Drafts are great, but there's no better way to get a sense of a fantasy owner's specific tastes than an auction, where every player is up for grabs to anyone.
It's for that reason we assembled 10 of our analysts for a mock auction Monday, using standard ESPN rules: 10 teams, standard rosters, $200 budget, head-to-head scoring. Using the results, you'll get a sense of "who likes whom," where a certain analyst feels the values lie, and (if you're an auction veteran like myself) how the flow of bidding might go in a typical auction.
One thing you'll notice that's different with this mock: The player's round of sale is listed, giving you a sense of when in the auction he was put up for bid. Remember, auctions don't only take into account player values; the timing of a player's sale has so much to do with the strategy.
I'll give you an example: I had the No. 1 nomination in the auction, and I put up Nate Kaeding. Naturally, Kaeding would never be picked that soon in a draft, instead likely going within the final 10 picks of a typical draft, but in this case throwing his name out first accomplished two goals: It got my kicker out of the way so I didn't need to worry about it, and in the unlikely event someone had bid $2 for his services, that's $1 foolishly spent by someone else. If every kicker sells for $1, as they should, why not ensure you get the one you want right off the bat?
Here's the list of our participants, who are hyperlinked so you can jump to see their teams if you wish: Matthew Berry, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Shawn Cwalinski, Christopher Harris, Dave Hunter, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, AJ Mass, Jim McCormick and James Quintong.
Auction strategy: Go total stars and scrubs. Spend $1 on a kicker, defense and tight end because of the depth at those positions. I also feel, especially in a 10-team league, that there becomes a sameness after a while in terms of value, so get as many studs as possible and then fill out the rest with a similar level of players. Target the "under elite," meaning a lot of the Ray Rice and Miles Austin types, not the Chris Johnson and Andre Johnson types -- the No. 1s of the world. I'll be able to get an extra stud with the money I save by not going after No. 1.
Pick I regret: Rodgers for $36. I actually think that's a good price on him, but after seeing Tony Romo go for $22 much later, I wish I had waited.
Did your strategy work? Yes. I didn't expect to wind up with the No. 1's like Johnson or Rodgers, but felt they were too good a value to pass up.
"Called Out": Berry and I engaged in quite a few bidding wars for wide receivers in the late stages, as all of his picks at the position besides Andre Johnson came beyond the midway point of the auction. With Mason, Bowe and Holmes to fill in as his No. 2 wide receiver (and potentially also his flex), Berry might have left himself with a bit of a hole in that particular area.
"I really like Bowe this year and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I got him for that, as I felt he was the last legit No. 2 left," said Berry. "I didn't expect to roster both Foster and Harrison, but again, too good of a value to pass on. But that left me a bit short for a stud No. 2. I love the upside of Massaquoi and Naanee, always feel Mason is way undervalued (No. 17 fantasy wide receiver last year), but yes, I need Bowe to deliver. I'm a little nervous about that position."
Auction strategy: Buy "leaders," and I don't mean the guys who earn such praise as "great clubhouse presences;" I mean players I can consider anchors at each of the big three skill positions: quarterback, running back and wide receiver. A frontline quarterback -- one of the top seven on our rankings -- is a must, and if an elite running back proves too costly, two second-tier types will suffice.
Pick I regret: Rivers, because he cost $3 more than Tony Romo, who was sold a round sooner. At the time I figured Rivers might be even cheaper than Romo, because more teams had already filled their quarterback spots, and I had to keep bidding to stick to my strategy. Given the choice, I'd much rather have spent $25 on Romo, leaving Rivers to be potentially a $22 McCormick buy.
The one that got away: Jamaal Charles. I considered keeping going, as I think the average auction price on him is far too low, but there comes a point in the bidding where you feel like you're simply being price enforced rather than properly investing in the player, and have to let him go. The good news was that I got Charles in our mock draft a day later, so it wasn't a total loss. I still think a $34 Charles is a potential steal, but I was happy with my top two backs in the end.
Did your strategy work? Other than not getting the quarterback I preferred, I blew the strategy in one key area: I didn't get the top-caliber wide receiver I was targeting, and was therefore forced to adapt, overpaying for a few upside plays in order to build depth. But considering the alternative would have been going entirely stars and scrubs, I think it resulted well.
"Called Out": Crabtree was a clear overbid on my part, especially in comparison to his $13.6 average auction price in standard ESPN leagues (which this mock was). That said, he's not one I regret, if only because at the time, only him, Anquan Boldin and Wes Welker fit my goal in a No. 2 wide receiver, and knowing the money left on the table -- 16.4 percent of the total available dollars were remaining at the time and six of the next nine receivers sold in the double digits -- I figured either alternative would cost almost as much, if not more. Given the choice of Welker for $18 or Crabtree for $20, I'd take Welker, but no one gets the advantage of hindsight during the auction.
