Fantasy Football: Building & Using a Budget for Auction/Salary Cap Drafts

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In the heat of the draft moment, it’s hard not to hit that little +$1 button just one more time. If you’ve played in a Fantasy Football League that uses the Auction Draft Format, you’ve inevitably had this inner monologue:

“Eh, what’s one more?”
“Ok, fine, last one, I’m not going any higher”
“Ugghh, this other manager won’t go any higher. I want this player!”

Before you know it, you’ve gone ahead and overspent in a bidding war. Doing this just once or twice in a draft is the quickest way to derail your entire draft and perhaps your whole season. Even worse is just spending wildly without having an actual plan in place, ending your draft with just 2 RBs and 5 TEs. Ooops.  

While it’s extremely important to be flexible in any fantasy draft, having a properly formulated budget and sticking (closely) to it is one of the best ways to keep yourself grounded in an auction/salary cap setting when the heat gets turned up to 11. 

Average Auction Values 

I wrote about Average Auction Values (AAV) in my article “A Guide to Leveraging Snake-Draft Data for Your Auction (Salary Cap) Draft”. The key to building a successful team during an auction/salary cap draft is to have a solid baseline of what salary each player, or a range of salaries for a tier of players, might look like. The end goal is rostering players at a salary level lower than their expected point production.

In any auction/salary cap draft, a few managers will rely on the draft platforms Player Values/AAVs for their player valuations, which will allow you to have a greater understanding of where to find those players you rank higher than the draft platform while also recognizing that you can likely acquire them at a salary closer to the sites AAV.

Know Your League

A 12-team league with a $200 cap will have a total of $2,400 available to acquire players. At least one other manager in your league will be targeting many of the same players that you are, so knowing your competition can be a huge advantage in the draft. 

Unless this is your first season, you should have some experience with your league mates’ draft styles from previous seasons. If it is your first season in the auction, you can still get a good idea of how the league will value players. Starting lineup requirements will play a major role in the pricing of players in the draft. Leagues with shallow starting requirements will typically see higher prices for the top players as managers attempt to build the strongest starting lineup possible. Deeper starting requirements will see slightly lower price points on the top players as everyone tries to spread the same money over more players. 

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Knowing the scoring settings will also impact the spending as I highlighted in my “Impact of Settings” article. A full PPR league will see higher prices for the WRs and pass-catching RBs compared to a standard scoring league. 

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Building Your Budget 

There is a common budget concept that simply applies a total dollar figure for each skill position group (QB, RB, WR, TE). This type of budget would give you the freedom to chase “deals” across the position but has little regard for which players, what salary, or how many to draft. I believe that this type of budget is not specific enough to keep your spending under control in the heat of the moment.  

My preferred budget building method, and what I suggest you consider, is roster construction-specific. Instead of giving a total spend for each of the positions, I suggest you budget a specific amount for each roster spot. I’m a big proponent of “Roster Construction Based Drafting” in both snake and auction formats. I took a deep dive into this process a couple of seasons ago, which you can review here. The concept is evergreen…the player rankings, not so much. 

Here is what a base budget would look like. Notice how I have exact salaries for each position. 

TOTAL $200
QB1 $10
RB1 $55
RB2 $30
WR1 $35
WR2 $25
TE1 $8
FLEX $15
D/ST $1
PK $1
BN – RB3 $6
BN – RB4 $3
BN – WR3 $6
BN – WR4 $3
BN – OPEN $2

While a budget can guide you and keep your positional spending in line, another major advantage is combining all of the information presented in my articles earlier this season (Here, here, and here), you should be able to project a few players that should be available to you at any given salary range. Using this tactic, it becomes easy to adjust your budget to make sure you’re building a roster that you think will be the best in the league, without trying to shoehorn your plan into a draft platforms generic setup mock draft. The sample below takes the base budget from above and adds some possible players at each position. (I highly recommend starting with the Fantasy Footballers UDK Values!). I suggest that you list three players; one above, one at, and one below, the budgeted salary. This gives you a good indication of the tier that should be available during the draft. 



