Before you ever get to the stage where you plan your strategy, you must already be armed with your personal cheatsheet of player values and the budget you will use (or not and probably regret). Once you are comfortable with those, then and only then should you move to the most important part of the equation - how will you turn that knowledge and those bidding dollars into a killer auction team?
You have three basic choices to make and each produces very different sorts of teams. Your decision on which one to pursue should depend on your comfort level with the team you end up. This is a critical decision because it will allow you to control your destiny for the season. You need to choose before you show up and stick with the strategy or you will end up being controlled by the auction and end up with a team that is allowed you rather than one you created.
Remember - making no decision is a decision itself and never the best one.
Go Big - Going big means buying at least two if not three of the superstars. You know, going in, you want to snag Priest Holmes, Deuce McAllister and Randy Moss. And you can, possibly, do this. You can certainly get Holmes and McAllister. And like cherry vodka, it feels good in the early stages. I mean "whoa, baby! You single? I love you guys" kind of good.
Upside - You get superstars! The main tenet in fantasy football is that you have to score better than the league's weekly average in order to win consistently. This is a great way to do just that. As long as you are able to fill in the rest of the roster with at least middle of the road players, you will likely win most games. Get a few sleepers to come through for you and you are sitting pretty. Often the league champs come from teams that take this risk. Often the cellar dwellers do this as well.
Those power hitters only need mid-level talent to pull their weight and you will contend and land a sleeper or two and you'll look like the genius of the auction.
Downside - You are one injury or star-turned dud from being the league dog. Just like the NFL, you have to make it unscathed all season and have to have those stars perform in relation to their paycheck. What if you had paid the cash for Boldin or Boston already? Marcel Shipp? Or the next dozen players that will be coming on the injury report this season. Plus you have to know that about half those top players do not meet expectations too. Do ya feel lucky? General Armstrong Custer was known to be very confident, arrogant even, up until that whole Little Big Horn thing.
Draft Equivalent - This is like getting two #1 picks, plus maybe a #3 pick and then the rest of the team is from round eight or deeper.
Go Wide - This plan is the most common. It entails normally getting one top stud player, one really good player, a few good ones and then backups and filler. This strategy allows you to target individual players you really want (within reason) and be flexible to pick up good values. This is a natural plan for someone who is confident in all his valuations of players and knows when someone is a good value and when he is not. This person bids - a lot. A very active player since he will be involved in establishing the bid value of most players.
Upside - You do not get killed by one injury and produce solid numbers as long as overall your team stays intact. While you normally have few stars, you do not have many duds. It is a great way to remain competitive at all times. No one ever laughs at this strategy.
It can be played very well with an astute bidder that can use a game plan mixed with value picks to produce a solid team with most all money spent on the top half of their roster with an eye to filling out those starter spots the best possible. This is safe and effective. This is the standard formation from those who are used to picking players, one per round, all their lives.
This is oten a team owner in one of their first auctions but who is comfortable with player value.
Downside - This is most often a ticket to ending up at about .500 on the year. These type teams normally fill the final standings between the 3rd best and 3rd worst teams. No stars and no come-through sleepers normally.
The biggest qualifier to how well the team does is the fortunes of the two costliest players and how the hit for the season. If they meet expectations and remain healthy, should produce a team in the upper half of the standings but likely not the top spot.
Draft Equivalent - Focusing the majority of a cap towards the starting slots only with far less for back-ups will produce a traditional looking fantasy team. They will usually have about one player that would have been picked from each round of a draft.
This is applying a draft strategy to an auction.
Go Deep - This strategy is not for the feint of heart. It entails waiting, normally for the first 40 players to be taken before finally winning a bid. There are no obvious superstars but no duds either. Your picks are all upside players with an eye for getting as many sleepers as possible and hoping to land a full set of starters out of them. This is the guy that waits patiently while everyone takes all the big-name players. And then, about 40 or 50 players into the auction he will rule because he has all the cash to take any player he wants for a good while.
Upside - No injury, or even a couple injuries, really hurt this team. It is has solid, maybe not spectacular yet, talent and has the best depth and likely the best trading position as well. This plan also contributes it share of championships. This is a plan that maximizes player value and allows the greatest "working" of an auction as it unfolds.
Downside - You have to manage this team like a mad man. Trade, free agency and always tracking all your players to see who is stepping up and who needs to be shipped out. Unless you land several sleeper types, this is also a ticket to the standing’s cellar.
This takes the most amount of skill and a nice dose of luck does not hurt here either. You have to know when to pull the trigger and when to put the gun down. Can end up facing another team owner with the same strategy and become locked into bidding wars that escalate the value of a deep player far above his relative value because you've let the tiers drain until your options become limited. Watching those top players all fly off for values well above your budget is painful and scary.
Draft Equivalent - Think of it this way, it is like having all your picks come between the fourth and tenth round of a normal draft. Could you field a good team like this? Think you can create a great one?
Armed with knowledge and prepared for anything, you need to decide if you want to go big, wide or deep. And you have to know that before the auction starts. You'll see soon enough which of the three plans other teams will follow. Assess the risk and make that play. Knowing player values, tiers and your budget will allow you to see the value picks that make a big difference. Every strategy of bidding had its own unique upside and downside, it all points back to being able to value the players correctly before the auction starts.
Auction neophytes often like to “Go Big” since they are getting their first opportunity to select from all super stud players unlike in a traditional draft. The most common approach will be the “Go Wide” which is safe, effective and usually results in a solid yet unspectacular team. Many of the “Go Wide” bidders have not fully come to understand the difference between an auction and a draft. Lastly, the “Go Deep” crowd is the smallest and invariably involves the team owners that are the most knowledgeable (ask them, they will likely gladly confirm it). It is the riskiest strategy but one that best addresses the hunt for player value in an auction.
There is no single method that ensures success because each should be matched to the bidder’s strengths and weaknesses. Decide what suits you best and devise your game plan accordingly. After the first 30 or so players are awarded, you will know what style each bidder is using. And the more astute will see your plan as well – you do have a plan, right?