Auction strategy: My auction strategy is not to have a strategy. Just lay low and wait for bargains. In most auctions, there's a lull when people start worrying about keeping enough money to fill their remaining slots, and that is when to pounce. It might not work -- no strategy works every time, not even the "no-strategy" strategy -- and I have to be careful not to wait too long lest end up having too much money left at the end of the auction.
Pick I regret: Brees. I do not regret buying him but I do regret jumping the bid from $32 to $39. I probably could have gotten him a couple of bucks cheaper.
Did your strategy work? Yes, being patient and waiting for bargains worked out very well.
"Called Out": A quick glance at Cwalinski's roster reveals that he's putting a lot of stock in rookies, 28.5 percent of his total budget ($57 of $200), in fact. Another $27, meanwhile, was spent on a running back (McCoy) getting his first chance to start in the NFL. That's a lot of risks on untested options.
"It was mainly just how the values fell," said Cwalinski. "I like Best a good deal so getting him at $20 was a coup. Mathews was a bargain at $30, McCoy a nice deal at $27 and I figured given my team I could take a $3 flier on Hardesty since I already had Barber and Bradshaw on my bench."
Auction strategy: In baseball auctions, I tend not to spend big for superstars. But in football auctions, I usually find that the very best players -- this year: Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, maybe Maurice Jones-Drew -- don't go for enough, and I almost always wind up getting one. The same goes for the best of the wideouts. So I almost always find myself going "stars and scrubs," except that in a 10-team auction, there really aren't any scrubs. I just wait around and get pretty good guys for a buck.
Pick I regret: Probably Spiller for $18. That's right around where I have him valued, so it's not the price. It's mostly that I had already spent $95 on running backs. He could be a tremendous flex for me, but I think I'd have been smarter waiting and spending a bit more on a No. 2 wideout. But by the same token, as Tuesday's Jacksonville Jaguars "32 Questions" column shows, I'm just fine with Sims-Walker as my No. 2 for $12.
The one that got away: I had a moment where I thought I should've paid for Joe Flacco. But I came to my senses, realizing there were tons of just-outside-the-top-10 quarterbacks I'd be able to get for a buck late in the going.
Did your strategy work? Absolutely, so much so that I almost don't call it a "strategy" anymore. It's practically reflex. In an auction, the guys you can feel super-safe about are few and far between, and worth paying for. I think I just value those very elite guys at higher dollar totals than almost anyone else, and when you're playing in just a 10-team league, you can feel secure that you'll be able to fill in your team with very good, cheap players.
"Called Out": Harris came out firing early, more so than any other team, buying three players nominated in the first round and spending more than half his budget on the first seven players put up for bid. Now, at the time, I was unaware of his strategy, but that's a great level of confidence in there being enough cheap bids in the latter stages. Things worked out for Harris; he managed to spend $2 total on Cutler and McNabb, but it's no guarantee that every fantasy owner who tries the strategy will be so fortunate to score such cheap, strong options.
"I really didn't worry about quarterback; I figured it would work out one way or another," said Harris. "My plan for a long time was to draft Flacco when he came up, but then the bidding went (relatively) high for him, and I didn't want to have all $1 players thereafter, so I let him slide by. At that point, it became clear I'd take the best quarterbacks available at the end and get them for a dollar.
"I'd say the biggest worry I had was my No. 2 wide receiver. I took Nicks a bit before halfway, pretty good value at $12, I think, but I wanted to have a fallback option in case he doesn't work out. Sims-Walker was heaven sent. There weren't really any other top-20 receivers remaining on my list around when I got him, other than Mike Wallace. I think that might've been a little lucky. Overall, though, 10-teamers are made for studs and duds, because the duds aren't really duds."
Auction strategy: Spend early and often. Look to land a top-four running back and put up whatever auction dollars it takes to land one, then concentrate on a top-five wide receiver. I usually budget 55-60 percent of my dollars to running back, about 30 percent to wide receiver, then fill in with the rest. I want others to spend the big bucks on Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, since I know there will be excellent quarterback values later in the draft.
Pick I regret: Jonathan Stewart. I was shut out of a lot of good buys after I nabbed Stewart. It's not that I don't think Stewart is worth the price I paid for him, but my hands were tied on any acquisitions thereafter.
The one that got away: Arian Foster. I stopped bidding on Foster because of his lack of experience and the unknown that surrounds him, but I should've spent the extra buck to lock him up. Fourteen dollars for a running back with Foster's potential? Not bad at all.
Did your strategy work? Definitely. I landed arguably the best running back in the NFL in Johnson and got my top-5 wide receiver in Wayne. Plus, getting White to pair with Wayne was a major bonus. I spent most of my draft dollars on five players, but I was patient and I knew I'd find good values at the end of the draft. As boring as my plan was to "spend early and often," it worked very well in this case.
