Mock auction draft analysis

Updated: August 29, 2012, 4:14 PM ET
By Jim McCormick | Special to ESPN.com

Reality shows focusing on various auctions, from delinquent storage lockers to antiques unearthed in granddad's attic, are all the rage these days. The natural drama created in a bidding war seems to be a key element to the popularity of the genre, and auction fantasy drafts are no exception. Instead of being married to a specific draft order, which in many ways limits the scope of talents one can acquire in a traditional "snake" draft, the auction format allows for you to acquire Ray Rice or Aaron Rodgers -- or even both if you spend the coin. You can go after the players you value most or seek to drive up prices for your competition with a good deal of risk inherent in every bid. Auctions can take a long time, but they also move very fast when the bidding intensifies. If you have been in the same league for a long time, or are in the process of starting a new tradition, keep an open mind and give the auction format a shot as a means to shaking up how rosters are assembled.

One thing to keep in mind as you read about this particular mock auction is that each auction is unique, and the pricing and values you'll find below are not to be held as a baseline for any other auction, but rather as an example of how each auction results in a specific market for talent unfolding. If we conducted another auction today, it's just as likely that Cam Newton would go for $34 and the buying behavior at any given position could vary drastically, given any number of in-draft influences.

Joining me in this 10-team standard league mock were Eric Karabell, KC Joyner, Tristan Cockcroft, Stephania Bell, Brian Gramling, James Quintong, Shawn Cwalinski, Christopher Harris and Dave Hunter.

Below, you will see each owner's roster, followed by an explanation of how he/she approached the auction. Our auction budget was $200.

Did you have a nomination strategy in the auction?

I don't think I had a real strategy for nominating players, although from pick to pick, I did consider throwing out "intriguing" players to get a feel for the market for guys, whether I wanted them or not. On the other hand, I think I did try to hold back on nominating guys like Eric Decker, but got burned when I ran out of money by the time they were going for bargain prices.

What do you feel was your best value purchase in this auction? Any investment where you might not have gotten ideal value?

Initially, I thought my $16 on Peyton Manning was a solid value, given what the market was bearing for quarterbacks at that time. But then when Eli went for a couple of dollars less and players like Cam Newton went for not much more, then I thought it might've been an overspend. The QB market, in particular, had a strange drop-off in values as the auction went along.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

Auctions are very much unlike regular drafts in that values can shift so dramatically in just a matter of minutes. It's good to try to budget out money by position and trying to fill accordingly, as opposed to putting a hard price tag on particular players you want. It's also good to be patient in auction drafts. Don't get caught up in having to make a move because you haven't made one in a while.

Could you envision using both your tight ends given the new flex eligibility?

I definitely could use both if Witten ends up healthy; he was worth the $2 risk late in the draft, especially with the ability to play both tight ends in a week.

My nomination strategy: For the first several times I'm up, I tend to nominate players that I feel will go for considerable coin but that I don't necessarily have strong interest in. This isn't to say I won't get into the bidding if the price is right, but I do generally like to see others spend so I can reserve my budget for the talents I really want to invest in. Later in the draft, I prefer to nominate players I specifically want (like C.J. Spiller in this auction, in order to secure the Buffalo backfield).

What was my best value purchase in this draft? Any investment where I might not have gotten ideal value?

I felt good about landing some guys with deflated value, given their current injury concerns, like Miles Austin and Isaac Redman. I also found that the Buffalo backs were a reasonable buy at $26 total, which was really possible, considering how late Spiller was nominated. In retrospect, it's certainly possible that I didn't net great value on Drew Brees given how precipitously the market for arms dropped once a few big buys at the position were made. But if you are going to be bold and spend big, make it a proven elite like Brees. I figured there would be discounts down the line at the position, but didn't envision Cam Newton, Tony Romo and Matt Ryan going as such bargains. Peyton Hillis was certainly a bullish buy, but I don't really regret it since he's a player I feel very strongly about heading into the season. I am content with the overall balance on my roster, but feel that having gone a few extra bucks here and there could have boosted its potential.

What advice would I give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

I'd love to espouse some awesome tenet of auction strategy, but I think that being dually flexible and prepared is a wise approach. Have a strong grasp on pricing, but don't overcomplicate the process with too many restrictions or feeling bound to specific buying strategies; each auction is so fluid and unique that you might cost yourself opportunity if you play too close to a particular strategy. One thing I can definitely offer from this auction in particular is to make sure you don't leave excess money in your coffer late when it's dollar-menu time; I threw $5 on the Bills' defense (surely a $1 commodity) late in the draft if only to spend up my obtuse overage. I would rather have spent that extra dough on upside commodities like Eric Decker or Kevin Smith. But then again, it's obvious I made this egregious budgeting error as a helpful lesson for the reader -- or something like that.