You likely noticed that I have CeeDee Lamb listed twice. He is a player that I really like heading into the 2022 season and falls right on the borderline between my two WR salaries at $28. This is an indication during the draft that I would be confident in him filling my WR1 spot and might be willing to pay up for him, but if there happens to be a deal on him, I might be able to get another WR1 candidate. For the Flex spot, I’ve listed a couple of RBs and a couple of WRs that fit the same salary range to give me some flexibility in the draft room. Again, it’s not about that specific player listed, it’s a name to give you a baseline for the type of players available for that salary. With every draft being different, you will find that you are willing to roster a slightly lower-ranked player if the salary is right or be able to acquire a higher-ranked player if there appears to be a deal.

Making Changes

As you begin entering the potential player names, you will inevitably find that you might not be satisfied with a couple of the positions, based on the initial budget you created.  If, for example, you don’t like the possible players that your QB budget is presenting, you will have to adjust funds across a few positions to either allocate more funds to move up a tier to get the higher-ranked QB you want. Conversely, you may decide that you can reduce funds and drop down a tier, while still feeling comfortable with that tier of players in the QB slot. This process would open up funds to improve another position, such as TE or Flex. 

Expect the Unexpected

Once you’ve built a budget you feel confident in, it’s time to prepare for the unexpected. Any auction veteran will tell you that every draft is different and there will always be an off-the-wall scenario that most managers wouldn’t have expected. Here’s my example from the 2021 season. 

My home league allows four keepers and I was already keeping Jonathan Taylor and Nick Chubb as my top two RBs. My primary budget for additional RBs was limited to 3-4 RBs with upside that all fell in the $2-$15 range. The league is a start 3 WR + 1 Flex, full PPR format, so I had allotted a significant budget to WRs, limiting my spending at the RB position.

Very early in the auction, Joe Mixon was nominated and the bidding progressed as most would assume, quickly climbing into the mid-$20s. Heading into the draft, Mixon was not a keeper and fell in as the 2nd highest-ranked RB available in the draft. By my calculations, he carried a projected salary of $50 in our draft, with an AAV on the host draft site of $34. But then a funny thing happened at $29… everyone stopped bidding. As the draft software called “going once, going twice”, I quickly smashed that +1 button up to $30. 

Normally, I am very much against “price enforcing”, the act of increasing the salary of a player who you do not intend to draft, simply because you believe the salary is too low. Too often, managers will get caught price enforcing and end up stuck with a player they did not want, like a second QB in a 1QB league.

And yet, there I was, staring at the draft board and thinking; how is no one else bidding? I cannot let another manager get that deal. As the timer ticked down, I questioned whether I missed a breaking news article on Mixon. With the timer now running down to the closing bell again, I assumed a few other managers would realize the deal on the board and jump in with a few price enforcement bids. 

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But another bid never came, and I acquired the services of Joe Mixon for just $30. In the end, I acquired the 2nd highest ranked RB for what turned out to be the 7th highest salary; a salary significantly lower than Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($47), David Montgomery ($41), Kareem Hunt ($37), and just $1 more than Myles Gaskins, who ranked as the 11th best RB available in the draft.

Be Prepared

Even at that moment, having just acquired a player at a salary way outside my primary budget, I was highly confident in this off-the-cuff acquisition because I had prepared for this. I created not one, not two, not three, but four different budgets heading into my draft. Each budget focused on “overspending” at each of the core positions. While I had a primary budget I wanted to use, one of my alternate budgets was focused precisely on this scenario of spending on a third highly ranked RB to partner with my two keepers and fill my Flex position. By entering your draft room with multiple budget options, you can quickly adjust early in your draft and still feel confident that you have a roadmap to success. 

Adjust on the Fly 

It’s inevitable that you will need to adjust on the fly, as I did in the example above. One of the best ways to adjust on the fly is to use the technology in your pocket. A simple Excel, iOS Pages, or Google Sheets file will make your life much easier in the draft. When you win a player, plug in the winning salary. If your winning salary was over your budget, you’ll quickly see how much you need to remove from another position or multiple positions. Conversely, if you land a nice deal, you can add funds to another position, all with a few quick taps on your mobile device!


Using a detailed budget is another step to dominating your auction draft. While your league mates forgo using a budget or only use position totals, you can control your spending and make sure you can build the roster you want to take home that #footclantitle!


Christian says:

Thank you so much for this breakdown! It’s often difficult to sift through things like upside/projections and cost to make a decision. Though it’s never black and white, I appreciate you breaking it down in a way that it can be applied simply with as little variables as possible.

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