"Called Out": Hunter was as stars-and-scrubs as an owner could get, landing more $1 players -- 10, to be exact -- than anyone. I'd pick Cooley as his most intriguing $1 bid, but Hunter had another favorite $1 sleeper, one he expects to emerge from the New England Patriots' annually befuddling backfield.
"Laurence Maroney should pay the most dividends this season," said Hunter. "I know there's a ton of competition for touches in New England, but Maroney will prevail as the Pats' No. 1 running back."
Auction strategy: My general auction strategy for football is the same as baseball, to get a balanced team, but I don't know how that will work this year. I will want not the best quarterback, but certainly a top-six/seven option, and a pair of top-10 running backs. Don't look for me to bid on Chris Johnson. I'll probably take more chances at wide receiver, getting depth and hoping someone steps up.
Note: Our mock auction was conducted Monday, before the news broke that Sidney Rice would miss at least half the season following hip surgery.
Pick I regret: On Monday, I actually believed Rice would overcome his hip problem and be a steal at $18. I didn't think the injury was that serious. Plus, other top-20 wide receivers were considerably more costly in this auction. Oh well, maybe Rice can help me in Week 10. If only we had this auction a day later!
The one that got away: Probably San Diego Chargers rookie Ryan Mathews. When he went for $30 I was disappointed. I basically decided I had to get Williams. I don't think Williams will be $10 better. My regrets are more based on who I did spend the extra dollars on. I didn't want Brady at $31, but thought it was decent value. Later I was pretty embarrassed when Eli Manning went for $3. I knew he would, and for some reason I wanted to spend money. It was somewhat the same thing with Forte. Arian Foster at half the price is terrific value, but once I had my starters, I couldn't afford a bench.
Did your strategy work? No, not really. My first goal was to take all of Tristan's players, but his team was so awful, why bother? Wait, Tristan isn't going to read this, right? OK, no, I wanted a more balanced team, not a stars and scrubs outfit with injured players. I got one top-10 running back -- though some would argue Williams is not even that -- and not a second one, unless Wells goes wild. And my No. 2 wide receiver is no longer a "hip" fantasy purchase. Get it? I want to start over. Is tomorrow good?
"Called Out": Hey, my team's great, and no "hip" puns from me, either! Seriously, Karabell distinctly avoided handcuffing his running backs, most notably grabbing Jones for $6, double the price of an obvious handcuff candidate for himself, Tim Hightower for $3. Taylor (for Forte) was the one handcuff he landed, except that Forte only projects as his flex to start the season.
"I can't say I think about handcuffing running backs very much," said Karabell. "I certainly couldn't afford Jonathan Stewart. I think when Hightower's price hit $3, I thought about going to my then-max of $4, but I didn't. I think getting Chester Taylor -- since I had Forte -- accomplishes the same goal."
Auction strategy: I don't have a well-defined strategy, but I plan on using some mental parameters, including the following:
" Spend no more than $1 on a kicker
" Spend no more than $2 on a defense (preferably $1)
" Don't be among the first to spend huge money
" Don't wait too long to get in on the festivities, since you get no prize for having money left at the end
Pick I regret: Oddly enough, I don't regret any buys I made. For a while, I was regretting paying $59 for Rice, because players became much cheaper soon after that, but I'm not convinced I would've wound up with better players overall had I not ponied up, so I'm cool with how things played out.
The one that got away: During the draft, I didn't really have one of those moments, like I usually do. But if I had to pick one player I could've easily gone higher on, it would've been Steve Smith from the Giants, whom James Quintong got for $14.
Did your strategy work? When all was said and done, things went well, in my opinion. I got an elite running back early, a top-quality quarterback for good money at the time of the buy and was always in a position to bid on players. I see you don't like my team's depth, but looking at other teams in the league, I actually feel very strong about my depth, especially if Harvin can find a way to conquer the migraines. For $4, I was very happy with that buy.
"Called Out": There's plenty of potential in Lipscomb's projected starters, but depth might be a bit questionable, especially if Jackson's holdout lingers deep into the regular season. Someone presumably will need to step up from Bush, Brown, Knox or Floyd for this team to take off.
"Other than Harvin, I like Bush ($8) this season, I think Owens ($5) could wind up with the same value as Chad Ochocinco, and Knox ($6) could wind up as the No. 1 guy in Chicago," said Lipscomb. "And by grabbing Floyd ($3), I feel like I minimized any potential damage not having Jackson could do. I was surprisingly pleased with the auction, which isn't a feeling I often come away with."