Did you have a nomination strategy?

My nomination strategy is to vary my nomination strategy. In this auction, I nominated a couple of players I did not want early to get some money off the board, then players I would take if the price was right. At the end of the auction, I was nominating people I wanted because I had a good amount of money left.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

Be patient and stick to your values. It is tempting to pay a little extra to get players early, but you are going to find value if you are patient. I was the last person to get a player in this auction but the first to finish. Also, you need to be flexible in any sort of draft. Oh, and if you draft Vick, make sure you get a backup QB and not bid $3 on Anquan Boldin for no reason near the end of your auction.

You have been in on Doug Martin often in our drafts this summer. What's your take on his role and potential for this season?

Martin is going to be the Buccaneers' starting running back. Blount is not going away, but I see Martin getting at least two-thirds of the touches this season and could see him being at three-quarters by the end of the season.

What do you feel was your best value purchase in this draft? Any investment where you might not have gotten ideal value?

Cam Newton, no question, for $18. That was simply lucky. Newton didn't get thrown until seven teams already had QBs, so the price wound up being amazing. Certainly one could argue $43 for MJD could be a disaster, but I still think he plays, so compared to Ray Rice for $68, I'll live with it. I'll say Titus Young for $8 is a dramatic overspend. I just had to have him.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

Try not to freak out. Auctions require more concentration than snake drafts, and much more patience. Everyone is as skittish as you are about how fast scarcity seems to become an issue. Be flexible, try not to spend all your money right away and then have a good list of potential $1 players for the end.

What is your take on MJD's situation for those drafting while he's still holding out?

When Adam Schefter says he expects the holdout to go into the regular season, it gives me great pause. But especially in an auction, I still think there's great value there, unless you think Jones-Drew is holding out nine weeks. I got him at a one-third discount, so as long as he plays sometime in September, I'll be good. If not, I made a big, big mistake!

What do you feel was your best value purchase in this draft? Any investment where you might not have gotten ideal value?

Best value would have been Gates at $17. Now that he is healthy, he could have as good a season as Gronkowski or Graham and he cost a whole lot less.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

Use the Insider draft tool. It is very helpful in determining which players are good values and which ones cost too much. In general, the strategy here is to build quality depth. Paying big bucks for a few great players can work, but I'd rather play the percentages and build a team that is solid from top to bottom.

Do you think there is some strong value in Gates this year?

That he could post six double-digit fantasy point games in 13 starts, rack up a 7.6 short-pass YPA and an 11.1 vertical YPA (ninth-best among tight ends with 30 or more vertical targets) -- all while being hampered by injuries and Philip Rivers' hot/cold performances -- speaks volumes for how good he still can be. The scouting eye basically agreed with the metric eye, as it said that Gates looked like his old self at times. Eric Weddle's recent comment that Gates is back to his elite form says we could be seeing one more dominant year from the former leader of the pack.

Did you have a nomination strategy?

I tried a few different techniques. Nominating players I didn't necessarily want (figure I have to at least be willing to part with a $1). The only time I nominated guys I was targeting was in the late rounds for sleepers where some had already spent all their money and I figured I had a good chance. After my big-money spends, I set price limits on guys I was eyeing. In other words, I told myself I can bid but the cutoff is "X" and then I could live with that.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

Be willing to take some chances. Get players you want. In our group, there was a lot of chatter as the QBs went and then some people disappointed in how much they paid. I think it helps to have an idea going in of a handful of players you'd be willing to pay big for, and then have a sense of how much you can spend to allow a reasonable budget for the remaining slots.

You acquired two elites in Rice and Rodgers and then had to balance out your roster with a series of cheaper players. Do you prefer using the majority of your money on a handful of "sure things" and then seeking out upside players the rest of the way?

I normally wouldn't spend that much on two players back to back, so I surprised myself a bit. My thinking was that I felt I could really get a couple of huge weekly difference-makers up front and then shop smartly for the remainder of the draft. I knew I had a couple of targets (like Rod Streater) that would come to me for $1. I targeted a couple players who I thought I could pay relatively little for who might serve me well for a few weeks as the team story lines played out.

Did you have a nomination strategy?

