you can’t take it with you, those auction dollars expire, so spend ‘em up, spend ‘em wisely, and enjoy showing the league who’s boss all season long!