Auction strategy: Bid heavily on the third stud running backs and quarterbacks off the board, hoping to get both at a slightly lower price than their counterparts, then draw out as much cash as possible from other owners by nominating tight end after tight end. By having the most money remaining in the middle of the auction, hope to be able to simply "draft" the rest of my team at my leisure.
Pick I regret: Hester. I like him, but I already had Aromashodu and thought somebody would bite. Sure, it was only $1, but I feel it was a wasted roster spot.
The one that got away: Without a doubt, it was C.J. Spiller. I went back and forth with Christopher for a few rounds, and should have gone as high as $23, especially since I ended up with about 4 or 5 "wasted dollars" at the end of the auction. I was lucky to be able to get Felix Jones later on, but I think I might feel better about my running back depth if I had stuck to my guns there.
Did your strategy work? Absolutely. I felt I had the most money to spend whenever a guy I really wanted came up for bid, like Jackson and Finley and I was able to outbid people for Jones and Driver late. I had enough cash to burn in order to feel comfortable to spend the $3 on the Jets defense, and if nominations had fallen just a little differently I could have ended up with Mike Wallace as well.
"Called Out": No. 2 wide receiver, and to a lesser degree flex, could be a concern for Mass, being that he's going to need someone to step up from a five-man group that cost a combined $20.
"Driver is definitely my No. 2 wide receiver," said Mass. "I always prefer to use a running back at the flex, because the touches are more guaranteed than receptions. To start the season, it will be Jones, though McFadden and Hightower should both be able to fill in when those pesky bye weeks arise should one of my other wide receiver options not emerge."
Auction strategy: You can't be afraid to spend for the talent that you want. In my least successful auction drafts I've been too frugal on the costly talents and have been left with too much dough for the marginal and middling names. One specific thing I often do is wait to bid on a player until later into the clock and the bidding, almost an eBay-like approach in that I want the price to rise from outside demand and not my interest.
Pick I regret: Likely Marques Colston, which seems strange, but with the wideout values I saw later on and the money I stupidly had left over I could have upgraded Colston to a more elite commodity, like a stud second tailback.
The one that got away: Jonathan Stewart. I could and should have ponied up for him as my second back.
Did your strategy work? I made a glaring mistake with not shoring up my second running back, and running back depth in general.
"Called Out": McCormick landed a clear stars-and-scrubs roster, to the point, in fact, where he ended up light in running back depth and actually left $6, tops in the mock, on the table. I gave him the opportunity to "reclaim" that cash and add it to a buy of his to upgrade a particular player: "If I could add that recklessly leftover dough to an earlier investment I'd prefer to have gone after maybe two better backs from the likes of Arian Foster, Ahmad Bradshaw or Jonathan Stewart, players I feel that could serve as legit No. 2 backs behind Turner for me."
Auction strategy: Look for lots of value across the board and put together an efficient/balanced team based on that. Don't overspend on anyone because, in most cases, there are other solid options at a better price.
Pick I regret: I don't really regret any of my buys, at least not at the prices I got them. I may have some reservations about Jackson and Fitzgerald because of their situations, but I'm still high on them enough that I don't feel like I got "stuck" with anyone.
The one that got away: I think I could've gone an extra dollar on that second tier of elite quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Matt Schaub or Philip Rivers, but wasn't sure if I needed to spend the money on an elite guy like that, especially when Favre and Flacco went for a combined price less than any one of those guys. I also could've gone an extra buck on Pierre Thomas, although compared to how much I paid for Addai, I don't think I regret it that much.
Did your strategy work? In the end, it looked like my team resembled a standard draft, just replacing the dollar values with draft position.
"Called Out": Quintong and I engaged in several bidding wars for quarterbacks, and in the end, I spent for Philip Rivers while he went with the fall-back option of Favre and Flacco for a combined $15, or $10 cheaper than Rivers. Unfortunately, the cash he didn't spend at quarterback wasn't funneled into a solid running back, where $34 was spent on four players, none of whom could be termed a guaranteed every-week starter.
"I did kind of just bid on a lot of guys to see what stuck, mainly because I was chasing bargains and values as I was talent," said Quintong. "And honestly, it depended on how people conducted their bidding. When it's literally going 1-2-3-4-5, I'll stay in until I feel comfortable. However, if someone decided to jump the bidding from let's say, $2 to $12, then I'll be more cautious in my bidding. But might as well see where the trickle goes until I feel like I'm getting a value. I suppose I was also going by our own values with just slight tweaks instead of creating my own, so it was easy to see when I might want to stay in or jump out. Although in the long run, I don't feel too bad about my No. 2 running back, especially since if I'd done a snake draft and ended up with decent deals in Jackson/Fitzgerald/Marshall/Smith, I'd still be scratching and clawing with the marginal backs with some upside anyway."