This article is entitled the ‘Guide to Auction Drafting,’ but you’re going to read the phrase ‘snake draft’ more than you might expect in an auction-centric article. That’s because treating an auction draft like a snake draft is a way to infuse some structure into an auction process that is always fluid and often chaotic.

When you participate in a snake draft, there are only two significant variables that can affect how the draft goes. The first is your draft position, and the second, more important factor, concerns positional scarcity.

In years past, running backs were all the craze early, but more recently going Zero RB and drafting wide receivers early has become more popular. We’ve also seen more of a move towards waiting on quarterbacks and tight ends. But other than the positional preferences of your league mates, there aren’t too many variables in play in a snake draft.

When you switch over to an auction format, the positional issue is still in play, but you add in an even more unpredictable variable: cost. In a snake draft, the cost is set; you’re assigned your draft capital, and you’ll spend it in a predetermined, rationed manner. But in an auction, the cost of acquiring a player is completely up to you, and you can spend your predetermined draft capital in any manner you please, rational or irrational.

To try to reign in the unpredictable nature of auctions, do what you can to infuse the structure of a snake draft into it. The idea is to prepare a budget for the draft that will allow you to select one player from each round of a snake draft. In other words, in a 10-team league, you could prepare a budget that would roughly allow you to select the fifth, 15th, 25th player overall and so on.

You obviously don’t want to be so rigid as to plan on getting the guy that would theoretically go in the middle of each round in a snake draft, so prepare multiple budgets. Have a high and a low budget.

In a high budget, you’d account for spending big for one stud, but not paying for one of the other elite talents in the top 15-20 or so depending on your league size. Think of it like having the third and 22nd picks in a 12-team league. And have a low budget where you’d account for grabbing two guys at the bottom of the elite tier but not necessarily any cream of the crop studs. Think of it like being on the wheel in a snake draft.

At this point it might be helpful to have a visual example of what we’re talking about. Below is an example of five potential budgets you might use in an auction draft depending on how much you end up paying for your most expensive player.

In this particular draft, the owner paid up for more of a top of the first-round type player. As you can see, the extra cost of doing so is mainly meant to be made up at the bottom of your roster. In the middle of the draft, no matter who you spend the most on, use the same general budget outline that allows you to simply look for values or draft pet players, while simply slotting them into the nearest budgeted dollar amount in your plan.

As you can see in the example above, the owner paid for what amounted to a typical top of the first-round player and a player that would typically go in the top of the second-round of a snake draft. The “overpay” is noted in the rightmost column, and the owner then maintained some budgetary discipline by having his third most expensive player be more of a fourth-round type player.

The main purpose of this snake draft, budgetary plan is simply to make you aware of where you stand throughout the auction. But it’s not meant to be as rigid as it might sound in its description.

The advantage of a disciplined, budgeted approach to an auction is that it will better allow you to take advantage of the flow of the draft. If you’ve done many auctions, you know they can go one of two ways.

The first way, and probably the most common way, is that owners overpay for the first crop of players nominated, which then creates value in the later portions of the draft. If this happens and you’ve been disciplined with your budget, you’re going to be able to get multiple players that would go in the 40-90 range of a snake draft. It’s an excellent way to build a deep roster that can withstand the bye weeks and injuries and that you can play matchups from week-to-week. Pay for a stud or two, but don’t severely overpay just because everyone else is, and you’ll reap the reward soon enough.

The other way it could go is people play it too tight early and end up getting in bidding wars when you start to get to the end of positional tiers. This situation is harder to recognize mainly because it’s less common. But if you notice that every player is going for about what they should have gone for through a round or so of nominations, it’s time to start paying full price or even a bit more for guys you like as opposed to trying to nab guys for value. If you don’t you’re going to end up overpaying for lesser talent or getting left out in the cold with money in your pocket at the end of the draft.

The main point here is that preparation for an auction goes beyond individual player values or positional strategies. It’s not enough to simply have a sheet with names and prices and a plan like grabbing two stud receivers early. Everyone else is going to have player values. Everyone else is going to have an idea about what kinds of players they’d like to spend their money on. But not everyone else will be flexible.

Being flexible is a common piece of advice for auctions, but it’s not simply a state of mind you should have. Prepare yourself to be able to be flexible. Imagine the different scenarios that could play out, using the structure of a snake draft as your guide, then write them out on paper. Use those potential scenarios in conjunction with your player values and your knowledge of the different ways to construct a roster from a positional perspective to be able to go wherever the draft takes you.