I usually nominate players that I don't want rather than those I want. I don't want anyone knowing my plans if I can help it.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

Stay patient, but don't be afraid to spend your money early either. In other words, be flexible in your draft approach. An auction, more than any other draft setting, requires you to have a few differing strategies at the ready. Get in on the bidding right away, even if you're just driving up the price on a player you don't want. Look for values and never get caught with money on the table.

You were in the bidding for Rodgers but ended up landing Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler for a combined $9. Do you think your team ended up stronger on account of having more money for skill players versus the price for Rodgers?

Definitely. When I first started bidding on Rodgers, there was no doubt that I wanted him. But after a certain point, I didn't want that much of my budget locked up at QB, especially with the values found at the position year after year in an auction setting. Toward the end of my Rodgers bids, I was just driving the price up on Stephania. I'm lucky things didn't backfire on me, otherwise I would've gone with a stars-and-scrubs approach instead of the value-driven team I ended up with.

Did you have a nomination strategy?

My auction strategy is readily available in the Draft Kit and I followed that to a T. But the long and short is what I said in the draft room: Fill the headache positions first, that way you get who you want at kicker and D/ST, and if you get outbid, just chuckle a bit because you cost someone a foolish dollar.

What do you feel was your best value purchase in this draft? Any investment where you might not have gotten ideal value?

Eli was by far and away my best buy of the night, and if anyone in the room excluded him from a top-five bargains list, I'd think them nuts. We were, as a whole, far too conservative with our QB bidding. I get the whole argument about the ninth and 10th QBs being the ones swept under the carpet, sliding in as discounts. Sure, but that's Matt Ryan/Philip Rivers territory, not Manning, whom I can't imagine many people ranking lower than seventh at the position (and I have him fifth). Heck, Cam Newton was a flat-out steal as well.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

Be prepared. That's not small talk either. If you plan to come to the table with a magazine's price sheet or no detailed price sheet broken down by position at all, you'll be the lamb for the feast. Be detailed. Be reserved. Show 'em you've got the composure of a seasoned vet. Then take 'em all by surprise.

Did you have a nomination strategy?

My basic strategy is to nominate the best player available to force fellow owners to spend as much money as possible. That also allows for a greater chance of a keeper or low-dollar steal in the later rounds of the nomination stage. I also like the strategy of bidding on top kickers and defenses early, since the most you'll likely pay for that bid is $3.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

My advice to auction drafters would be to know the depth at each position and be patient. There were a ton of great deals in the 80th to 120th players nominated, and I just didn't have enough money to bid on these players.

You went after Vernon Davis. Do you think his production could improve given the added weapons in the 49ers' passing game?

I think Davis' playoff performance (10 catches, 292 yards, 4 TDs in two games) shows that he's not far away from the two tight end studs, "Gronk" and Graham. He will have a better understanding of Jim Harbaugh's offense this year, and I think the San Fran wide receiver additions simply create more space for Davis to roam. However, Quintong spent $12 total on Finley and Witten, who could both be just as productive as my $18 on Davis this year.

Did you have a nomination strategy?

In general, I was trying to get money off the board in the first two hours of the auction, and if the price was right I'd aim to get the running back or wide receiver I nominated. I knew I was waiting on quarterback and tight end. Of course, later on a number of RB sleepers I brought up went for $2, so that didn't work either.

What do you feel was your best value purchase in this draft? Any investment where you might not have gotten ideal value?

The quarterback prices were a bit crazy early on, and I knew I could wait and get a guy I view as a safe starter for less than $10. I did, with Tony Romo. Mission accomplished. It allowed me to spend a lot on running backs and wide receivers. Same goes at tight end; I didn't necessarily target Tony Gonzalez, but $3 is awesome. I doubt Rob Gronkowski will be 11 times better. I overspent on Dez Bryant, relative to what wide receivers went for later, but $15 isn't awful.

What advice would you give to someone heading into his/her first auction draft?

The best advice is to get a balanced team. Leaving any auction with only one decent running back, or having four starting wide receivers for three spots is poor allocation of funds. Don't fall in love with any players, but go the extra buck or two if it feels right, then adjust on the fly. I never say I'll spend precisely this much on any player or position.

Do you find some value in the Redskins backfield given how little confidence and assurance fantasy managers might have in the scenario heading into the season?

I'm not much of a fan of Helu or Royster, and I actually brought up Tim Hightower for bid as well but couldn't get him. I wouldn't call the Redskins backfield a place of value, but it's desperation. Someone has to get the touches. Watch it end up being someone that's not even on their current roster. I will say that Helu for $6 is incredibly low in case he is the guy, which is certainly possible. I would not have spent much more, but if Mike Shanahan just says the right words this week, that's a potential $20 player.

Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com.