The best decision I ever made in 17 years as a fantasy football commissioner was to move from a draft to an auction format.
The auction is unparalleled in terms of strategy and, thus, enjoyment. If you're willing, you can land any one player you want -- you're not constrained by picking in a spot and waiting for a player to fall to you.
Everyone is available.
There's also no "down" time -- you're active and participating in every player on the board -- and you're actively trying to deceive and out-smart your competition in an environment that's much more intense than a draft.
It's a win-win-win scenario on what should be the best day of your fantasy season.
For those of you unfamiliar with auction-style drafts, here are the basics. Every owner starts with the same salary cap (or bank) to spend on his or her roster. Owners then take turns nominating players for auction, with the highest bidder winning the player. Don't forget you can make the move from a traditional serpentine, or "snake," draft to an auction right here on NFL.com.
Here are some of my secrets -- despite my initial hesitation in revealing them to my league -- in selecting a roster in an auction format:
1. Know your opponents: Knowing your opponents' strategies, tendencies and spending allowance factors in during an auction format in several ways. First, every GM is going to have favorite players. Don't just hand them over. In my league, we have a GM who chases after Brian Westbrook every season, and we all know it. I'm fine with passing on Westbrook, but that GM is going to pay at the very least what I think Westbrook is worth.
Also know which of your opposing GMs likes to unload the bank on one player and which ones wait on certain positions. Knowing those "tells" will help when bidding against them. Like Mike McDermott in Rounders, it's as much about playing your opponents as it is the cards. Also keep close track of every team's spending and remaining funds -- you'll get a good idea of who could turn desperate, who is waiting at certain positions and, most importantly, who can still outbid you.
2. Promote spending: Since all teams in an auction begin with the same bank, the only way to gain financial leverage over the other teams is to promote spending -- ideally on players you don't want, or at prices you believe are too high for their value. Many fantasy managers in an auction format make the mistake of nominating players who they want to land on their team. Don't do it. It's transparent, and other teams will push your bidding limits.
Instead, nominate players you don't want and "spike" the bidding. But be careful with this because you could end up with players you don't want, at prices you didn't want them at. I remember a GM who thought he was slick one year getting stuck with four Miami Dolphins.
3. Know your player values: It sounds simplistic, but enter the auction knowing your value (how much you're willing to spend) on all players. There will be a bidding war on the likes of Adrian Peterson -- know beforehand how far you're willing to go before your ego or emotions take over. Spending $5 extra on Peterson might mean the difference between landing or losing out on another player you want. It's also common early in an auction that GMs are gun-shy and players often go for less than they should.
Last year, I landed Houston's Andre Johnson for $22 against some hesitant owners who had just spent big. It was a steal compared to Randy Moss ($38), Larry Fitzgerald ($34) and Terrell Owens ($29) and later pushed up the values of Marques Colston ($26) and others. Knowing your values won't let a deal slip through your fingers. I generally try to spend 60 percent of my roster funds on two running backs and a top receiver. Sticking to that strategy always allows me enough financial flexibility later to out-bid teams on a player I want.
4. Money matters: Buying power is crucial in an auction format, particularly late. The idea is to have approximately two-thirds of your auction money remaining halfway through the auction. You might feel like a lame-duck GM while teams are outbidding each other for the highest-priced players, but if you can afford to wait, it will pay off. Plenty of quality players will remain on the board, and you'll have control of the bidding for those players you already have targeted.
I targeted Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback last year and felt I could get him midway through the auction at an appropriate price. By waiting until every other team but one had selected a quarterback, I was able to out-bid the lone remaining QB-needy team for Big Ben at a price ($20) that was still well below Tom Brady ($45), Drew Brees ($28), Peyton Manning ($33) and Tony Romo ($32), which fit my initial strategy. Of course, Roethlisberger struggled in 2008, and while I looked smart on draft day, Big Ben killed me.
5. Be flexible: The ability to remain flexible and change direction in an auction format can't be overstated. Even the best pre-auction plans can be foiled with a few surprises, so adjust, cast a scowl at your opposing GMs and move on. Your strategy (like mine) might be to secure running backs and wide receivers first and take a quarterback later. You might prefer to spend big on a Peterson or Brady and piece together the rest of your roster.
The point is, that can all change in an auction, so be prepared for your plan to blow up. In the same vein, your "sleepers" might be the same sleepers as every other team. The last five to seven spots on your roster will be filled with $1 players. So have a long list and be prepared to adapt when your sleepers end up on other team's rosters.
6. Know the deeper positions: Just as you should set your player values before an auction, know the deeper positions as well. It will keep you patient and help you avoid suddenly bidding on a player out of panic because you think there isn't value left at his position. You'll see this most often at wide receiver. After the high-end receivers are off the board, teams tend to overbid for the second-tier players. Don't spend $15 on Torry Holt when you can get a comparable player such as Laveranues Coles or Jerricho Cotchery later for $5. My auction strategy is to grab one high-end receiver and then let opposing teams spend until I can then grab better values.
Using this strategy last season, I was able to land Roy Williams, Brandon Marshall and Nate Burleson for $15 total, less than I had spent on Johnson. I missed on two of those players (Burleson got injured), but the hit with Marshall paid off, and I didn't spend too much on any of them. It was a solid risk-reward strategy.